Timeshare boardmanship: Communicating with owners and guests
By Lynne M. Kweder
Q: Our board has tried various means of communication with owners, using a newsletter, snail mail, email, a reference book in the room, and signage at the resort, but nothing seems very effective. Do you have any ideas or suggestions for improving the effectiveness of board and managementâ€™s communications with owners?
A: A large sign with large letters greeted us on the front desk when we went to our timeshare this past summer: GARAGE IS CLOSED because of concrete reconstruction. YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO LEAVE BETWEEN 8:00 AM AND 4:00 PM IF YOU PARK IN THE GARAGE.
The garage has no door, so owners and exchangers parked there, and were blocked and complaining the next day. They didnâ€™t read the sign! Is this a case of owner negligence or the board and managementâ€™s failure to communicate effectively? I heard complaints from several exchangers that they had no idea that concrete reconstruction was going on at the resort before they got there.
As an owner, I had received several communications over time about the construction, including notices in the newsletter, a letter in the snail mail, and an email. Exchange companies had been notified about the construction and that we were staying open during construction, but the exchangers themselves were not aware of getting the information. Did the exchange companies fail in their responsibility, or could the resortâ€™s board and management have done something differently?
Few people read
During the early years of my career, I managed special events such as large annual meetings and conferences, and provided board and management training to the member organizations of the umbrella organization for which I worked. Early on, I learned that most humans ignore the first communication.
I sent flyers to folks who didnâ€™t notice them or pass them on to relevant staff or board members. I made large signs greeting conference goers with simple instructions, and soon learned that very few people ever read the signs.
I learned quickly that getting peopleâ€™s attention is a challenge generally, and human beings regularly ignore the first attempt to communicate with them if the communication is not one-on-one, either face-to-face or by telephone.
Timeshare owners typically are interested in one thingâ€”using their timeshares directly or indirectly for their vacations. Attracting their attention is difficult. Of course, some folks understand that a subset of owners on the board is working hard on their behalf and need periodic input and votes from all the ownersâ€”but that is just not where the heads of most of the owners are. They expect that the resort will take care of itself, and they will simply show up for their vacation (or trade for it) once a year.
Avoid stingy thinking
The first step in improving the effectiveness of your communications is to welcome the challenge of communicating with owners, and plan from the beginning for the difficulties involved. I can remember the boardâ€™s discussion when I first became a member about using either snail mail or email for communication with owners. â€œEither/orâ€ thinking is stingy thinking, particularly when email involves no additional cost for communication. To reach your owners, I suggest â€œboth/andâ€ thinking. Deliver every important message to owners several times using different media to actually reach your audience!
Rule of three
In marketing, an old truism states that an advertisement must pass over the desk of the recipient three times before it is noticed. In planning for communications with owners about anything of significance, keep this â€œrule of threeâ€ in mind. Send every important message at least three times using different media if you actually expect to communicate with your owners. Put the message in your newsletter and send it by snail mail and email. Have your resort include the message in individual emails (snail mail if you donâ€™t have the email address) of owners and guests you expect onsite for the upcoming weeks. At this point, most folks use email, so costs are no longer prohibitive.
Social media have become another important mechanism for communication, so we must become skilled in using it where possible for important messages to â€œfriends.â€ Following this â€œrule of three,â€ using three different media for communicating the message, an email to exchangers with a notice about the concrete reconstruction could have prevented some of the anger about not being notified. The sign on the desk could have been supplemented by a verbal notice upon check-in that the garage would be blocked off during the day. Then a written notice on a piece of paper could have been handed to the owner or guest upon arrival. Still another outlet for getting important information to owners could be a dynamic website with a password protected ownersâ€™ section. Of course, the resort would have to send emails and social-media messages to the owners encouraging them to visit the website to read the details.
A two-way street
As a board of directors, you are responsible for creating communication policies for both the board and management. Communication is a two-way street and, as a board, you must know what your owners and guests are experiencing. Board policies should include standards for two-way communication:
First, boards should require that they receive a summary of the comment cards from owners and guests, including individual specific comments on the cards. A board member should be assigned the responsibility for making a verbal report on the comment cards to the board at every meeting, to ensure that the board notices patterns or anything else of significance in the comment cards. This will help the board understand what needs to be communicated to owners, and policy needs in general.
Second, I recommend including the â€œrule of threeâ€ as an expectation for communication of all significant matters, including management in their communications with owners, and the board for matters about which the board communicates directly, such as the annual owners meeting and board elections.
No policy measures will make your communications flawless. However, a mindset recognizing the need for repetition of messages, and these two sets of policies, can improve the effectiveness of your board and managementâ€™s communications.
Lynne Kweder is an organization development consultant, a board certified coach, trainer of boards of directors and management, and administrator. She spent seven years as board president of the Turtle Reef Condominiums I, Inc., Jensen Beach, FL
This article is from Timesharing today issue #150, Nov/Dec 2016. If you liked this article, subscribe to Timesharing Today to see more content like this.