Operating instructions – When less is more

The Airbnb host thought she had it right for guest entertainment.  A massive TV, expensive surround sound system, Blu-ray player, Apple TV and fast internet.  A $3000 investment.  All the manuals were in a very pretty folder.

All a guest would want right?  No, actually a serious FAIL!   A guest nightmare, because it was missing the key ingredient – simple tips on how to use it all easily.

That was my experience this week in a charming Airbnb in central Hobart, Australia.  The host was pulling out all stops to make her new rental delight her guests, or so she thought with the top of the range entertainment system, and even a Netflix account.

The problem for me the guest was how to work the damn thing?  Different brands, different remotes, and a sequence you had to get right. The long operating manuals would not help.

It took half an hour of trial and error to get the sound working, and another half an hour of trial and error to get the Netflix (mostly) working.  An interesting challenge for a techy like me, but is that really the way guests want to spend their holiday break?  Some guests will give up and never see the benefits the host intended.

The less is more solution

After running short term rentals for twenty years, I have learned the hard way that less is more, and that TV system is an excellent example.  For that, a simple page of TV instructions is essential.

A simple tips and instructions page helps the guest get going in a minute and they can truly enjoy that $3000 investment. 

It also avoids the call to you the host: “The TV isn’t working and I need to watch my favourite show, and I need it now.”  You might be able to troubleshoot on the phone, you might have to take a trip out to fix it, or you might just leave your guest disappointed with the risk of a bad review.

It gets worse.  The impatient guest sometimes start their own fixes.  They change the wires around, they change the menu settings and make it so even you can’t work it when they have finished.

A simple instruction sheet can save you a lot of interruptions, wasted time and effort.

Simple can be hard

Let’s be clear here, a simple TV instruction sheet can take work.  You break it down to the tasks the guest want to do.  Watching TV; watching a DVD; watching Netflix.

For each, you outline the bare essential steps, preferably with a picture of the remote showing the one or two buttons needed.  You test the result on your partner or cleaner, so you know it works for someone with no prior technical knowledge of your equipment.

At the end you have a note: “Only after you have tried these tips and you have a problem, call.” At my remote Treetops rental I added a polite note saying “Please don’t change the wires or settings, or you may be liable for an expensive technician callout.”

It works

All this works.  After many years of renting my rentals, I have had just a few calls from guests having trouble with the TV and in each case the problem was solved by asking if they had followed the tips page!

The hidden benefit of soft welcome music

My guests often remark on how nice it was to have soft music playing when they first arrived.  A hidden benefit is the cleaner makes sure the TV system is working, and the guest already has it up and running.  Of course the tips sheet makes it easy for the cleaner to remember how to set it up if she forgets.

Less is more for your appliances – 7 examples

You may have a number of appliances that guests may be unfamiliar with, but they are all part of the enjoyable guest experience.  Where some instruction is needed, you should be thinking on the least instruction to help the guest work the appliance easily. It is usually a few bullet points in your rental information folder.  It may be also just a few discreet words done professionally with a labeller on the appliance itself.

Here are 7 examples from my Sea Zen rental:

  • For the concealed boiling water unit, the only instruction needed is a two word ‘Boiling water’ label on the tap unit, no point in including the operating manual.
  • The coffee machine instructions are summarised in a few bullet points in the information folder.
  • The milk frother has a label explaining how to fill to avoid an overflow.
  • The steam shower control has a few words referring back to the instructions folder and that has just a couple of sentences explaining how to operate; certainly not the full operating manual.
  • The spa instructions are shortened to just a few bullet points
  • There is a single laminated sheet AT the washing machine.
  • The light switches have a discrete label if appropriate.

Think like your guest and reap the rewards

What is the minimum you need to do to make your guest experience easy?  Are you adding enjoyable touches or are you making their life hard, like my Airbnb experience?  Think like your guest, add those few critical tips and make their stay a delight.  They will tell their friends and they will come back.

The extra work to give more with less, pays off.

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