5 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR DIVE CENTRE EMAIL REPLIES
I'd say about 90% of my first contact with potential customers at The Fifth Point is through email. They fill in the contact form on the website or they email our info@ directly. Occasionally we get a ping from PADI.com telling us a customer has discovered us through the dive centre locator and wants to get in touch.
There's only a handful of times where new customers ring us to enquire or drop into the centre in person. That's just a reflection of the way the world operates today. Most people will email (me included - I hate ringing places and have to be in the right mood to walk in and talk to someone!)
First impressions count. Your email reply to their enquiry will be your first impression.
In this article, I'm going to help you evaluate what you're sending out right now and based on a little experiment I conducted, give you 5 ways to improve your dive centre email replies.
LET'S EVALUATE YOUR CURRENT EMAIL PROCESSES
If you're going to improve your dive centre email replies, you need to find where you're at right now as a benchmark. Here's a thought experiment to get you going:
A new potential customer just filled in your website contact form (or emailed directly if you don't have one of those). They want to learn to dive and have asked for more information about about your open water course.
What happens next?
Go through the process in your head:
- How quickly will you email them back?
- How do you greet them?
- What questions do you ask?
- Do you have ready-made information to send them or do you write each email from scratch?
- How many times on average do you expect to get a response once you've emailed?
- Do you follow up? How long will you wait?
- Are you going to make a note of this person's interest so you can keep track of what happens next?
- Anything else you'll do?
Great! Now you've got an idea of your current email processes, let's compare it to the industry norms.
I SECRET SHOPPED 10 RANDOM DIVE CENTRES
I did a little experiment this week to get an idea of where the industry sits when it comes to dive centre email replies.
I went on the PADI Dive Centre Locator map, randomly picked 10 centres from anywhere in the world and I sent them an email asking about learning to dive.
The message was super basic.
I'm sure you've had this type of email land in your inbox too - a bit wishy-washy, no details, non-committal, and purely information seeking. There's a reason I kept it so basic - I'll explain in a bit.
It will be funny if you're reading this and you recognise the message. Out of the 5,759 PADI dive shops, I ended up in your inbox. Small world eh?!
But seriously, you should repeat an experiment like this with all the dive centres in your area. It's really useful to find out what your neighbours do when they get enquiries so you can get a feel for their customer service.
To be successful in your business, you need to connect with potential customers in a way that the others can't. There are enough divers to go round, I promise you - but you do need to make the best first impression out of the bunch. If you can connect with them in a way that resonates, you've got the best chance of attracting new business and ultimately growing your dive centre.
Secret shop your neighbours, analyse their responses and then consider your strategies (with the help of this article!) to stand out so the customer ultimately chooses to dive with you.
So, with that in mind, let's analyse the responses and see if there are some nuggets you can use to improve your own dive centre email replies.
THE SPEED OF DIVE CENTRE EMAIL REPLIES
I was interested to find out how quickly dive centres replied. I sent the email at 5.10pm BST on Monday night. My guinea pigs ended up being in the UK, Holland, Dubai, Cambodia, Phillipines, Australia, Maldives and Komodo so I was aware that I'd given those in my time zone an unfair advantage in this race to reply first - the others would be fast asleep!
The dive centre in Holland was first across the line with a reply within the hour, but to give credit to 4 of the dive centres on the other side of the world, they replied the very next morning in their time zone. As I'm writing this (5 days after I sent the email), I'm still waiting for 4 of the centres to reply (including the one in the UK) sooo... read into that what you like! Oh, and one of the emails bounced - it's so important to keep your PADI.com listing up to date, if not you could be missing out on potential business.
Research by Jeff Toister and SuperOffice suggests that nearly half of all customers (46%) expect companies to respond to emails in less than 4 hours. 12% expect a response within 15 minutes or less.
Obviously, dive centres don't have big offices with hundreds of customer relations representatives keeping on top of all the emails. We're out diving and teaching and having fun so there might only be certain times of the day we can reply. However, there's no denying that a quick response gives a good first impression and shows the customer that you're available to help them. If you want to improve your dive centre replies, start replying quicker.
THE CONTENT OF DIVE CENTRE EMAIL REPLIES
This research confirmed my assumptions. I expected template replies, and that's what I got. 6 of the 10 replied, 5 used a template.
Don't get me wrong - there's absolutely nothing wrong with template replies. You'd be sick of your life if you had to write the same blurb out over and over again.
However, it's REALLY important that your customer can't tell it's the same template you send everyone else too. If they get a whiff of this, they'll feel like you don't have the time to spend writing to them personally, and that you don't really care about them.
In 2 of the replies, I'm fairly confident they used a template but only because I'm already savvy to the information. If I was a real customer, I wouldn't have been able to tell because it was integrated really nicely with the email.
There were 3 other templated email replies that made it super obvious the information was copied and pasted. That part of the email was in a completely different font and size than the rest! We can do better. At least make it look consistent!
There was a big variation in the amount of information that was offered about the open water course. This is one of the reasons I made the message so basic, so I could see what would be sent back.
One dive centre's reply was a simple question, "thanks for your email, how long will you be staying?" It's very sensible to try and find out more about your customer off the back of a very undetailed email. Asking questions like this qualifies the lead, making sure it's a good fit with your dive centre before taking the time to go into more detail - a good strategy that I'll talk more about in another article.
Some dive centres gave very thorough information that mentioned prices, itineraries and prerequisites. Others offered links or attachments so I could get that standard information. One was quite sparing of info, but that could be a reaction to my equally sparse email - again, qualifying the lead before committing the time as I'd be forced to reply to find out more.
I have no definite conclusion about the type or length of content you should include in order to improve your dive center email replies. It's something you should test and ask for feedback from your customers - both those who signed up and those who got away. It's only with that insight that you'll be able to make tweaks that lead to increased conversions.
KEY TAKEAWAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR DIVE CENTRE EMAIL REPLIES
Based on everything I've analysed from my little emailing experiment, here's a summary of the 5 main improvements dive centres can make to their email replies.
1. TEMPLATES ARE USEFUL, BUT USE THEM WELL
Don't waste time writing out the same information. Build yourself a template. I use Gmail and it has the function to set up templates. You could also have a document saved somewhere else where you copy and paste the information into your email.
The main thing is to make sure your customers can't tell it's a standard reply. Make sure the formatting is the same as the rest of the email and that you edit any information necessary - chances are their email won't be as basic as mine. They'll ask specific questions. If your templates don't cover the answers, you need to edit the reply to include the info they need. Failing to answer their specific questions will leave your potential customer feeling frustrated and unheard.
2. REPLY ON TIME
Unless you happen to be sitting at your laptop when the enquiry comes in, it's unlikely you'll be able to reply within 15 minutes. It's pretty cool when it happens like that, and it certainly impresses the customer "wow, thanks for the quick reply!"
Your customers will understand and accept there will be a little bit of a delayed reply because of the industry we're in. When someone drops us a message on Facebook or on our website chat, we've got an auto-response that says "if we don't reply straight away, there's a good chance we're underwater! We'll get back to you as soon as we're dry".
I think a reply time of within 4 hours shows exceptional customer service from a dive centre. It definitely gives a good impression. It might be an idea to set this as a goal for your team and see if it's achievable. And if it is, does it lead to more sales? It would be interesting to track that data in your dive centre to see if it's worth the extra effort.
You definitely need to reply within 24 hours. Anything more than this (unless your centre is closed that day, of course) unintentionally suggests that either you're not interested in the customer's business, or that there's some kind of issue at the centre - are they understaffed? Are they out of business? I sincerely hope that's not the case of the 4 who never got back to me!
No customer will ever think "oh, they've not replied yet, they must be sooo busy they haven't had the time. I'll wait for them because they're obviously a successful dive centre if they're this popular". Sorry to burst your bubble dive centres - I know there's some out there that think this way, but you're living in cloud cuckoo land.
3. SECRET SHOP THE DIVE CENTRES AROUND YOU
You absolutely should send emails to centres in your area to test their customer service. I do it and I'm pretty sure people do it to me too - I have no issue with it at all. This process happens in every industry, don't take it personally.
I often hear dive centres proclaim "those lot down the road stole my customer!" What a ridiculous statement. I don't own any of my customers, they're not my property. If they choose to visit another dive centre, then that is their prerogative. It just means that they found a better fit elsewhere and the other dive centre meets their needs better than we can. That's absolutely fine! If we're not a good fit, why would I try and force it? The dive centre hasn't stolen them, they just offer something that I can't.
So... be better, not bitter!
Secret shop dive centres in your area and find out what their customer service is like so you can better yourself. If you can nail that initial contact better than anyone else, the new diver comes to you.
Think outside the box with this secret shopping activity too. The dive centre down the road is not your competition, but the surf shop, SUP lessons, rock climbing centre and mountain bike rental certainly are. Send them some emails too - is there anything you can take away from their customer service to improve your own?
4. KEEP TRACK OF YOUR ENQUIRIES
My experiment hasn't ended yet. I'll update this blog post again later with the results because I also wanted to find out how many dive centres followed up after their initial email.
For those dive centres using a CRM (customer relationship management) program like EVE (a PADI partner), I'm expecting an automated follow-up reply within a few days (although nothing yet - 5 days later).
In my experience, it's not common for dive centres to use CRMs. So for the majority of dive centres I contacted, I'm not expecting a follow-up at all. There's too much going on every day and there's a good chance my enquiry will be buried in their inbox. Or, I'll be written off as a bad lead (which would be correct... but they don't know that yet!) so a follow-up would seem futile.
If you don't already track your enquiries, you need to set up a system to help you stay organised. You need to record the date and details of the enquiry and somehow set yourself a reminder to touch base with your potential new diver at some point. People's lives are complicated and full of other commitments. It might be that they're genuinely interested in what you have to offer, but replying just slipped their mind. Give them a gentle nudge to make sure or you're essentially just leaving money on the table.
I use Pipefy to handle my follow-ups. I like it because I can keep notes and move the customer through a sales flow, categorising them accordingly. There's loads of software you can use - if you google CRM you'll be scrolling for days. Many of these tools have functionality that is waaaay above what most dive centres need and so can be difficult to pick up. A good old spreadsheet does the job just as well, but you might want to invest the time (and sometimes money) into a fully-fledged CRM system if you intend to expand and grow your customer base.
It's 2 weeks later, I've had zero follow-ups from any dive centre.
You must follow up with every potential new lead!
Research suggests that it takes 8 touchpoints with a customer before they will commit to buying something. A touchpoint could be an email, a phone call, a live chat on your website.
If you don't follow up on your initial enquiries, you're dead in the water with only one touchpoint!
5. MAKE IT PERSONAL
Of all the takeaways, this is the single most important thing you can do to improve your dive center email replies.
I've touched on it a bit already - you need to make sure your templates actually cover the specific information requested by your customers, but you really need to go further than this.
A personal email shows that you value the person on the other end. You've spent the time to craft a response that has all the information needed but that also references something from their email.
It's really easy to do and doesn't take that much longer. If they mention something like "I did a try dive and loved it" ask them about it. If they say "I want to learn to dive so I can explore wrecks" tell them about some dive sites they can visit with you. Anything that shows you've read their message in detail and want to connect will work.
I purposely didn't give very much detail in my basic email enquiry because I wanted to see if there would be any cool techniques used to make the reply personal.
Unfortunately, apart from that one dive center who asked when I was coming on holiday, the only personalisation was my name. The only effort to elicit a reply from me were common phrases like "let me know what you think" and "please don't hesitate to contact us".
So, how could you personalise a reply to a super dry email like this that doesn't give you much to go on?
- Acknowledge the fact that they want to learn to dive is amazing - "It's so cool that you want to learn to dive, I think you're going to absolutely love it!"
- Ask questions that they are likely to respond to - "I think you're absolutely going to love it - have you ever tried it before?" This could also give you an idea of their comfort levels and past experiences plus it gets the conversation going if they do reply.
- Tell them what they're going to see! This is such an easy thing to do, yet so often overlooked. A lot of the replies went to the far end of a fart about how many sessions I do and what the elearning is going to be... but no one mentioned the whole reason I'm learning to dive - to explore the ocean. Take this opportunity to connect with them and tell a story - "you'll never believe what I saw on my last dive, Nic. I was on the house reef and I saw the biggest hawksbill turtle I've ever seen in my life. I really hope we'll spot him when we're on our dives!"
- Go one step further than a story - send some pictures of that turtle you saw, send a selfie of you in the dive centre reception holding up a sign with their name on it. It takes two seconds but it's super effective.
- The ultimate level of personalisation is the one I use the most - don't even bother sending an email, send a video message you've recorded just for them.
That final little trick works an absolute treat. Your customers aren't expecting you to make a video just for them. They're surprised and delighted - what a fantastic first impression! On average it takes me about 12 minutes to write a personalised email reply. I can get the same information across in a video message in a minute and a half. Plus I'll gladly sit and record the same information over and over because I'll always spin it in a slightly different way, it's nowhere near as tedious.
I walk through a reply to a real-life Fifth Point enquiry in an article called How to reply to a diver's enquiry and instantly sign them up. I break down the email reply I would have sent, but I actually replied with a personal video using a tool called Bonjoro and you can see that too.
There's a number of tools you can use to incorporate video into your emails - and not just for initial contact emails. You can use video to explain how to use elearning, to give a guided tour of your centre, there's even a tool you can use to turn your website chat into a video messaging service.
I show off my favourite tools and how to use them on The Dive Pro Hub YouTube Channel. Use the ideas in this article to improve your dive centre email replies, and then send your customer service into the stratosphere with these cheeky extras.
As always Nic – great article. Thanks for taking the time to share openly…