If you’re looking for an extra advantage in what can be an ultra-competitive market, there's heaps of data proving how important positive reviews are for your bottom line. But you're probably aware of that if you're reading this article, and don't need to be reminded that 84% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from people they know.The following best practices can help create customers who want to sing the praises of your watercraft rental business. Get ready to ride the wake of positive reviews!

1. No Surprises

Surprises are terrific if (1) they involve penguins, or (2) it's your birthday. But when it comes to booking a rental, everything should be crystal clear from the get-go. Staying on top of the following items can make a big difference between an average customer experience, and an awesome one...and the more awesome the experience, the better your chances for a glowing review.Neglecting the following items can be a recipe for bad reviews. Be extra vigilant about...

  • Bathrooms: Unpleasant restrooms are a mega magnet for bad reviews. Whether it's on the marina, aboard the boat, or in the office, go the extra mile to keep facilities comfortable and clean for your guests. Trust us, it pays off.
  • Website photos: Make sure the images of your equipment on your website accurately represent what customers are renting. The right online booking system will give you the flexibility to include multiple pictures in the checkout flow.
  • Routine inventory audits: Keeping your rental products in good shape is paramount to a great customer experience, so get in the habit of scheduling regular maintenance/safety audits for all your equipment. Better yet? Automate it.
  • Price transparency: Customers should always know exactly what the total price covers. Be transparent about what's excluded from the overall cost, such as life vests, gas, insurance, helmets, etc. The right online booking system should make it easy for customers to add on extras during the checkout flow, and automatically update totals based on variables such as duration and quantity. Check out our tips on simplifying rental pricing structures here.
  • Customer preparedness: A lost customer is an unhappy customer. A customer who can't figure out where to park is an unhappy customer. A customer who didn't wear the right clothes is an unhappy customer. You get our drift. It behooves you—and your chances for a great review—to help customers be as prepared as possible. Incorporate all the helpful details on your website (maps, driving directions, parking suggestions, recommended clothing, weather alerts, tips on local restaurants) and reiterate these in confirmation and reminder emails, which can be easily be automated with an online booking system.

2. Urge Watercraft Renters To Leave All The Important Stuff On Dry Land

It's simple, really. Losing your phone, keys, jewelry, wallet, or expensive designer sunglasses is sad. Very sad. Sad customers are going to be more preoccupied with cancelling credit cards or shopping for a new phone, and less concerned about taking the time to leave you a review. Save your customers from themselves: Encourage folks to empty their pockets and leave the important things on dry land—especially the first-time SUP'ers and kayakers. We've all been there!

3. Delight Tech-Savvy Customers With Cool Optional Add-Ons

Think about investing in high-tech gadgets such as waterproof bluetooth speakers, GoPro cameras, photo SD cards and drones, and making them available as optional add-ons to enhance the rental experience. By giving customers the ability to document their adventures, you’re appealing to the 65 percent of millennials who want the technological capability to share their travel experiences on social media, according to a recent survey conducted by The Futures Company for American Express. The right online booking platform will make it easy to seamlessly integrate these optional add-onsinto the checkout flow.

4. Be Prepared For Walk-ups

Having a plan in place to accommodate walk-ups is just as vital as having one for those who reserved ahead of time. An online booking system makes it easy for busy staffers to register walk-ups on the spot, thanks to features like shared calendaring, real-time inventory management and mobile payment processing.

5. Regularly Check Online Reviews. Respond To Them. Learn From Them.

“Thoughtfully responding to reviews, whether positive or negative, sends a strong and visible message that each customer is valued.”

It's simply a reality of the digital times we live in: Some customers are going to take a bad experience all the way home without broaching the subject with you in person. Regularly checking online reviews is an important way to gauge what your customers like, what they don't like, and how to adapt your business to serve guests better. Get in the habit of checking and responding to reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google and Facebook at least once a week.

6. Separate Your Businesses On Yelp

Speaking of reviews: Whether you operate independently from neighboring hotels and restaurants, or own the whole marina, be sure to separate your rental business from others you might be associated with. After all, a one-star dining experience shouldn’t reflect poorly on a five-star kayak rental experience. To do this, simply search online to see if a Yelp page already exists for your rental business. If it already exists, claim it. If not, you can create new business page with reviews explicitly dedicated to the rental division of your brand.

7. Anticipate The Needs Of Your Guests

You can’t control things like the weather or a customer getting seasick, but you can be prepared to go the extra mile for your guests.

Even if you provide an exceptional rental experience, some factors beyond your control can still reflect poorly on your business. For example, if you're renting motorboats, stash some essentials such onboard—a First-Aid kit, bottled water, extra sunscreen, Dramamine, etc. If you're renting kayaks or jet skis, consider providing dry bags, lockers or even complimentary branded sunglass holders.TIP: Another thing people seem to really praise on review sites? When rental businesses offer grab-n-go snacks and beverages for purchase. Think about setting up a simple snack stand onsite, or even inviting a local food truck to set up shop in your parking lot once a week. Who doesn't love street tacos after three hours of kayaking?

8. Show The Locals Some Love, Too!

While seasonal tourist traffic might generate the lion's share of your revenue, tapping into the local scene brings big benefits, too: A recent Nielsen survey says 84% of consumers reported always or sometimes taking action based on personal recommendations, while another study by Ogilvy, Google and TNS reveals 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision.Positive reviews from locals carry significant clout for out-of-towners, so go the extra mile to make the folks in your hood feel like VIPs. Here are a few ideas:

  • Offer special local rates for people who live in the same city or zip code as your business
  • Create a local rewards program—e.g., after five kayak rentals, the sixth one is free
  • Host periodic "locals-only days" or "locals play day" to entice nearby residents to come out. This can help you build meaningful relationships in the community, and keep your business top of mind when visitors ask around for local recommendations.

Not only do positive reviews service your bottom line, they offer raw insight into what makes your customers happy—and what you can do to keep it that way. Get in the habit of applying some of these best practices, and prepare for those five-star ratings to start rolling in.

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