Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Timing is Everything

(1:05) Even the most compelling message can fall short if your timing is off. Do you know when potential customers are perusing your data? It may not be when you think. The right message at the right time is key to success.

(0:59) To gain the maximum benefit you need to reach me when I am planning my cruising and this typically happens far ahead of time. While it is certainly possible to deliver a message or offer so compelling that I would change my plans later, it is far easier to fit into my original planning process.

(0:52) We have an interesting perspective as we watch the activity in the ActiveCaptain database throughout the year. I'll use the US east coast snowbird migration path as an example route, something we are extremely familiar with. First, let's look at the physical movement of the snowbirds.

(0:46) At our homeport in Maine, summer is obviously the busiest cruising time. And the activity increase stretches down through Long Island and south as cruisers search for cooler summer temperatures. Movement begins south in the fall with a bunching of cruisers in the Chesapeake Bay and mid-Atlantic as they wait for hurricane season to end in the south. Then there's a rush south as they search for warmer temperatures with many ending up in Florida, the Bahamas, and Caribbean for the winter. It all reverses in the spring as the heat and hurricane season moves cruisers back north again.

(0:32) However, this timing of activity is not what we see happening in the ActiveCaptain database. While the activity levels have a similar ebb and flow, the planning being done is happening much earlier.

(0:27) Looking at the same general areas, we see activity increases occurring 3-6 months before the boats start moving. For example, the boaters viewing ActiveCaptain data in the Chesapeake Bay starts to pick up in the winter and peaks in the early spring. Florida area viewing is busy in the summer/fall and actually reduces a bit in the winter. This happens because cruisers have already made their decisions about where they will be.

(0:17) If you want to have the maximum impact for your marketing message, you need to be getting it out when cruisers are actually forming their plans and not only when they are implementing them. Getting into a boater's plans during the formation period is when you'll get a boater to stay with you for weeks or months instead of just overnight too.

(0:10) I was reminded of this when one of our more savvy partners, Atlantic Yacht Basin, began promoting summer storage in February. That's smart timing. Many snowbirds look for a safe place to store their boat during hurricane season so they can travel back to their home ports. It's something we have done several times ourselves. Wait another couple months and most of us will have already made our decisions and you'd be too late at attracting us.

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mistakes Happen

(1:00) We all makes mistakes from time to time. Having the attitude that you don't make mistakes is not only unrealistic, it is harmful to your business. Handling a mistake well can actually increase loyalty and help you succeed. Here are some things to keep in mind the next time your business stumbles.

(0:53) 1. Own up quickly. Boaters actually understand that things can go wrong. After all, they've made mistakes too. It's difficult to get angry at someone who quickly and honestly confesses to making a mistake. So apologize and tell them what you will do to resolve the problem.

(0:47) 2. Understand what went wrong. The only way to fix a problem and ensure it doesn't happen again is to first understand why it happened. Key to this process is an environment where your staff is encouraged to come forward when mistakes are made. It should be a learning process for everyone with the mistake acting as a catalyst for improvements.

(0:38) 3. The buck stops here. Even if a problem occurred through no fault of your own or maybe even because of something the boater did, there is nothing to be gained by placing blame. Frankly, I wouldn't care who created the problem, I'd just want it fixed. Do that and you're my hero. Always focus on what can be done to fix the problem and keep it from occurring again.

(0:29) 4. Write it down. When you are in the midst of a problem it may seem you will always remember it but it's easy to move on to other tasks and forget. It's important to record what went wrong before moving to the next task. Include information about how it was resolved and any procedures or training that should be modified. That is the best way to move forward and ensure you don't make the same mistake twice.

(0:20) 5. Commit that it won't happen again. Use every mistake to learn and improve. Determine that you will make the necessary changes to prevent the same problem in the future. Let your customers know this and you will project your commitment to customer satisfaction. It's not actual perfection that will keep them coming back, it's the honest pursuit of the highest standards.

(0:11) In the end, your customers will remember how well you handled the problem rather than the actual problem itself. Treat every business stumble as a golden opportunity to show your customers that you have integrity and are committed to customer satisfaction. Use it to improve the way you do business and keep your customers coming back.

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Secure WiFi

(1:01) We were not surprised that last week's discussion about WiFi generated a big response. We also wrote about WiFi in our weekly ActiveCaptain newsletter which generated even more input from boaters. It is obvious that this is a topic that hit home on both sides. That makes it all the more important that we look to find a solution. As I mentioned in last week's Minute, I want to use some of the upcoming Minutes to help clarify WiFi issues and hopefully help us all to reach a better solution. This week the subject is WiFi security.

(0:48) I doubt I have to address the importance of online security when lately all one needs to do is turn on the news to hear about another computer security breach. We ran a series in our ActiveCaptain newsletter beginning on November 2010 pointing out the dangers of open WiFi and offered ways for boaters to mitigate those dangers. But still today, marinas and boaters have little idea about the potential risks when connecting to an open WiFi system. Or how simple it is to make the system much more secure.

(0:37) Our ActiveCaptain series dealt with the potential security risk a boater faces when they connect to open WiFi. Open WiFi is when you connect to any WiFi hotspot without entering a password. The password must be at the time of WiFi connection too, not part of some login process. And to make it even more confusing, there are multiple acronyms for encryption settings: WEP, WPA, WPA2, and others.

(0:29) The real problem began in October of 2010 when freely available software made it trivial for the average 14 year old to grab passwords, cookies, and emails through an open WiFi hotspot. Boaters can protect themselves using a VPN service and we've written about it numerous times to boaters. Today, few have VPN's and they have no idea about the risk they are putting their information in. But you can protect them.

(0:21) The right solution is for you to have a WPA or WPA2 password on your WiFi hotspot. It costs nothing extra for you. The actual password doesn't matter and can be displayed for everyone to see. Just having the password for WPA or WPA2 encrypts users from each other even with the same password. It also allows you to control who gets onto your WiFi which might be important to you.

(0:13) There's a marketing angle with WiFi passwords too. With a little imagination you can use that password to promote your branding. For example, how about making it "ThankYou"? Or something you are promoting, like "Sunsets", "PamperYourself", or maybe "BestBeach". Use a phrase you'd like boaters to think of when they think about you. Let your customers know that you're watching out for their security when they're away from home. That's a message that will keep more of them coming in.

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The WiFi Perfect Storm

(1:21) We love spending time talking with marina owners, managers, and staff. It's always an interesting exchange of ideas and experiences as we help them better understand the needs and expectations of real cruisers and they help us understand the issues they face trying to meet those needs. Our hope is that marinas will improve and become more successful while cruisers (us included) have more and better choices.

(1:12) Beginning a couple of years ago we started hearing more and more unhappiness about marina WiFi. It came from marinas and boaters alike. Should marinas charge? Should streaming video be banned? Is it fast enough? What about security? It has been an important topic at 95% of the marinas we've spent time with over the past year. Seriously, 95%. It's likely an issue at your marina.

(1:03) This isn't surprising as we've seen a huge increase in the number of devices onboard and much higher connectivity expectations. Many marinas have older (only 3-5 year!) WiFi systems that are showing their age at a time when smart phones, iPads, and smart TV's are causing more demand for high speed internet. We're also at a point where there's an influx of cruisers that are more comfortable with all of these technologies. As these things come together, we find ourselves in the middle of a WiFi Perfect Storm.

(0:52) When we began cruising nearly 12 years ago, many boats had one laptop onboard that often ran a navigation program and might occasionally be used for email if you could get to a cafe or library. Early on we began accessing free WiFi most often from nearby homes or businesses. No one worried, or maybe understood, about security then. We were one of the first boats to have our own long range WiFi antenna allowing us to access signals from miles away. We had to build it ourselves from commercial parts.

(0:41) Fast forward to boaters in 2014 and you will find boats that have at least 2 laptops (and often more), one or more internet smartphones, tablets, and even a smart TV that all connect to WiFi. Many have off-the-shelf long range WiFi capabilities. Not only have the number of devices increased many times over, the connectivity speed needed for those devices has grown exponentially. It's no longer good enough to access email once a day. Boaters want (need?) access to news, weather radar, and online movies and Skype to visit with family. And the needs continue to expand with things like Facebook and eBoatCards providing new ways to stay in touch with others.

(0:27) Fast forward to marinas in 2014 and you have aging installations that are having increased problems meeting the demand. The systems installed appear to have little growth or scalability design to allow them to meet today's needs let alone next year's. And we know that demand is not going to decrease next year.

(0:19) Increasingly marinas have been turning to us for guidance. While ActiveCaptain keeps us busy more than full time, we believe this issue is critical and are working to find a solution. The full solutions will come from multiple directions: a) educating boaters on how to best use their equipment, b) finding companies capable of offering the right solutions, and c) helping marinas understand how they can readily afford it, if not save money over what they're doing today.

(0:09) WiFi is a genie out of the bottle. It won't go back in and is here to stay. But I believe I can help you understand how to manage the genie and bring you more business. Stay tuned for more minutes about thriving in this Perfect Storm.

(0:02) And that's the marina minute.