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May June 2020 Marina World

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INTELLIGENT MARINA SYSTEMS Software serves customers and companies by Nick Gill To be successful, marina management software must deliver for both the marina and its customers. Marina professionals know what they need to run operations - berth allocation and occupancy, reservations, asset management, maintenance scheduling, invoicing and payment, plus accessible reporting. Control over processes and access to information that delivers smooth and stress-free site management. What do customers want? It is clear that while boat owners want what they’ve always wanted - more time afloat - they’re also demanding transparency, flexibility and control. They’re used to internet shopping and managing their financial transactions online and expect the same seamless service from their marina. This is good news. Customer portals and other selfservice access points give customers the flexibility they desire without an impact on staffing. Mike Braidley, director of Castle Marinas says: “Having a portal means those customers who don’t want to talk to us don’t need to, freeing us to spend more time with the customers who do.” Reduce the churn Research shows that over 80% of customers expect a reply to an email within an hour, and a third expect an answer in 15 minutes. These are tall asks for most busy marina offices, so educating customers to self-serve online has to be a sensible move, indeed vital with current and future COVID-19 restrictions on marina operations and staffing. A portal that gives customers direct access to their account information, such as financial transactions, contact details, marketing choices and reservations removes many of the dayto-day phone calls and emails. Faster payment, fewer debtors Technology is not a barrier for most customers. Marinas using Harbour Assist transacted a third more online payments in the first three months of 2020 compared to 2019. In April 2020 the value jumped by 14% compared to the previous year. A lot of customer contact revolves around money – querying invoices and chasing payment. Giving customers online access to view and drill down into transactions provides the transparency they desire and gives control (even if illusory) over how and when to pay. Cut barriers to action with a ‘pay now’ button with a link through to a secure payment gateway and vaulted card facility. The experience at South West Lakes Trust bears this out: “With the portal, more customers are naturally switching to payment in full,” comments director James Platts. “This means we get income earlier in the year and fewer contract drop-outs. It is easier to keep on top of potential debtors.” Quality communications Reduce the churn of daily activity with self-service, and marinas can spend more time building quality relationships with customers. Who wants to chase debt when you can be having conversations that build deeper relationships with customers? Integrated CRM enables managers to send personalised emails, HTML newsletters, letters or SMS to targeted groups of customers. “During the coronavirus shut down, it’s been vital to communicate regularly with customers,” says Alison Wakelin at Emsworth Yacht Harbour. “Using smart lists to select customers in the boatyard or marina and to separate contracted and casual customers for tailored messages is invaluable.” A Microsoft survey showed that over three-quarters of people expect all customer-facing staff to know their service history, making complete customer records a priority. Alongside free-text notes fields and storing outgoing correspondence, a quality marina management system will track email ‘opens’ and automatically file email responses to provide a complete picture of the customer relationship. What is the future for marina IT? Recent events have changed marina operations, whether for a limited period of home working or an extended shutdown. These experiences will influence planning, investment and staffing decisions. Many operators are considering how to reduce face-to-face interactions with customers and suppliers, and even between team members, how to effectively administer the marina remotely and to deploy staff from home. Marinas are complex environments and will always need hands-on intervention to keep them safe and enjoyable places to work and visit. However, technology can play a more active part, for example in remote monitoring and control of electricity and water supply. Meter readings automatically fed into the marina management system to automate billing, or pre-pay systems controlled by the boat owner. Smart guardinage systems with onboard sensors sending push notifications to the marina office and boat owner if battery levels drop, bilge pumps activate, or cabin temperatures increase. This is about allowing customers into part of the marina management system. To blur the line between the customer and the marina by using the technology to deliver the transparency, flexibility and control that both parties need. Nick Gill is the co-founder and commercial director of marina software company Harbour Assist. www.harbourassist.com www.marinaworld.com - May/June 2020 49

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