Many boaters today are busy professionals who are used to incorporating technology into nearly every part of their lives, especially when shopping. They don't want to wait around on a dock to fill paper forms out by hand or walk back and forth to and from a single office location to make a payment.
As a result, marinas, harbors and anchorages are experiencing a wave of digital transformation; technology has swept into every part of the buying process - planning, reservations and payments. The ubiquity of cell phones and mobile apps has fundamentally shifted today’s boater expectations - they expect up-to-date technology at any point they interact with a Marina. This guide will highlight the top 5 features marinas should look for in a modern marina software solution in order to manage boater expectations when it comes to technology.
Today, many prospective and current marina customers start trip planning online. They will often start by browsing for marinas based on reviews, amenities and services. They may want to book a slip as part of a broader itinerary, or they might need to secure space at the marina while they are already out on the water. Both of these buying scenarios require a strong digital presence.
Marinas that don’t offer prospects and customers a way to find them online run the risk of losing out on potential, existing, and future business. Modern marinas should not ignore the prevalence of online booking technology in all industries, boaters have come to expect these features in any business they engage with. Marinas don’t need an overly complex online reservation system with many different modes and interface options - start with a website and an inquiry form to easily allow boaters to confirm availability and complete a reservation request quickly. Any modern marina software should enable you to easily setup a marina webpage and an online form to store boater data in a central location and make assigning slips and other spaces turnkey. Your marina web page should inform boaters, answer common questions, and provide contact details such as email or phone number.
For a more mature digital entrypoint for boaters - look to marina software programs that allow prospects to book a slip or mooring directly from their phone or mobile device. The key is selecting a system that makes it easy to manage reservations, communicate with customers and centralize information.
The important thing to remember is that allowing digital booking doesn’t have to come at the cost of customer service or relationship building. As a marina owner, you’ve already built expertise to communicate with boaters. The best marina software should enhance your customers' experience, not interrupt it.
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Traditional offline contract management involves a contract being printed, filled out by hand, and then mailed or faxed to a customer location so they can send it back. Even if you draw up a contract on-site, not every boater will want to (or can) stop by your office immediately to sign paperwork and provide their license and insurance. None of this makes you any less responsible for collecting all this information, or any less liable if an issue comes up.
Technology has simplified the collection of documents and signing of contracts for both sides of the transaction. Not only are e-signature and digital documents convenient for customers, but they also allow your marina operations team to complete a critical step in the purchasing process with almost zero manual effort. With e-signature tools, there’s no need to wait for customers to stop by your marina office or expect them to sign documents and then put them in the mail. Not to mention, going paperless is also better for the environment as well.
Start by turning your current forms into digital web pages or PDFs. From there, set up a software tool like DocuSign to easily integrate into your current workflow. Once you feel more comfortable using digital contracts, find a marina management system that helps you manage reservations, contracts, and payment processing. This will speed up your communication with boaters and ensure you have automatic backups of important information.
Whatever software you select should make life easier for your prospects and customers, while simultaneously making your business run more efficiently. Failing to adopt new technology that makes contract signatures and verification easier could affect your bottom line.
Today’s boaters are used to paying with apps and wallets or using a credit card online. Almost every other industry has this setup in place already – when was the last time you went to a store that didn’t accept credit cards?
In fact, one study showed that, in 2021, credit card purchases accounted for 28% of all payments. Households with an income above six figures use credit cards at an even higher rate, more than one out of every three purchases. Allowing customers to use credit cards with a modern marina point of sale system (POS) is critical for your business and customer convenience.
At a minimum, you should be able to take credit cards from new and existing customers. Almost any business can start taking cards by signing up for a free or low-cost merchant account with a payment provider like Stripe or Square. However, you may find it’s often more convenient to have this function handled by an all-in-one marina software that you can also use for marketing and marina operations management.
The surge in digital POS payments in industries like hospitality and dining means customers have existing expectations to use their phone or touchless card to send payments. Besides that, many boaters don’t want to carry cash with them, particularly if they’ve got a busy itinerary with several locations. They will appreciate being able to purchase ice, snacks, fishing supplies or drinks through a single interface without having to deal with cash or wait for their credit card to make a round trip back to your marina’s office.
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Marina owners understand that while one-off slip customers are important and help support cash flow, the bread and butter of any marina business is recurring monthly customers. These clients typically sign a contract to pay the same amount each month to store their boat, sometimes during the off-season or when they are on extended travel.
Many marinas today still rely on traditional methods to collect payment from customers in different locations: sending out an invoice or monthly statement in the mail, then waiting on the customer to mail back a check. Besides the unpredictability of sending important financial documents via snail mail, it can be difficult to get customers to mail a check to you every month, especially if they travel to new locations frequently or or are out on the water for months at a time. Ideally, your marina software should automate contract creation and send, collection of billing and credit card information, and processing of payment for you.
There’s no reason to be hesitant about customer acceptance or moving away from traditional methods. Any marina’s customers will appreciate not having to fuss with mailing payments or writing out checks for services every month.
It’s important to stay engaged with past and prospective boaters by using email marketing and other modern technology. It’s always easier to get repeat business than to win over a new prospect. Another benefit of email is its universal reach. By 2026, we can expect 4.6 billion email users worldwide, with nearly $18 billion of revenue from email marketing by 2027.
Marinas that market via email can already take advantage of higher email engagement rates than other industries. Travel, hospitality, and leisure emails have an industry-wide average open rate of 20.5% which is much higher than average. With some additional effort in personalizing and segmenting an email list, your marina may be able to do even better.
Whether it’s a transient boater looking to get a question answered about mooring, or a longtime customer that has an issue with a recent account statement, everyone wants a resolution as quickly as possible. Using modern marina software with robust email options is a great way to make people feel like you are working on their inquiry, even if a real person on your team can’t immediately be available to answer.
Of course, email isn’t your only option. If you’re looking to engage with your boaters in near real-time, ensure your marina software offers a chat option. Even if you’re only using this functionality seasonally, the ability to message all your customers in one interface will save you time, ensure a positive boater experience and increase your repeat business.
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Attend a demo by May 31, 2023 and we will waive your new Dockwa account setup fees.