The holidays are in full swing as we wind down 2014, but there is no rest for travel professionals. As we see clients off for their holiday travels, we are simultaneously preparing for the booking onslaught we affectionately call “wave season.” Many cruise lines have already come out with pre-wave season offers, trying to persuade passengers to book a bit earlier than usual. But once the Rose Parade floats have wilted and everyone returns to work with their holiday hangovers, our phone lines, emails, texts, and Facebook messages will blow up. Are you ready? If not, it isn’t too late. Carve out some time from your holiday schedule to prepare yourself for what will hopefully be a busy and prosperous wave season. Here are a few tips we have gathered that may help you out.
First, devise a manageable system to handle the deluge of emails you will get from suppliers with all of their booking offers. If you know how, set up a folder in your email with an automatic rule to move supplier emails (identified by specific email addresses) into that folder. Once a day check that folder to read the emails, deleting the ones not needed. However you normally track supplier offers (by spreadsheet, handwritten notes, your CRM, or other means of tracking), use that for tracking offers relevant to you and your clients. If you don’t have a tracking system yet, you can quickly set up a simple spreadsheet … Supplier name, start and end dates of promotion, and short description of the promotion. This will give you a quick reference sheet to use when clients call. When a promotion has expired, you can delete it or gray it out on your spreadsheet.
After you have supplier emails under control, you need to control clients. This is harder to do, but it is possible. Consider changing your voice mail greeting for the duration of wave season. Create a brief message explaining that you are currently working with a client during this busy booking season (don’t use “wave season” terminology as that is not a phrase they would understand), but that you will return their call as soon as possible, and give them the same service and undivided attention. If you are comfortable with giving them a time frame (such as, ‘I will return your call within four business hours’), you can do so. But we all know how things out of our control can interfere with our best laid plans, so I personally don’t give a time frame.
Prioritize how you respond to client emails and voice mail messages. This can be based on their travel timeline, ease of booking (of your repeat clients you probably know who is a short call/booking), or size of booking (call back the client interested in booking a family of 15 to on a two week European cruise before you call the client wanting the cheapest stateroom on a three night Bahamas cruise). You always need to balance business (profitability) with customer service, without sacrificing either one.
ASK FOR HELP
Are you just slammed, finding it impossible to respond to clients in a timely manner? Do you have trusted relationships with other travel professionals that you can work with? If they are experiencing a slower wave season than you, can they help you out? It would be best to work out details BEFORE wave season hits like a tsunami. Have a conversation with several agents you trust. Discuss the “what if” scenarios … What if I’m slammed and you’re slow? Or you’re slammed and I’m slow? How can you help each other out? And agree to compensation beforehand, whether it is a flat fee, hourly fee, or commission split.
This is crucial not only to your own well-being, but to the success of your business. You cannot work 24/7/365 without consequences. Set your business hours AND STICK TO THEM. Do not let clients pressure you into working until 3AM when you have to be up at 6AM. During wave season, many of us will have extended hours, but you still need to reinforce them. Let after hour calls go to voicemail (and considering an after hours voice mail message explaining you’ll return their call during normal business hours UNLESS THIS IS AN IN-TRAVEL EMERGENCY). You can check email after hours if you choose to do so, but set replies go out delayed (i.e. 8AM the next morning). Just because you choose to work after hours, your clients do not need to know that. Obviously, if the email is urgent, don’t delay the reply.
And finally, still in the sanity column, plan your own escape for the end of wave season. Plan a quick weekend getaway within driving distance, and reward yourself for a job well done. And when you return home, start working on sending all of these booked clients on their merry way.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvaations.com) she focuses on travel for 18 to 23 year olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.