I was all set to write something about delayed gratification and how it figures largely in what I do as a travel agent as well as in my life these days; but then I realized that what I really want to talk about is the gratification that is promised and never arrives. Not delayed, but nonexistent. It’s all about the expectations that we (and our clients) have—however realistic or unrealistic.
Last month, a friend of mine put me in contact with a person who was considering getting into the travel business as an agent. She’s done quite a bit of globetrotting herself and loved it, so she thought that it might be gratifying to help other people explore the world as well. She asked me what sort of challenges she might expect from clients. I told her the usual stories about how they won’t be as geographically knowledgeable, how they will expect cruises to operate from land-locked cities, and how they will expect that she will be willing to offer bargain-basement pricing in order to get their business away from larger retailers.
Clients have expectations that come from interesting places: certain message-boards, online retailers, and advertisements from cruise lines themselves. The odds are stacked against us it seems. It is difficult to give the best service with an un-level playing field and mixed messages. It becomes even more frustrating when vendors tout a philosophy of standing with and supporting their “travel partners;” yet not following through with those promises.
I won’t name names, but there is a particular cruise line that seems to give a lot of lip service to their support of travel agents, and has repeatedly fallen down on those promises… as recently as last week. Even more frustrating to me, is the fact that this is a cruise line that I used to love selling. Unfortunately, each time I have contact with them in a professional capacity other than simply booking something on their website, I’ve come away feeling disappointed. They can’t follow through or be truthful with simple things, like where their seminars are located (NYC and New Jersey may be neighbors, but they’re definitely not the same place), or make sure that there’s enough cookies for everyone during a break that’s specifically focused around coffee and cookies, and because of this, I can’t have faith that they’ll come through on the promises that they make to my clients. My confidence in this particular vendor has been fleeting quite a bit in the past year, but it has served as a great example in one aspect: I never want my clients to feel that way about me.
It is great to have confidence in your product or service, but it is even greater to under-promise and over-deliver. When a client comes to me, no matter what their expectations, I want them to come away with the feeling that their expectations have not only been met, but also exceeded. I want them to feel as though they have dealt with a professional, one that they would be comfortable dealing with again, or recommending to their friends. I would never want a client to come away with the same bitter taste in their mouth as I had when leaving the seminar last week. It may seem petty and the devil may be in the details, but it all starts out with the little things. Getting the little things right sets the tone and helps manage expectations. Done right, it will keep them coming back for more.
As for me….well, I seem to have a strong craving for cookies.
Crickett Lancaster is the owner of the home-based agency Go Away! in Brooklyn, NY. She’s an avid knitter, a karaoke fiend, and loves the freedom of being able to work in her pajamas if she so chooses. She occasionally posts travel-related rants and reviews at http://www.crickett.net, and can also be found on Facebook or email.