Supplier A implements a policy, for example not allowing passengers to remove food from the dining rooms or buffet. The decision backfires as passengers complain in large numbers, and in very public forums. In less than a month Supplier A backpedals and rescinds the decision. The reason given for implementing the new policy was because the new CEO was appalled by the dirty dishes and trays lying throughout the hallways when he toured a ship. A quick decision was made: not to make a pointed effort to clean up trays and plates in the hallways, but instead to ban the removal of food from dining areas. Having this decision coincide with a recently implemented delivery charge for room service, and a good number of people see the move as a ploy to increase room service orders (and charges collected). The end result? Egg on their faces.
Supplier B is a land based business with a rodent for a mascot. They rarely implement a change haphazardly. Instead, they survey the daylights out of their guests. They analyze data forwards, backwards, and sideways to determine what the market will handle, and what guests are clamoring for in the way of improvements. They have cast members stationed throughout all of their parks, every day, randomly stopping guests (very politely) and asking for just a few minutes of their time. They’ll ask a few questions, get your email for a possible more in-depth follow up survey, and send you happily on your way. On a rare occasion you can get pulled into an on-site focus group (I’ve only been that lucky once, about 15 years ago).
Right now, some of their survey questions are probing guests to see what the tolerance level might be for “surge pricing” for park admission (charging higher rates for more popular attendance times). Will this actually happen? It’s too early to tell. Because with this particular supplier, decisions tend to be methodical and analyzed to the hilt. If they are convinced that park attendance won’t tank, don’t be surprised in months (or years) to come that some form of surge pricing is introduced. If guest feedback is overwhelming negative, we may never hear of this again.
And how does this apply to us (other than dealing with our own irate clients upset about not being able to take food out of a dining room, or complaining about crazy park admission pricing)? It gives us a good example of how to (or not to) implement our own changes in business practices.
Nolan Burris is an advocate that travel consultants should charge consultation fees (bear with me here, even if you disagree with Nolan). But he doesn’t recommend just pulling a number out of thin air and announcing your fees the next day. Instead, there is some analysis and research that needs to be done to determine what fees your agency should put into place. What works for a New York City agency might not work as well for an agency in Paducah, Kentucky. The point is, regardless of what you want to change or implement, you need to put some thought into it first. How will it impact your existing clients? How might it affect your ability to attract new clients? How will it affect your bottom line? Will it have an adverse or positive affect on employees or ICs?
In general it is a good marketing strategy to survey clients and request their feedback. They will appreciate that you are giving them a voice, asking their opinion, and that you are listening to them. Don’t go overboard sending out surveys on a weekly basis; you’ll burn out your clients and they’ll stop responding altogether. But a quarterly survey (at the most) can help you gather information to help you decide which policy changes to enact, and which ones to table temporarily, or trash altogether.
Supplier A isn’t going out of business because of their recent backpedal. But the negative feedback due to a hastened policy implementation still smarts. They’ll ride out the storm until it is old news and passengers have (hopefully) forgiven and eventually forgotten. As much smaller businesses, however, any negative backlash can have a more of a wallop on a small agency and be harder to recover from in the public relations realm.
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.kickbuttvacations.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.