The quagmire of being available 24/7/365 is a debate that pops up on a regular basis in agent-only discussion forums. Storefront agencies have very defined office hours, and clients don’t seem to expect them to be open after hours. They may be expected to offer after hours emergency service for clients that are traveling, but otherwise clients do not expect to be able to walk in the door after hours and obtain basic service like looking and booking. However, home-based agencies don’t seem to have the same boundaries. When the topic comes up for discussion in forums the debates quickly get heated. There are agents that work 24/7 and have no qualms with doing so. If a client calls at 2 o’clock in the morning, they’ll answer the phone, even if the client is calling to confirm their dining time on the cruise departing in ten months. Other agents are adamant that they only work set hours and never respond to clients after hours, ever. Who is right? No one and everyone.
Ultimately you have to set up your business model in a way that it works for you. Whatever you do, clients will quickly learn to adjust. If clients leave voice mail messages or send you emails at all times of day and night and you respond, they will quickly pick up on the fact that they can expect immediate responses from you. If they leave voice mails or send emails after hours and you respond the next business day, they will learn that they can expect an answer during business hours only.
How about losing potential business? This is where the debate gets heated amongst travel agents. You have to decide where you need to draw the line. What is your family time worth to you? What is your personal sanity and health worth to you? I cannot tell you what will work best for you, but I know what works best for me. I would be divorced and living alone without any friends if I worked 24/7/365. If I picked up the phone on Christmas Day, I would end up celebrating Christmas by myself. I have to set parameters, and stick to them. By doing so my clients quickly learn what my boundaries are–and they respect them. I doubt I have lost any business because I didn’t answer the phone at all hours of the night. If I have, it hasn’t been worth it to me. If I miss out on a world cruise commission because I value my time, health, sanity, and my family over money, I am okay with that.
Yes, I have had the phone ring on Thanksgiving Day and on Christmas Day. Each time I have let the calls go to voice mail. Every single time the message went something like this “I wanted to quickly call while I was thinking about this, but don’t worry about calling me back until Monday….” They call (or email) when they are thinking about something. They have no expectations of anyone actually answering the phone.
How about traveling clients that have emergencies? Those are the calls I will answer 24/7. But they also have others they can reach out to in emergencies, including the tour operators / suppliers I booked them through, and the travel insurance company. In true emergencies, even in the middle of the day, I advise clients to start with the travel insurance company first. They can often resolve emergency situations more efficiently if they are contacted directly. However, if they cannot help or the client cannot reach them for some reason, I definitely want them calling me even if it is 3 o’clock in the morning.
I’ll let you in on my dirty little secret. I’m a workaholic. I don’t even bother to claim to be a recovering workaholic. I’m constantly checking email on my iPhone no matter where I am. And the office phone simultaneously rings to my iPhone all the time. I was able to keep the phone off the whole time I watched Star Wars because the other movie goers would have run me out on a rail. Self-discipline really had nothing to do with it; it was more about self-preservation. But I am constantly on top of any emails and voice mails when I’m in restaurants, in the car (not when I’m driving), at hockey games, shopping, etc. I could easily fall into the trap of working 24/7/365. In order to help keep myself in check I have published office hours. Outside of those hours I let calls go to voice mail, which I will then check. If it’s a true emergency I respond immediately. If it’s not an emergency I take note of what’s needed and respond the next business day during office hours. The same goes for emails. I’m constantly checking, but I’m selective on my replies, deciding who gets a reply after hours versus which emails wait until the next business day. What is really cool is that some email programs let you craft the reply right away, but then schedule when the response will actually be sent to the client. So even when you work after hours, they don’t know that because they get your reply during your normal business hours.
If you are home-based, what measures do you take to establish work hours? Or do you work 24/7/365? Comment below and let us know.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, 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.