October 4th, 2011 . by Linda Furlan, ECC
As you may recall, my last diary entry here – “The Human Touch” was my “rebuttal” to President Obama’s remarks that travel agents are essentially obsolete, implying that most people buy their travel on-line – similar to how one favors an ATM over using a bank teller. Thank you for your many positive comments and e-mails, by the way! Your solidarity was very touching – and refreshing!
Imagine my delight when a recent article caught my eye, all about the gradual phasing-out by some supermarkets of self-checkout lanes!
Apparently, according to extensive market studies, there’s been a 6% drop in usage of self-service lanes in only 3 years; apparently, people reported being much more satisfied with their supermarket experience when they used traditional cashier-staffed lanes.
The irony–retailers anticipated a labor savings by encouraging shoppers to check themselves out. The reality–problems like long lines, computer glitches, and keying-in incorrect codes have resulted in many customers avoiding self-serve lanes. This has led to the decision by some stores to reduce or even eliminate the self-checkout option all together.
I do believe this human touch thing is catching on!
This brought to mind some clients of mine who called recently to set up an appointment to discuss booking a cruise. As it turns out, they wanted to join several friends who’d already booked their cruise–who had (against my clients’ advice) chosen to book theirs directly with the cruise line.
When my clients arrived, they were already equipped with almost all the details they needed: ship, sailing date, categories, pricing. Being past passengers with this cruise line and on this very ship, they could have very easily gone direct – just as their friends had.
But – just like the supermarket – the fast and convenient way isn’t always the best way, as we soon found out.
You see, the cruise line no longer prints brochures. Aside from the obvious cost-savings the cruise line is enjoying (cleverly disguised as “Going Green”) - customers and agent alike have depended on them! Particularly for those detailed deck plans that are so integral in the cruise booking process. Yet certain cruise lines are actually driving clients to the Internet to look at them. Admittedly, with the ships getting bigger and bigger, deck plans are getting smaller and harder to read. But have you tried to read them off of a computer screen lately? Sure – you can zoom in and out; but it becomes so fragmented that one can miss important details. If it can be challenging for a seasoned travel pro like me, imagine what it’s like to a novice!
Thankfully, I’ve kept a desk copy for these very situations and it has come in handy! When they discontinued the deck plans, I complained like most agents.
And then it dawned on me–they were actually doing agents a favor. Rather than griping about the inevitable, I’ve chosen to seize this as an opportunity to really shine. I was able to navigate the deck plan with them to their advantage – both location-wise, and even price-wise (due to a residency discount).
Was making a trip to my office more convenient than booking this from the comfort of their own home? Undoubtedly, no. Was it quicker? Not at all. But was it worth it? Absolutely!
As Henry Ford once said: “A business absolutely devoted to service will have only one worry about profits: they will be embarrassingly large.” In this self-service world we live in, let’s not allow our vendors to dictate what we can’t do – but rather, let’s be a hero to our customers – showing them what we can do – and doing it better than anyone else!
Please share any experiences you’ve had where you’ve been a hero to your customers, and turned a potential negative into a positive!
Linda Furlan is a career Travel Consultant with over 30 years experience as one of our front-line agents. She is an ECC Cruise Specialist employed by Ensemble-affiliated Viking Travel Service/The Cruise Shop (www.cruise-shop.com) in Naperville, IL – celebrating their 40th Year in business in 2011. From Corporate to Groups to Leisure to middle-management, she’s seen and done it all – but becoming a niche specialist in her favorite genre – Cruising – has been the most fulfilling. Linda also recently combined her passions for travel, writing, and photography by starting her own Travel Blog . She can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at (630) 357-7447.