Before entering the shower, I check my work emails. A habit I have formed lately. It can be a good thing. Just as easily it can be a bad thing.
Since last week, I have been dealing with a client that because we are a store front travel agency, called and insisted on visiting with an agent the very afternoon of his inquiry. In our world, we have a string of clients to whom we have committed time to work on itinerary planning. We are a very busy office. Some itineraries are very complex and require a substantial amount of time to research and service. This client was not willing to wait even until the next day to sit with someone – and as a result, it was scheduled that he would meet with me at 4:30pm that afternoon.
He arrived with his wife and we sat at my desk. He and his wife wanted to travel in August to Ireland, England and Scotland- over the course of a three week period and as they are both somewhat aged, they do not want to do their own driving. I share with them that I will gather as much information as possible from them to help me ascertain the best itineraries to meet their needs- primarily sourcing escorted and guided tours. I offer that with escorted tours, the nice aspect is that they do the driving, so much value is included, yes it is a group tour- and this can offer a remarkable array of experiences which otherwise they would not enjoy if they booked a simple air ticket with hotels and train tickets. There is an incredible amount of information one receives on these trips which offer an enrichment not possible on one’s own with a guide book in hand. A tour guide is with the group from start to finish, helping along the way for both the core tour as well as independent time- making helpful suggestions, restaurant reservations and the like. We spend a full hour at my desk discussing their needs and wishes. I promise to get back to them within 24 hours or so, letting them know that we have other client commitments, so will do our best to provide a follow up email with ideas as quickly as possible. The client insists he needs all of this information by morning. I look at him: “Is there a reason that this is so pressed for time?” They reveal that they are expecting out of town company so need to make a quick decision. Ok. I buy it.
What they do not realize is that I truly have other client commitments- dozens of them, and many demands on my time. I have pushed my pile of former client requests aside for his benefit this evening, and now he is asking me to push all of my commitments aside for the following morning in order to push his project to the top of my list. It is then that I learn that he has worked with another travel agency, and that this other agency had already suggested a few itineraries through various tour operators (that we of course also represent). He is shopping for tours and he is also shopping agencies. He says this with a half smile- like, you know, I am not committed to you- prove you have value.
I grow tired of this type of client. They are completely worthless to me. The time and energy he will suck from me and from my competing travel agency makes his business not worth my time. He is gruff, cranky, is sitting with his arms crossed and his nose up in the air. Wait, wait- I absolutely must serve this arrogant person right now, I must drop everything to please him and suck his toes while I am at it. His business is the most important thing in my life.
Oh wait, no. That’s not right.
I have value. I have worked in this business for decades and know that when clients trust me, and value my time- they reap dividends.
This guy is an arrogant son of a bitch who thinks that my time is of no value, he has not regard. He is cocky and believes that I should lay down flat with my arms outstretched and worship the ground he walks on because- he is a customer.
The next day, I put to use a new-hire in our department who wants exposure to research. She invest about one hour of her time searching through every possible tour operator offering to identify which comprehensive escorted tour will offer all of the bullet points the client indicated were of prime ultimate importance to him and his wife. One of the criteria was that since he is tall, he wants a motor coach that will be spacious, offer more legroom- business class type seating. He prefers smaller groups if possible (not the large 40 group options that are mostly the norm). He wants unique lodging, not big box hotels.
My colleague provides with the results of her research, we have three options to present. I go to work and type up a nice proposal which contains the three options, I explain discount offers and extra values. I send it to the client within the requested time limit. And then, nothing.
Later in the day- he sends a four word text style email to me with no salutation, no thanks for the work, no appreciation. A question that seems stronger in tone that it likely was- but lacking any substance, hard to read. I answer his questions. The deadline for early booking discount is that same Friday- just so happens that the tour operators are offering an early booking discount and it expires April 28. I had conveyed this in the email. As promised in the email, I follow up with a phone call to invite discussion- let me know how I can be of help, would love to talk through the options and learn your feedback so that I can best serve you.
Time invested so far: 3 hours.
Late Monday, I receive a phone call. It is then that I learn that he is now shopping a third agency, and wonders why I did not offer the tour that this third agency offered- through a completely different tour company. Yes, that is also a great tour company. There are dozens of tour companies. I checked on many different companies and the ones I had offered are also excellent choices. I explain that it is not really a matter of only one company offering the end all and best tour option amongst the dozens. I offer that there are several companies that are known for doing a great job- the one agency # 3 offered does a good job. In fact, I sell those tours often. In the case of his needs, I offered some options that promised a more intimate experience with only 18 people maximum on the tour. The experiences in my offered tour are unique and enjoyable.
I go on to mention that I am unsure why with the time constraint of identifying a tour quickly has turned into shopping several travel agencies for the tour operator offers. We all work with the same companies and it is a matter of identifying which tour itinerary will best suit. We are full service, I am glad to check on other tour companies. I need more concrete details of the competing offers in order to compare- it is important that we are comparing apples to apples.
I receive more cynical questions from him which show his lack of confidence in me or maybe for that matter, any agency or even in the concept of being involved in an escorted tour. The truth is what he needs is likely an independent trip which would require that he drive himself- but he does not want to drive. I can only imagine the rolled eyes from other escorted tour guests when they encounter this dude who is generally contrary and has a frown and growl. He will be no picnic for other tourists. On group tours, one encounters nice people- one also encounters know it all people who must prove and reprove their own worth by being high brow on most matters- he strikes me as the type.
I spend another half hour with him on the phone going over more questions.
At the conclusion, he begs off saying he will be in touch.
I stew on this for awhile. I have spent about 3.5 hours now. The other two agencies have also likely spent the same amount of time. Together, we have spent over ten hours.
I send him an email thanking him for his call. I let him know that any further investment of time and effort towards his trip will require a commitment deposit of $100 ($50 per person) for further research and service. It is a more professional and lengthy email than that but it is one we send often to clients who are not committing and wasting our time. While it may seem like a tactic of pushing business away, the truth is in my business- it is not uncommon for there to be a complete lack of regard for our time. After all, what is the big deal? I book on-line all the time- they are not doing that much for me. It’s disrespect.
Plain and simple.
Perhaps they consider it as one might consider shopping for an appliance, checking various stores for the best buys. However, ours is a service industry and the sales process is a time consuming endeavor with a lot of time sucked for research on client requests that are not committed requests. Those, in my view, are not always worthy of my time. I have piles and piles of folders on my desk for clients that value my time. Who understand what goes into the process. So when those clients reveal themselves to me showing they don’t care about what I offer, they are going to shop me around to other retail shops… I let them loose. I need to direct my attention to the labor of love that I offer to those clients who get it.
There is a hope with some of those cold calls that they too will turn into a labor of love. But when they show up with a scowl, crossed arms, questions that at the beginning stage are unreasonable (what are the dimensions of the seat cushions on all motor coaches for all tour companies – I want the biggest seat cushion if going on I a bus tour)- well, those I am comfortable saying goodbye to.
I think about conversations I have had with friends in the past, proud of themselves for having put a sales person through the paces, only to compare shop and then jump on-line to buy it on-line instead of in person. We have become a culture that does not value human service. We are in a hurry. We are cynical. We can be gruff and we can discount the value of the human effort. With my own experiences with unpleasant customers, I must remember this in my own consumer transactions. Treat people well. Be courteous and respectful. Value their time. Don’t shop around unless it is absolutely necessary. Give the person who spent the time with you first- the benefit of the doubt.
It’s time to wrap this up and head to my desk and invest my time with those souls who value the process.