Are you the client from hell?
Has your travel agent seemed a little on edge with you lately? Have you noticed a change in tone when he talks to you? Are you becoming more and more intimate with his voice mail? You could be turning into the client from hell. Relax. There is still time to reclaim your status as a nice person.
As New Year’s approaches, let me remind you of five simple rules for the care and feeding of me, your travel agent. The result can be a much-improved partnership that will serve us both well in 2006.
Be respectful of my time. I am a professional travel agent, and my time is every bit as important as your time. Please keep this in mind when you call to ask for help. Yes, I will go out of my way to help you, but I do have other clients — some of whom may have (sorry to say) priority at the moment. I need to prioritize my work so I can deliver knockout service to each client in the long run. You wouldn’t waste your doctor’s time, would you?
Be honest with me. If you have already booked that vacation and are just trying to keep your regular agent honest (or are just checking your own surfing skills), please let me know. I’m not saying that I won’t help you, but I would rather know up front that I don’t have a chance at a sale. I’ll still work with you, because I know I might have a shot at your next trip. But when I sit down to help you, please remember my first point.
Remember that kindergarten math lesson. Apples belong with apples and oranges belong with oranges. There is nothing more frustrating than being asked to investigate one option only to be told later that you got it cheaper elsewhere — but what you got isn’t even remotely what you originally asked for. When you say you want to leave from Baltimore and go to Fort Lauderdale, I will research flights leaving from Baltimore, Washington and Dulles Airports for you as well flights arriving to Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Miami. Boston isn’t an option I would normally consider, and neither is Tampa. Yes, you may find the fare to be less expensive for the Boston-to-Tampa route, but that is not what you asked me to investigate. So please define your terms clearly.
Have an idea about what you want. It is very difficult to help someone who cannot even begin to make up his mind. Please do not be the ice-cream lover who must sample all 31 flavors. If you come to me looking for pricing on a family vacation to Alaska, the Caribbean, Europe or the Pocono Mountains, chances are that I am not going to take your request too seriously. Now, if you are trying to decide between Alaska and the Caribbean in the summer, we can talk.
Be realistic. Inevitably, the question is going to come up, “What is your budget?” Believe it or not, I am not looking to empty your wallet. This is a critical question that needs an honest answer before I can design your trip. You need to have an idea of what to expect for your hard-earned dollars. I will not be able to find a week at Disney World for your family of four that includes air fares, character breakfasts, Park Hopper passes, a personal meeting with Walt, and lodging in the Grand Floridian - all for $1,999. That is simply not going to happen. But I might be able to get you into an off-resort property (sorry, Walt still won’t be joining you). I am not being nosy when I ask about your budget, and remember, you always have the final say.
Do you see yourself here? Be honest. Most travel agents are genuinely nice people who have specialized in this ever-changing and complex field. Your travel agent will work hard with you, but if you morph into the client from hell, be prepared. You might be the one getting a pink slip.
John Frenaye is the president of JVE Group, Inc., a diversified company based in Annapolis, Md. With a background in business management, he writes about the travel industry as an insider with an outsider's perspective.
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