Phone calls on holidays, emails in the middle of the night, text messages while you're bathing the kids, private Facebook messages during the first adult date you've had in a year? Is this how you envisioned your career as a Travel Agent?
There is no denying that there are travel emergencies that require our immediate attention regardless of what hour of the day or night it is occurring. Nor will you get any argument from me that being flexible with clients can certainly help build your business and reputation. But, what about all of those other inquiries and demands on your time? As Travel Agents, we tend to forget that we are professional experts who are equally deserving of respect for our "off-time" time just like any other professional. I can assure you that if I texted my attorney or accountant in the middle of the night, I may be the recipient of a nastygram tomorrow. The air-conditioning technician is not going to appreciate a phone call at 1:00 am asking him what he thinks about a new system I am thinking about buying. And, my physician is not going to respond to my 3 am email advising them that I forgot to tell them that I need a refill on my medication.
Let's take a look at the most common communications we receive from clients that can feel intrusive on our professional and personal lives and how we, as professional Travel Agents, can establish boundaries that are mutually beneficial.
YOUR FINAL PAYMENT IS DUE
First reminder: your final payment is due in two weeks. No response. Second reminder: your final payment is due in one week. Third reminder: your final payment is due in three days. No response. Final reminder: your final payment is due tomorrow and if you don't make your final payment, the supplier will cancel your booking and you'll lose all of your money. Client responds at 3 am with a frantic text stating that they just submitted their payment form and requests that you respond IMMEDIATELY to confirm you got it because "they" are worried they will lose their booking OR they email you and state that they had no idea their final payment was due and would you be so kind as to obtain an extension because they don't have all of the money to pay yet.
Can you avoid these scenarios completely one-hundred percent of the time? No! However, you can avoid them most of the time by taking a few simple steps. First, always advise your client that the final payment is due one or two weeks before the actual final payment date. This alleviates YOUR stress and worry and eliminates frantic communications at the last minute. Second, always include a time of day that the payment is due. For instance, we always state that the payment is due on such and such a date, no later than 4:00 PM EST. By including an actual time of day, we have eliminated the 11:59 pm payment authorizations coming through. Third, from the initial invoice through the final payment, include a disclaimer in your communications that under no circumstances will a supplier grant a final payment extension and that non-payment on or before that date is an automatic, non-refundable forfeiture of all monies previously paid and loss of the booking.
Text at 1:52 am: "Hey, my friend wants to come with us - can you just add them to the booking? They just have to pay airfare if we stick them in the room with us, right?" Email at 4:22 am: "So my friend and I were just thinking we should take a trip in 2 weeks and we need to get moving on this right away. We just found an amazing Groupon - can you match it?" Voicemail at 8:15 pm: "I just looked at the papers you sent me for our booking (sent two weeks ago) and my husband's birthday is wrong. I went back and looked at what I sent you...I don't know what I was thinking (giggle inserted here). Can you call me immediately - we need to fix this right away." Private inbox message at midnight: "OMG, someone just told me that I need a passport for Puerto Rico. Is that true??????"
See where I'm headed with this? Not one of these communications needs or deserves a response until you are open for business during your normal business hours. You will not lose a booking because you did not respond on demand. If a client makes a booking in the middle of the night on a whim, they weren't going to wait for your response anyway. These types of questions and intrusions on your time can all wait until you can answer them at an appropriate time. When I was a kid, my mother used to tell me that "no one can chase you if you don't run". In other words, set your boundaries, be professionally firm about them, and these types of communications and demands on your time will lessen over time.
AUTO-RESPONDERS ARE YOUR FRIEND
I admit that I may not be the most tech-savvy person in the world. However, I have learned that auto-responders are my friend. When someone emails me or sends an inquiry on Facebook, or even when I'm driving and a text comes through, clients (or potential clients) know that I have received their communication and will be in touch with them. My boundaries are established, but the client knows they are in the "queue" so-to-speak.
It is critical that you keep your voicemail message and your auto-responders up-to-date. There is nothing more frustrating for a client than to get a message stating that you're out of the office until December 1st and it's now December 15th. Confession: I've been guilty of this myself, more than once. It makes you look unprofessional and if you can't pay attention to your own details, how can someone trust you to take care of theirs? Do some research and find the apps that work for you!
change your thinking
If I had a dollar for every time a Travel Agent tells me that they "are just starting out so I have to take what comes my way...", I would no longer need to work. It's time to CHANGE YOUR THINKING!
There is absolutely no better time to set boundaries, not only with your time, but with the type of clients you wish to work with, than when you are starting your business. You do NOT have to take what comes your way, especially when what is coming your way is a lot of hard work for very little money or worse, no booking at all. Think about others who are in professional service businesses such as dentists. Most dentists are not full-service - they are specialists, experts in their field - just as you are. They do not negotiate pricing, they don't keep their cell phone next to their face while they are sleeping so they can hear the ping of the inbox messages, and they don't take any client because "it's coming their way". They establish their boundaries and they stick with them, knowing that in time, their business will grow into the vision they set for themselves.
As a Travel Agent, you are also a professional with a vision - don't be desperate for just anything that presents itself - it may not be the right thing for you or your business. Change your thinking and take the necessary steps to establish yourself as a professional and grow your vision by establishing boundaries, both with your time and what you are willing to do with your time.