Sunday, September 5, 2010

Use an Agent or Book Direct?

The question that has always been on the consumers mind is "Should I use an agent or is booking direct with a cruise line better?" Because of the greater use of technology and the cruise lines themselves directing more people to do things "online", this question becomes even more important to the consumer.

Let's do a comparison. When you call the cruise line direct, they will give you their best pricing based on any eligible criteria you might have (resident, Sr., past passenger, etc.). When you call and work with an agent, they get the same rates from the cruise line that you are eligible for. So far, no difference.

But, the cruise lines do not have "group space" held and only book individual reservations (even if there are two or three cabins involved). An agent on the other hand may have "group space" or contracted pricing that is lower. Advantage agent.

If you call cruise line A who also owns cruise line B, they will still only tell you about cruise line A (the one they work for.) The res agents do not even have access to the other brand. An agent on the other hand, will take the time to look at multiple possibilities accross different cruise lines to find the best fit for that customer. Advantage agent.

The res agent of a cruise line has one focus and one focus only - secure the reservation with a deposit NOW. That is their job! They will not necessarily do any research to compate dates to see if an alternate date has a better offer. Instead, you tell them what you want, and they "take an order." An agent on the other hand can do the research and will help you find the best value or "deal" that works for the customer. Advantage agent.

The cruise line res agents in most cases have been on very few cruises personally if any at all. To them, taking an order and meeting their "quota" of new bookings is all they care about. That is their job! Maybe they toured some of their ships, but they know practically nothing about the "competition" out there much less their own ships. An agent on the other hand probably has sailed on and toured many ships, has spent time learning about the various product out there, and can honestly help you figure out what is going to be best for you the consumer. Advantage agent!

Lastly, the res agent at the cruise line is interested in your booking reservation today, again, that is their job. Discussing excursion options, talking about the ship itself, or even buildiing a long term relationship with a client is not in their job description and will simply direct you to the cruise line website for any other information. Even if they knew the answers, that is NOT their job to tell you and they are instructed to send you to the website. In fact, if you call back it is almost impossible to talk to the same person.

An agent on the other hand is interested in that long term client relationship (or should be.) If not, find another agent who is. We do more work AFTER one of our clients makes their reservation usually because they can ask us questions about virtually anything prior to sailing and we will take the time to answer and help the client. Advantage agent.

I could put a lot of other comparisons but I think you get the idea. The agent is YOUR advocate and friend, the cruise line merely wants to take your reservation. You decide who is best and most advantageous for you.

And one last thought. As the cruise lines require the customer do more and more "online" for themselves, it would not surprise me one day when speaking to a cruise line res agent will have an extra fee. Don't think so? It happens with most businesses today - stores, hotels, and of course, the airlines who are the most creative in finding ways to add "fees." Yes, there are agents and agencies that offer discounts for booking online on their site and already charge extra to talk to an agent.

We don't and we never plan to! I guess I'm still old-fashion". We still think it is about providing service, advice, and building that long term relationship that is the right way to run a business.

No comments: