Sunday, October 21, 2007

Price vs Service and Value?

A situation that came up over the weekend with one of my fellow agents prompted me to write a letter and send to my District Sales Rep for that cruise line. I have xxxx'd out certain information contained in the letter that I feel is inapporpriate or confidential and does not dilute the thoughts as I sent them. However, I am also posting this here so that my thoughts and beliefs are public.

Yes, it may seem like agencies who discount are a benefit to the consumer but are they really? You'll have to answer that for yourself when planning your cruise vacation. I will stand by my thoughts and operating principles for my business.

Our clients come back to us year after year and send their friends to us because of the service we provide and the committment to our clients. With over 450 agents in our company, we are in the top 25 so we must be doing something right.

Good morning xxxxxx. I am writing this to you as our DSR in the hope that you can forward to where it may do some good. As a Professional Cruise Specialist for just shy of six years, as a xxxxx Agency, and also one who is a mentor to other agents to help them learn to be an effective and Professional Cruise Specialist with our company, a situation came to my attention over the weekend that is disturbing.

I have prided myself and my own business in the personal service provided to clients and prospective clients. My mission statement has always been to find clients the best value and experience when recommending any cruise for their vacation regardless of the commission benefit to myself. I have never recommended one cruise line over another if it was not the right fit for that person even if the commission was higher on the one over the other.

I have always felt that our job as a Cruise Specialist was to service the client for the cruise lines up to the client boarding the ship and then the cruise line’s job was to service them so they wanted to come back. It is “value and service” not “price” that is important and we, as agents, are deserving of the commissions paid to us for providing that service and the expertise/knowledge we take time to acquire. I DO NOT discount the prices set by any cruise line nor do I believe in discounting the cruise line pricing as I feel that number one, it cheapens the product, and number two, it lessons my value as a Professional Cruise Specialist. I do believe in always offering the client the best available “legitimate” price and will even lower their pricing without hesitation if a lower price becomes available for that client on that sailing they have booked.

Here is the situation that arose this weekend. Another agent of ours quoted a prospective client on the xxxxx sailing of 4/6/08 with the pricing available to Cruises Inc both in our system and also the pricing in your online system. The client was checking around and xxxxxxx was offering the sailing for the same pricing but then was giving a xxxxx discount (category xxx) on their website. At our commission level of xxxxx, the total commission on the booking would be xxxxx. I do not know what commission xxxxx is paid but if it is the same as Cruises Inc, then this represents approximately a 78% discount of your pricing or rebate of the commission paid to them. If they are paid a higher commission rate then we are where they can afford to do this, then my question is why? As a salesman, I do not subscribe to the theory that “something is better than nothing” when it comes to making a sale.

Needless to say, a discount of this magnitude is totally ridiculous in my opinion! If companies such as xxxxx are just going to give away the commission you pay them just to make the sale, why give it to them in the first place? We are supposedly a National Account with xxxxx but neither the company nor our agents can or should work for free or at a loss and still be able to stay in business. It is also, again in my opinion, making it seem like your product is overpriced to the consumer as to what we are quoting to them or we are trying to charge more than the product is really worth, either way, not good for our reputation or xxxxx Cruise Line reputation to the consumer.

My wife and I personally love sailing on xxxxx (we are Platinum xxxxx ourselves, and are currently booked on the xxxxxx with several of our clients, hopefully some more, on the 4/14/08 sailing) and always recommend xxxxx to many of our clients as a premium product even though we are paid a lower commission rate than we earn on your competitors. As I said, it is never about commission to us but what is right for that particular client. But, I also feel that with the service we provide, we earn what we are paid and working for free is not an option.

Many of your competitors have taken a stand with the problem of rebating or discounting that was happening a few years ago and now forbid it. They have also taken a stand recently against those companies and organizations that are really nothing more than card mills, multi level, or doing a disservice to the industry as a whole.

This has not only improved sales of those products by us and others but has put the service factor back into the equation for the consumer as being of prime importance. It makes our job as Cruise Specialists and a cruise line partner in providing this service and expertise something of value that we can build our businesses on and the cruise lines business on as well – service and value, not price!

With companies like xxxxx (and others) giving massive rebates and discounts advertised on their website since this is permissible by xxxxx and other brands, do we need to begin to focus on only recommending the cruise line partners who truly believe in a level playing field and do not permit this outrageous discounting? I hope not because I think that will be a major disservice to the consumer and would eliminate our recommendation of many great brands and product which would be the best choice for them.

In closing, I am just one little fish in this very big pond of the cruise industry. As an Independent Professional Cruise Specialist I will continue to do what I have always done and service my clients with caring and commitment to their best interest. But, I am also in this business to earn an income and a legitimate profit based on the terms that are set in so far as commission that is paid. Since I can not compete in an environment which is not going to provide that profit for my business where I can also provide the level of service that my reputation is known for and the associated costs of providing that service to my client, when the decision of cruise line A vs. cruise line B is equal as to value and experience for the client, I will have to recommend the cruise line partner that serves both sides.

I don’t know where this will go or what might happen going forward but I did want to share my thoughts and concerns and do hope that this can be looked at by those in the position to do something about it. I speak for myself only, not the company I am with but I also know there are other agents who feel the same way. I appreciate your taking the time to read and forward this to those at the executive level who I am sure will be interested in hearing one agent’s thoughts.


Al Richman

Monday, October 1, 2007

Re ms_lyonese question - sailing vessels

Hi ms_lyonese. First, thanks for visiting our blog.

I believe you are talking about Windstar, or Sea Dream etc when you ask about sailing vessels but not sure exactly what you question is. A cruise specialist can book clients on almost any ship anywhere.

Our rule though is only if the ships don't leak and the company is not in bankruptcy. We never will put a client in a situation where we know their trip could be in jeopardy later on.

Sailing vessels are unique trips and itineraries and of course the ships are more intimate as the passenger count is quite small. They can get to places that the "major" cruise lines can not due to ships size.

But again, not sure what the question was so I hope you see this post.