My most recent column (“Doing something about “It’s always something!”” from March 28) spurred a number of emails reinforcing the theme, mentioning a few things I left out and , all in all, clearly telling me that the most glaring “something” that I left out was vendor wait times. I didn’t have enough space to address this topic in this column, and Travel Weekly has since written about it, but I’ll address it now.
Indeed, it has been infuriating for providers as they seek to staff their call centers to handle a torrent of calls. Many of the very good employees made redundant by the suppliers found it necessary to seek employment elsewhere as it became apparent that the cruise would recover more slowly than anyone wished.
The result has been that many cruise line reservation agent advisors are interviewing with less experience than before. Some are in offshore call centers; I asked some where they were, and among the answers were Jamaica and the Philippines.
Booking cruises requires a fairly high level of knowledge; it is difficult for new hires to learn how to navigate complex booking engines, even when the caller is a highly skilled retail agent with specific ship, departure date and accommodation requests and who may even tell the search agent exactly where to look.
Add to that a coterie of retailers who need to hold hands collectively to search for the right product and hosting or who refuse to use web tools, and the situation quickly becomes intolerable. Wait times of up to eight hours, only for the call to be dropped, have led to Facebook posts that clearly express the frustration and anger involved.
The old business adage that time is money is true. With an apology – deep apology – to Meredith Willson, “We’re having trouble, right here in Reservation City, with a capital T that rhymes with C that stands for Call Hold Times….”
Add to that sometimes marginal connection quality and some of the retail base who may have difficulty understanding accented English, and the challenges multiply.
I am convinced that every tour operator makes every effort to control the delays in calling advisers. Very often, the solutions they implement involve web-based platforms. It is the responsibility of all retailers to adopt these tools and of owners/managers to insist that staff use them.
There are also many booking tools developed by consortia and hospitality agencies that perform very well. During my days at Just Cruisin’ Plus, we were members of the Travel Leaders Network, and I found their booking tool for agents excellent. Members can access any favorite cruise line and find any cruise that meets the sort criteria, including travel dates, travel length, brands and ships, and port of departure. desired origin and more. Advisor members who also subscribe to Tres Technologies or Agent Mate can push customer data upstream, make a reservation, and pull it downstream in the database, often in less time than it takes to browse in a telephone menu.
Most major cruise lines offer exceptionally powerful online platforms that facilitate bookings and also allow the agent to resolve all but the most complicated issues quickly and easily.
I’ve done suppliers a disservice lately by suggesting that an increase in direct bookings is why wait times are so long. In fact, recent earnings reports from the major cruise lines suggest to me that not only are direct bookings not up, but they may actually be down slightly. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that it’s because consumers who have called directly experience the same wait times as us professionals, and when that happens they hang up in frustration and call an advisor on trips to avoid wasting more time. time.
It’s like this: Travel suppliers are doing all they can to get call centers back up and running to match 2019 levels, but it can’t happen overnight. The blame lies with travel professionals who might use online booking tools, but take what I would call the lazy approach of defaulting to the phone rather than learning how to use the tools provided by suppliers.
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