The teacher who learned a lot

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"It was a life-altering experience," said industry consultant Bob Stalbaum of the time he trained prisoners for a new cruise and tour reservations call center located in a prison.

When he walked into the facility the first day, he was taken aback. "I guess I had envisioned there would be a buffer zone between them and me, but there wasn't," he said. Instead, there was a room containing 50 prisoners, one guard and supervisors from the travel company running the call center (a company that will remain nameless at its request). So "I took a deep breath and began," he noted.

Soon the barriers between Stalbaum and "them" started to dissolve. During the first break in instructions, "one of the prisoners came up to me and said, 'I just want to introduce myself to you,' and shook my hand. I realized this was just another person." Soon, noted Stalbaum, "I felt totally comfortable. My fear dissipated."

He also found that his stint helped to bust some stereotypes he had about prisoners. "Some of them are good people and some are hardened criminals," he said. "Hearing their stories, I realized that at any moment in time, under certain circumstances, anyone could go awry."

The prisoners were taught the basics of cruise and tour sales so they could field easy questions and send out brochures, backed up by a team of four others who had industry experience.

"These were not people who had traveled a great deal, so I showed them videos of tours and cruise experiences and explained the motivations for travel and what role agents play in the process," said Stalbaum.

Many students were very attentive to the course, seeing it as a way to gain entry into the travel industry, while others clearly showed "problems with tolerating frustration."

At the end of training, most scored 90% proficiency on a test Stalbaum had designed. About 36 out of the 50 graduated to the call center, which in its first week of operations took in about $100,000 of business.

For Stalbaum, the results were also rewarding. "I gained something as a person," he said. "I had a rare opportunity to interface with people I wouldn't normally meet, and I walked away with more compassion and understanding."

Another lesson for the instructor

Besides reaching some emotional truths (see story, above), industry consultant Bob Stalbaum learned another lesson from his stint training prisoners to staff a cruise and tour call facility: "It's possible to train people with virtually no industry background whatsoever how to sell travel."

This lesson was reinforced when, on another test project, Stalbaum trained 24 people with zero industry experience. Half had never even been on an airplane before -- but they did have a relatively strong background in customer service and telesales. During the five months of the project, those 24 people outproduced the six travel people hired to serve as anchors for the project.

The lesson for industry owners is that they can look beyond traditional sources for new employees. Stalbaum suggested surveying "the country club, organization, church and synagogue scene" looking for people he called "centers of gravity -- what others might call pied pipers," who will generate a clientele.

When owners look for new employees, "so much of the focus seems to be on using the CRS," said Stalbaum. He suggested instead "finding people with potential followings who have social and personal skills, teaching them about the product and assuming we can get them to process a reservation. If I had a lady who could bring in a million in sales, I wouldn't care if she couldn't get the computer completely down pat," he said.

Upgraded site

When you're surfing the Internet, be advised that the Positive Space Web site, an on-line resource for agents at www.positivespace.com, has been redesigned and upgraded, according to Travel Technology & Magic of Evanston, Ill., which owns and operates it.

In the site upgrade, Positive Space tripled the number of linked sites to more than 900 and organized the expanded content into these three main sections: suppliers, technology and business.

Based on agent input, the short descriptions of suppliers and other companies have been beefed up with useful information, including address, phone and fax number, description of on-line booking capabilities, commission policy and agent specials.

Greg Merkley, president of Travel Technology & Magic, said, "Agents told us they needed more depth in the areas we covered as well as more resources in other areas.

"As an example, we expanded our cruise coverage from five companies to more than 40. We also created an entirely new technology section that gives travel agents access to information about hundreds of consultants, suppliers of Internet services and providers of third-party software and products."

The vast majority of registered Positive Space users are from the U.S., but total registrants represent 34 countries, including United Arab Emirates, India and Uzbekistan.

Although many suppliers still view the Internet as a consumer medium, Travel Technology & Magic said it sees increasing interest in marketing to on-line agents, as evidenced by the waiting list for suppliers to sponsor PS Connections, an e-mail newsletter for registered users of the Web site.

For information about PositiveSpace or Travel Technology & Magic, agents can call (847) 869-1568, or e-mail [email protected]

Hotel inspection reports

Here is another of Richard Turen's sales and marketing minutes, a regular feature:

Richard TurenConsumers can get lots of information about hotels from the Internet. But one thing they can't get anyplace else is a first-hand hotel/resort inspection report from one of your agents who visited the property -- which is why you should make writing such reports mandatory for any agents who takes a fam.

But until you've developed a database of your own reports, check out Star Service, the firm that publishes tell-it-like-it-is reports for agents on virtually every major hotel worldwide.

Clients love them for their frank insider tone. Sample: Agents should recommend a particular Las Vegas hotel only to "clients with manure on their boots." Now, that's the kind of travel reportage we need in the new millennium.

Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the agency Churchill & Turen Ltd. both based in Naperville, Ill. Contact him at [email protected].

Time management classic

book coverDo you think of time management as something that requires you to carry one of those heavy-duty day planners around all the time, organizing every second including bathroom breaks?

Not so, according to Alan Lakein in his classic book "How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life." Instead, proper time management "will show you how to work smarter, not harder, with the end result that you have more time for yourself, your family and friends," Lakein writes.

Lakein details a plan for "A,B,C" priorities similar to that in the "Juggling Priorities" video described in the box at right, but he goes much further than the video in showing how to plan lifetime goals.

There are useful chapters on how to create quiet time for yourself; fight procrastination; find time you never knew you had, and keep on top of paperwork. One useful technique is the "Swiss cheese" method to "poke holes" in high-priority tasks you're stalling on, by developing five-minute instant tasks to get you moving.

Published by New American Library, this book sells for $6.99.

Setting priorities

Larry MersereauIf you find yourself getting off-track in life and work goals, Larry Mersereau's 30-minute video, "Juggling Priorities," may help. In fact, one of the biggest benefits of watching a self-help video instead of reading a book is the format.

The tape provides you with someone actively trying to motivate you -- right there in your own living room. When you read a book, the tendency is to say, "I'll do that exercise later;" here, Mersereau is on screen to say, "Do it now."

The contents of the tape are less than remarkable, but well worth hearing. The main point: Setting personal priorities is key to moving toward a goal. Mersereau suggests putting all your activities into three different categories: "A" priorities, which help you build for the future; "B" priorities, which you must accomplish to keep you in place where you are now, such as the basic tasks of your job, and "C" priorities, transgressions taking you away from from your goal.

Mersereau falls short with a "vision exercise" that definitely lacked vision. Asking yourself what kind of house or car you want in five years seems a pretty superficial way to develop long-range goals. "Juggling Priorities" is available for $37 through Mersereau's Web site, www.success-strategist.com .

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