Providing a Once in a Lifetime Experience
Today’s blog post is written by Allison Klein, Senior Platform Specialist, PatronManager.
A few years ago, my mom and I started toying with the idea of taking a cruise to Alaska together. We both love to see wildlife in their natural habitat, but aren’t otherwise particularly “outdoorsy;” and with an eye towards wanting to escape New York City’s oppressive summer heat and humidity, this cruise seemed like it could be the perfect trip for us. A few months ago, we decided 2019 was the year to make it happen.
I haven’t taken a cruise since I was a teenager, but I have been on several group tour vacations, and I was hoping that this trip would be relatively similar and simple to plan. When my friends and I went on a week-long tour of Morocco, for example, we decided what month we wanted to travel in, and then booked the one trip to Morocco that our tour company of choice had available that month. I find that when I’m doing something a little out of my comfort zone, it’s a relief to have some of the decisions made for me.
So when we were ready to plan our cruise to Alaska, I started by asking around for recommendations from friends and colleagues, and of course, by consulting the internet. When I (quickly) got overwhelmed by the internet and it’s myriad of voices and opinions, I found myself in the travel section of my local library. I borrowed a recently-published guide book about Alaska cruises and ports of call, and within a few days practically read it cover to cover. I suggested that my mom go to her local library to get the same book. We then got together in person and poured over the book and cruise line websites, comparing itineraries, price points, and package add-ons. I made a list of questions that I still hadn’t found the answers to and dispatched my mom to visit some travel agencies. But even after all that, we still weren’t able to confidently determine which was the best cruise for us; and we ended up booking a cruise more out of a fear of missing the boat (pun intended) than because of a sense of decisiveness.
We’re now about three months out from our trip and while I’m very excited about it, it still feels like there are a lot of unknowns, which makes me a much more nervous traveler than I typically am. I think what made it so difficult for us to rule anything out in the booking process was the knowledge that we were planning what is most likely a once in a lifetime experience. Compared to my annual winter getaway trip to Mexico, when I go to the same hotel every year and expect nothing more than to sit on the beach with a good book and a cold drink, my feelings of anxiety and decision paralysis were (and still are) through the roof.
This had me thinking about what the cruise lines could do to make the booking process less stressful for first-timers like me. Their websites were full of beautiful images of shipboard amenities and destinations, but they also used a lot of “insider” language that took me a while to decode. Beyond some expected nautical terms that I could Google like upper and lower berths, or forward and aft, there were things like “concierge class” and “aquaclass” and what exactly do you mean by “Captain’s Club” anyway? It would have been helpful if there was a glossary page or tooltips on some of the more inscrutable terminology that would have taken out some of the guesswork.
Additionally, while there were general FAQ pages on some of the cruise lines’ sites, I would have loved to read through Alaska-specific FAQs, in the hopes that my own questions about traveling to this unique destination would be answered there. I had a few really good interactions using the online chat feature on the website of the line that we eventually booked with, but the customer service available through that channel wasn’t able to advise us; they could only provide us with more details to consider in our decision-making process. I would have loved to have chatted with someone who could listen to what we were looking to get out of our experience and make recommendations that were personalized to our needs. (I was surprised to find that even the travel agent that my mom visited in person didn’t serve this role.)
In lieu of an actual person who could advise us, maybe the cruise lines’ could implement an online “quiz,” which would make recommendations that seem personalized but are based on data. These types of quizzes have become popular with online retailers who sell things that you might not otherwise want to buy online or without an expert’s advice, where consumers value a personal touch. Taking a quiz and getting a suggested itinerary based on my answers would have given me more confidence that I was spending my time and money on the right thing.
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to would-be cruisers. Every day, people are deciding how to spend their time and money when buying tickets to your performances or exhibits. Some of those would-be patrons are experienced, regular ticket buyers who know what they want and know what to expect when they visit an organization like yours. Others are brand new and may be weighing their options more carefully. Your website, box office staff, and customer service representatives all need to offer both types of consumers an appropriate experience.
For the newbies, how can you offer enough information for them to be able to evaluate their options and make a choice without overwhelming them with too many variables? For repeat attendees, how can you use your website and purchase path to help assure them that the experience that they’ve come to expect is what they’ll get? The best advice I can give is to put yourselves in the shoes of your patrons and take a pass through your website and ticketing site to see what could be potentially confusing, and come up with creative and welcoming ways to clarify those items. Your events might not seem as grand as a once in a lifetime vacation but to some patrons, they’re just as important.