Vicki Freed: How to Take Your Cruise Sales to the Next Level

Vicki Freed, senior vice president, sales, trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International, tells agents how to become a "Q" not simply an "O." She suggests cruise selling agents "take it up a notch" with a SUMS -- simple, unexpected, memorable and signature -- approach. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

“Do you want to just be an “O,” or really take it up a notch and become a “Q”?  That’s a question Vicki Freed, senior vice president – sales, trade support and service, Royal Caribbean International, asked hundreds of cruise sellers at a recent Long Beach, CA, conference.

In a motivational, professional development presentation to independent agents in the Avoya Travel Network, Freed showed one facet of why she was honored with the Cruise Lines International Association’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” earlier this year.

That honor goes to an individual who is an advocate for cruise travel and has made what CLIA considers as remarkable, positive contributions to the cruise industry. Here is a motivational lesson from Freed's playbook for all agents. 

Rather than simply talking about her line’s latest and greatest product features, Freed focused on the agents themselves: “What I want to talk about is you and your success.”

To make her points, she used two letters in the alphabet – "O" and "Q." Typically, agents who are Os are “well-rounded, very talented and very successful,” said Freed. They are also knowledgeable, timely with their actions and responsive to customers.

Clients will definitely talk about how wonderful their O agent is. But because there are so many successful people out there who are Os, you might want to think about this, she said: "How do I take it up a notch and be even more successful?" 

Taking It Up a Notch

Just as in comparing the written letter O with the written letter Q, agents who are Qs simply have that little extra something. “They, like Os, are successful and talented, but they’re the leaders of the pack," she said. 

Freed suggested cruise selling agents think this way: “How do I deliver that little extra special hook – that little difference to my customers so that they view me as a Q.”

She suggested using S.U.M.S. as an approach; that stands for Simple, Unexpected, Memorable and Signature. 

Simplicity & The Unexpected

"Whatever you decide to do, you need to keep it simple,” Freed stressed. For example, if something is too hard, like a diet or exercise program, people simply give up at a point.

So just keep it simple. For example, Freed herself sends out hand-written, personalized cards to people, whether it be for a birthday, a promotion, a family celebration such as a graduation, a personal loss or an event invitation, because “I want to stand out from all the great competitors that I have.” 

Freed signs her handwritten notes, “Royally Yours,” and another Royal Caribbean employee she knows uses, “Have a Royal Day.”

But this approach also starts with listening, “because the way you are listening to your clients – that’s when you have an opportunity to truly develop the Q," Freed noted.   

In addition to simplicity, agents should tap into the “unexpected” and deliver the ultimate surprise to customers -- “something they just didn’t expect from you,” Freed stressed. “It has to stand out from everybody else. It has to be something that is truly memorable to the customer….and it has to have your signature on it."

A signature doesn’t mean just signing your name, but instead, it refers to developing something that’s uniquely your own. Freed cited an example given by Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection.

Recently, a Uniworld hotel director asked a guest about his day ashore. The guest who’d explored by bicycle had a fabulous day ashore. But he then added that he just wished that he would have had a bit more time in the destination to sample the city’s famous traditional stuffed cabbage.

The Uniworld employee listened intently. He could have simply heard the guest and done nothing. But he didn't.

When the guest sat down to dinner later, he was presented with an added bonus – a traditional stuffed cabbage dish whipped up by the onboard chef.

Put the “Person” in Personal

Qs connect themselves to their clients in a special way, Freed believes, noting that the Q agent puts the ‘person’ in personal. So, “make it memorable,” she said.

Freed gave another example of how a work colleague had recently stayed with her family (husband and two young children, 5 and 3), at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Naples, FL

The five-year-old had lined up all of his small Toy Story play items in the room. He also had a Toy Story backpack and Toy Story pajamas.

That evening, when the housekeeping employee did the nightly turn-down service, she noticed those items. That evening, after she went home, she picked the Toy Story DVD out of her own personal family collection, and the next day gave it and a personal note to the couple.

It said: “Dear Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so, I noticed that your son is really into Toy Story and I thought you would enjoy having this DVD available while you’re staying here at the Ritz-Carlton. It’s from my personal collection.”

Freed asked: “Did she do something that was above and beyond? Was it simple? Was it unexpected? Was it memorable?

Yes, said Freed, “it sure was.” She talked about the Ritz-Carlton’s service philosophy, which is that the housekeeping employee is the closest employee to the guest.

In another example, Freed mentioned a local bank employee to whom her husband had mentioned something about a family member’s achievement. That elicited a hand-written congratulatory note to that young person.

No, the banking employee didn’t know the person to whom the note was addressed. But she did know Freed and her husband, who were her valued customers.

In addition, Freed talked about her favorite barista at the local Starbucks. “Every day she is greeting people and she is saying, ‘Hi Vicki, can I pour you a cup of happiness today.’”

The audience “aahed” at that comment. To which Freed emphasized, “Aaah, right… but is she standing out from every other barrista?”

That answer was “yes.” And Freed said that when that employee is working the register, another good barista will wait on her but not ask if he or she can pour a cup of happiness.”

Vicki Freed slide Avoya Presentation

Upping the Stakes

Several years back, Freed and five other industry colleagues attending CLIA’s Cruise360 conference opted to meet at the Capital Grille for dinner. Freed made the reservation and was asked by the restaurant if there was any special occasion. She told them “yes” as one friend was having a birthday.

They arrived and went to the bar to wait for the rest of the party. In walks “Michael,” holding a tray of glasses filled with champagne. “Hello ladies, I am going to be your server this evening,” he says, offering them a glass on the house while they wait.

Soon, the rest of the friends arrived. They too were offered a glass of champagne, and were soon seated at a lovely table decorated with glitter for the birthday. Michael complimented the group on this and that. After the entrees were finished, he asked the ladies if they’d like dessert.

They said “no” but changed their minds when he stressed that it’s a special occasion, and presto, a special cake (also "on the house") arrives.

Michael then asked if he could take a photo of all of them. They all said okay, and then at the end of the evening, each woman in the group received a photo.

As they ready to leave, Michael informed them the restaurant had a drawing at the end of the month to award a complimentary lunch for two. Freed said the ladies eagerly provided their business cards.

Michael then gave them his business card, telling them it was his pleasure to serve them, and if they were ever back in the area, to please return to Capital Grille and ask for him.

Back in her office a few days later, Freed received an email from Michael, saying how delighted he was to meet her and again, explaining how happy he’d be to serve her again at Capital Grille. In fact, all the ladies got emails – personalized (not generic) ones. It impressed all of them. 

Needless to say, Michael’s attentiveness built loyalty over the years. Freed and her family faithfully patronized that restaurant for its great food, but also because of Michael.

The agents chuckled as Freed said her family felt they would be cheating on Michael if they considered going to another steakhouse. So they didn't. Michael was a Q who created brand loyalty among the people he served. 

A few years later, though, Michael called Freed to let her know was leaving for a different type of job. She said she couldn’t believe it but wished him well.

Let's just say that when Michael was out of the picture, the family did "stray" -- trying other high-quality steakhouses and enjoying them, said Freed. 

Then one day Michael called her and said, “I’m back.” And she told the agents that the family promptly returned to Capital Grille because of Michael.

One day he was off, so Freed had another server. “He was very attentive, but he just wasn’t Michael,” she stressed.

Fast forward some time, and Fried received another personalized note from Michael. He told her he hoped they hadn't had hurricane storm damage, explained an extended a promotion at the restaurant and said that he hoped to see her soon.

He then went a step farther -- thanking her for what Royal Caribbean did in helping the people of Puerto Rico after last year's hurricane and adding that she worked for a pretty amazing company. So he personalized her greeting in a way that was very appealing to her. 

“But it doesn’t’ stop there,” she told the agent audience. Earlier this year, Michael sent Freed a card to wish her a happy new year, thanking her for her support in 2017 and, noting, “I hope to see you and the family soon.”

So Freed asked the audience: “Am I ever cheating on Michael?" Waiting briefly as the audience whispered "no," she then came back with a resounding: "Never.”

Freed stressed to the agents that these are examples of people who are Qs. Yet, they're front-line employees -- a waiter, luxury hotel housekeeper, local banker and barista.  

They're people who stand out out from the crowd in a simple way, do things for clients that are unexpected, create memories and have their own signature branding.

Upping Your Game

Freed stressed to the agents, though, one more thing to think about: "It's not what you think of your personal brand, it's what others say about you when you’re not in the room."

She put it another way: “When one of your clients is talking to you about one of their friends, and their friends are thinking about going on a cruise, if they are recommending you, what are they saying about you?”

Cruise sellers should take a piece of paper, write down what they think their personal brand is – listing what makes them special versus everybody else that’s selling travel?  Think about that and then also ask: “Would my clients say the same thing.”

Summing it up, Freed played a video showing a Southwest Airlines flight attendant rapping the inflight pre-flight announcement. He became a You Tube sensation.

She described his performance as “a brilliant way to get the passenger’s attention.” “So I ask all of you if you want to be a Q,” said Freed. “If you don’t it’s okay, Os are great, but Qs are more fun.”

For more from the recent Avoya Travel conference, see our story with highlights. 

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