Opinion: Blurring the Lines

Friends
Photo by Getty Images

“Hello?”
“Is this Angelo’s?”
“Yes.”

Ruthanne Terrero

I was trying to order a pizza but this guy was answering the phone as if he were at his house. This brief, harmless incident stuck with me when I went to the eye doctor a few hours later. The waiting room was crowded and no one was there to check me in. I kept looking beyond the reception desk to see who was in charge of the situation. Problem was, everyone I saw was wearing jeans, sneakers and T-shirts so I couldn’t determine who actually worked there. When I finally got in to see the doctor, he had the same fashion look.

Everywhere we go these days, lines are being blurred. Many professional roles are no longer defined by appearance and traditional civilities, unless you’re a banker, and that can create challenges at times.

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Which brings me to you. When you discuss travel with a “friend,” are you sharing your knowledge as a professional travel advisor or simply as another savvy human being? If that person expresses interest in actually booking a vacation and you start researching the trip for them during your business day, does your friend realize you’re working for them?

How about when the client becomes a friend? Because things are so loose and fun now, they might not think twice about cancelling a booking you’ve made for them and rebooking it using their points. They might even try to get you to VIP them at the hotel after they’ve done that, or ask you for suggestions on how to spend their days.

The friends-and-family syndrome is a challenging one for travel advisors because the relationship with the advisor isn’t always taken seriously. But imagine if you called them during business hours or even hit them up at a cocktail party for some serious intel on how to solve your financial, legal or medical problems.

I recently used a website called UpWork, which enables you to find and hire freelancers online. Some of the conversations were fun as I chatted with prospects about the projects I wanted them to work on. However, when we got to a point where they were about to share their expertise, they asked me to go to the UpWork website and “hire” them. When they started working on my projects, I got a notification from UpWork that the freelancer’s time clock had started. When they stopped, I got a summary of how much my credit card would be charged. That relationship was quite clear to me.

If we can define the client / consultant role so easily online, why is it so difficult to do in real life? People need to realize you’re not a travel advisor for the fun of it. Travel advisors need to do a better job of making it clear when lines are being crossed, even if it’s just to say, “OK, now we’re getting into my professional life, let’s take the conversation online tomorrow between 9 and 5.”

It’s as awkward as bringing up the issue of charging fees, but it’s got to be done. Friends and family don’t work for free and neither should you.

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