Friday, December 14, 2007

Learning from Mistakes

Business, like life, is all about the learning curve. And some weeks the curve just gets deeper and deeper.

The steepness of the curve is measured by the mistakes we make in the process of learning. Perhaps you've gathered that I am speaking from experience....a current experience.

And its one thing to make a mistake that just impacts yourself. Its another thing when it impacts others.

Its been a relatively trying time for me and a group of my clients. You see they entrusted me to plan and facilitate their family's holiday vacation. And for the most part all went well. They asked questions, I found answers. I quoted them a price and we booked the cruise.

The first problem came when I entered the pricing into my confirmation system and transposed two numbers so the pricing on the confirmation was $600pp less than I quoted. Thankfully the family understood and honored the original price quoted. I sent them a gift card to thank them for their understanding--it could've gotten ugly.

The second and more serious of the problems arose out of my ignorance, stupidity, and neglect. When I entered the cruise into my booking system, the system generated an approximate final due date, which in ignorance I accepted; in stupidity didn't question; and in neglect never checked against the cruise line's final due date.

The cruise line final payment date, due to the fact that it was a holiday booking, was two weeks earlier than the system generated date so when I called to make final payment the booking had cancelled. Thankfully, luck was on my side and the cabins were still available and the cruise line reinstated them at original price which was lower than the current prevailing price of the cabins.

I really thought I'd dodged a bullet and didn't give it any further thought until the client contacted me last week to say that when they reviewed the cruise documents it was noted that they have early dining when they specifically requested (and I had confirmed in writing) that they wanted late dining.

So I checked the cruise line confirmation from the reinstated cruises and right there in black in white it clearly states: early dining.

At this point we are three weeks out from the sailing date, and pardon my pun, but I get a sinking feeling that I am in deep trouble. And I am.

I called the cruise line and fessed up the whole ordeal and plead for mercy, but as I feared, late dining wasn't available. I couldn't even waitlist it. My clients were now at the mercy of the maitre'd--only he could arrange to change their seating and that couldn't be requested until they were physically on board the ship.

Naturally my clients, who booked this cruise almost a year in advance, are livid. But I was too chicken to fess up to them that I screwed up again, so I blamed the cruise line saying that there must have been a large group requesting late dining and they got bumped.

I am beside myself not only with worry, but with shame. I ignored my own ethical principles and flat out lied to my client.

I appealed to higher levels within the cruise line and asked for my parent company to intervene. But the end result was the same..."no room at the inn."

In mega-ships as my client will be sailing, there are many dining options, so eating in the main dining room every night is no big deal. Unless you need kosher food.

And of course that was the case. One of the sons requested kosher meals, which it turns out, can only be served in the main dining room.

So that bullet I thought I'd dodged, is now headed my way.

After further conversation with the cruise line I learn that the family can ask the maitre'd to have the kosher meals delivered to the specialty restaurants on board.

So my fate and my clients happiness all rest within the hands of the maitre'd on board the ship.

To make amends I have offered to pay the nightly per person fee rate at the specialty restaurants for the four nights when they will be returning from shore excursions (they were concerned about being rushed to make early dining).

I haven't heard back from the client, but I am hoping they will accept this offer.

I'll keep you posted.

Three days later....all is right again in the universe. The cruise line was able to guarantee my clients (all three cabins) late dining. To thank them for thier patience, I still gave each cabin $50.00 shipboard credits

And while this could have been an extremely expensive mistake, there is no doubt I learned my lesson!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Self help, coaches and finding one's course

As a member of eWomenNetwork, an international women's organization, I have the opportunity to receive two free coaching sessions from a list of pre-selected coaches. For two years I've debated whether or not to utilize this benefit.

My excuse is also probably my ignorance for this profession. But I always believed a coach was akin to a psychiatrist and I wasn't getting comfy on one of those couches. Besides, I always felt I could self correct without outside influences.

But I know some of the most successful women have personal coaches for various aspects of their lives. Perhaps I was wrong.

SO I finally decided to give it a try. Well, that is I made the connection with the coach. Now I have to make the appointment. I'm a little unsure of what to do. You see she asked me to tell her a little bit about myself what area I would like to concentrate on in the session: personal or professional.

When I started to respond I was like a "push me-pull you" character...every time I wrote about my personal goals I got pulled into business goals. They are not exclusive of each other.

Here's what I mean...

I’m 47 and never been married---my choice. Two years ago I entered a relationship with a great guy, but he has three children and I never wanted kids. He lived an hour away and it became increasingly difficult to travel back and forth and since he had custody of the boys, we decided I would give it a shot and move in with him and work from home. The kids love me, so there’s no issue there.

What I found after a year was that I had changed. Without my circle of influence that gave me a sense of pride and self worth, I was losing ground to the fuzzy bunny slippers/sweat suit work style and slower pace life. I knew going in that I was going to give up things to make this work, but what I realized recently is that when you give up core values and needs, everything suffers. I was spiraling downward and my relationship and my business suffered.

I gave up my home
I gave up my close proximity to my circle of influence
I gave up my music (I was a regular fan on the local blues circuit—check out ) because what was once an hour drive to see the bands is now 2hrs.
I gave up my sense of self

But that's where the self-correcting factor kicks in. I must have unconsciously recognized that I needed to make a change because I began to resurface in the networking world. I traded my sweat suit for a dress suit (sadly a few sizes larger than I'd like) and took on the challenge of building a new chapter of eWomenNetwork in South Jersey.

But I couldn't do it alone. Thankfully, Milt and I can talk about anything. In a tear-jerker session the other day he vowed to support my "rebirth" because what is important to me is as important to him. And he means it. Like a said earlier, great guy.

So when I stayed back in Cherry Hill the other night to catch the Randy Lippincott Band at Red, Hot & Blue and then drove up to the Mermaid in Chestnut Hill later that night to see Zydeco-a-go-go, he was totally supportive. John Colgan-Davis from the Dukes of Destiny, who was at the Mermaid summed it up when he said, "the music world is all right again...Marilyn is back."

And I think I'll send the coach a link to this blog so she can decide where should I begin....