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#75 Road Scholar: Masters at Making Customers Happy
Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Philadelphia , PA
Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Issue #76 – Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Posted by Denny Hatch

Road Scholar: Masters at
Making Customers Happy!

Our neighbor Rudy—a Renaissance scholar with a long career in computer technology—is brilliant, erudite and funny as hell. His family immigrated from Croatia a generation ago. Rudy speaks Croatian and early in their marriage Rudy and Marjory spent two years in Croatia.
     They wanted to see it again and asked if we were interested if he did the research and the price was right.
     We said sure.
     He did massive research and came up with an all-Croatia Adriatic cruise by private yacht.
     The company: Road Scholar.
     Road Scholar? I had never heard of it!

Our First Experience with Road Scholar Was Magical!
We spent a week aboard M.V. Futura—an intimate 150’ yacht with 16 very spacious cabins—cruising the sunny coast of Croatia on the exquisite (and calm) Adriatic Sea.
     The ship is gorgeous—with Cordon Bleu cuisine prepared by an amazing husband and wife (with wine and beer included). The top deck spacious and comfortable for reading by yourself or simply contemplating magnificent scenery.
     The tour guides, lecturers, sites and sights were riveting. Hotels and all Road Scholar personnel were world class.
Traveling Like Millionaires!
What we saw, how we saw it, where we landed and where we ate ashore were the same as what is experienced by a corporate titan who paid $400 million for the mega-yacht tied up next to us in Dubrovnik. 
     Our per-person cost for 11 days was roughly same as 11 hours of fuel guzzled by the ocean-going floating mini-palaces of the rich-rich.

Road Scholar History in 83 Words
Elderhostel was founded in the summer of 1975, as a learning program “conceived to combine not-for-credit classes with inexpensive lodging for older adults.” Elderlhostel was rebranded Road Scholar in 2010. Today, Road Scholar offers 5,500 learning adventures, serving more than 100,000 participants annually. Our programs combine travel and education to provide experiential learning opportunities featuring an extraordinary range of topics, formats and locations, in every state in the U.S., 150 countries and aboard ships on rivers and oceans worldwide.” HQ Boston; 270 employees.
What Makes Road Scholar Special—
Everything is Thought Through!
Below is page 4 of a Road Scholar catalog. Every catalog has this Activity Level chart and every travel adventure description ledes off with a red bar or partial-red-bar that immediately depicts the physical difficulty.

The page describing Our Croatia yachting adventure was headed with the all-red “Let’s Go!” bar (fourth on the left above)—meaning the participants damn well must be in good shape.
     Unlike bus tours, this was a ship trip; as veterans of myriad Viking river and ocean cruises we know if we don’t want to go on a shore excursion—for whatever reason—we can simply stay on board and read or find a museum or coffee shop at dockside while fellow travelers trudge through rugged countryside.
     What’s more, Road Scholar alerted us in advance and in writing of any physical difficulties on a day-to-day basis. Examples:
Split. Note: walking approximately 2 miles roundtrip to/from Split Ethnographic Museum; about 1.5 hours on feet; mostly flat terrain. Periods of stand in museum; climbing several flight of stairs to top floor of museum; no elevator is available.
Mljet National Park, Korcula Island & Town. 
Note: Walking approximately 4 miles throughout the day. About 2.5  miles, approximate 2 hours at Mljet National Park around lakes, including small incline. About 1.5 miles roundtrip, approximately 1.5 hours at Korcula. Climbing some steps; uneven terrain of gravel and rock, stairs with no railings. Getting in/out of small boat, short  ride to St. Mary Islet.

Fourteen Features and Benefits That Make
Travelers WANT to Go with Road Scholar
If You Have Special Needs 
Road Scholar is committed to providing reasonable accommodations to participants with special needs and disabilities. If you have special needs requiring accommodation, please communicate them to Road Scholar at the time of enrollment. We will discuss your request with you and make every effort to accommodate your needs.
Passengers’ Health Is Paramount 
Okay, we’re geezers. I'm 84; Peggy is considerably younger. On signing up for Road Scholar yacht tour, we were sent a detailed questionnaire about our health—physical mobility, what medicines we take, dosages, etc.  Why?
     On a cruise to Alaska, 70-year-old Richard Puchalski died of heart failure. His family was awarded medical expenses and loss of companionship because Royal Caribbean did not employ a  world-class cardiologist.
     The company was judged to be 70 percent at fault. Royal Caribbean must pay Puchalski’s estate $3,384,073.22.

Two Quick Personal Asides on Tour Wreckers
1. On a Danube River Cruise in Bulgaria we were bused to a town requiring a long walk—two miles each way—over uneven terrain. One very elderly passenger was clearly in perpetual pain, painfully slow and required help from her daughter. They caused a late departure. Every one of us was concerned about this enfeebled passenger. It was a memorable afternoon—for the wrong reasons. If this were not a riverboat tour—but rather a bus tour—a passenger unable to keep up can ruin it continuously.

2. On one of the last Renaissance cruises before the line went out of business, we signed up for a terrific Aegean itinerary from Athens with stops in Crete, Cyprus and Israel. She was an older ship, a tad down at the heels but perfectly comfortable, okay food and normal amenities. A small cabal of complainers managed to turn the entire trip into a perpetual bitch session. One complaint etched in my memory: "No ice sculpture on the midnight buffet."

If You Don't Fit, You Can Be Forced to Quit.
Admission & Participation Policy: The granting or denial of admission to a program is within the sole discretion of Road Scholar. Road Scholar reserves the right to revoke admission or terminate or limit participation at any time if Road Scholar reasonable determines a participant's condition, behavior or actions are inappropriate or disruptive or adversely affect the participant's health or safety, or the health, safety or enjoyment of other participants.

   In words of one syllable: If you are in poor health and can’t keep up—or if you are “disruptive”—Road Scholar can send you packing in mid-tour. 

• Free Insurance for Emergency
Road Scholar’s Assurance Plan. The Road Scholar Assurance Plan is purchased on behalf of every participant and paid for by Road Scholar. The plan provides 24-hour assistance in the event of an emergency during your program and insurance for emergency medical evacuation. The plan includes insurance benefits underwritten by Arch Insurance Company and emergency assistance services provided by On Call International. To learn more about this plan please visit:www.roadscholar.org/about/assurance-plan.

Low-cost Trip Cancellation Insurance. Our friends Rudy and Marjory took out Road Scholar insurance for a few hundred bucks and, alas, had to cancel. They received a full refund immediately—including airfare that was booked independently.

No Tipping. Hello, yes all tips, taxes, and gratuities are covered by Road Scholar on all adventures including cruises. We are available if you have any further questions or concerns. ~ Your Friends at Road Scholar”

Wine and Beer Included with Lunch and Dinner. Road Scholar is not in the business of unpleasant financial surprises at the end of your trip.

Tour Guide Voice Boxes. On every trip Peggy and I have taken we have been jostled and elbowed aside by a gaggle of gapers desperate to stay close to their guide shouting information—usually in a shrill foreign language. (Our worst experience: the crazed mob scene at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Day with guides yelling information while priests and monks from various Christian sects hawked crucifixes, rosary beads, tree ornaments, baby Jesuses and religious tchotchkesat the top of their lungs. 
Road Scholar, Viking and most other caring travel companies supply small wireless receivers and ear buds that connect you directly your tour guide. This means you can be anywhere in the vastness of a crowded cathedral, crowded street or in the Mona Lisa mayhem of the Louvre and  this once-in-a-lifetime experience is enhanced by a civilized, knowledgeable expert murmuring fascinating information in your ear. And no one around you notices.
     In short, I suggest if your tour company does not have these gadgets, look elsewhere.

• Amazing Photo Option. Timing dictated that we take this end-of-season Road Scholar tour that included a small premium for a professional photographer to accompany the group.
     Our guy was Panamanian photo-journalist Esdrass Saurez, a splendid Indiana Jones-like character, winner of two Pulitzers (Columbine and the Boston Marathon).

We were never bothered by camera hounds getting in our way in a scramble for photos.
     Instead, at each outing serious photographers were invited to meet Esdrass at a designated spot nearby, and they would go off and “do their thing.”
     Esdrass coached them in every aspect of photography—seeing the world as a photographer, adjusting for light, how to interact with subjects you want to photograph, editing, saving, labeling and cataloging your work.
     At a showing on the last day, many of the photographs—those of Esdrass and his pupils—were dazzling. Here was yet another dimension of the Road Scholar experience. Camera aficionados can become more expert in the craft of photography while traveling companions are enriched by the sights, sounds and history.
• An additional benefit of having Esdrass along. He led beginner yoga classes for seniors on the top deck. (To show off his bona fides, he did a couple contortionist’s handstands that I have seen only once before: at a Cirque de Soleil performance in Las Vegas!)
     In short, for camera buffs and us hangers-on, Esdrass—a master story-teller and teacher—was a delightful addition to the group.
• Want a swim?
The captain (and owner) of yacht Futura is delighted to drop anchor in a secluded cove and let you frolic in the gloriously clear Adriatic waters.

• As a Marketer, I Loved How Road Scholar Makes It Easy to Decide.
We are Viking cruise regulars and occasional Cunard London-New York transatlantic passengers. We get blitzed with cruise offers from myriad organizations.
     Below a typical offering from Oceania for “Scenic Americas” 
This is ordinary nuts-'n'-bolts copy and wishy-washy design—schedule of stops, bridge games, free airfare, cabin sizes and three sets of costs: full price (rack rate) and two kinds of discounts amounting to roughly 2/3rds off.
    Nowhere am I told the experiencing the glories of Ketchikan, Sitka or Skagway are worth spending thousands of dollars and traveling thousands of miles.
Road Scholar Creates WANTS 
For This Croatian Adventure!

• Every Road Scholar Mailing Heightens the Excitement
The follow-up materials are compelling, information-packed personalized bound booklets about the exciting travel adventures that await us. 
     Each evening we received details of the following day’s adventures—what to look for, what to expect. Nothing was left to chance.

• Creating More Wants!
On our arrival home, Peggy received this email during the week of her birthday:
Road Scholar offers a dazzling array of special travel opportunities for small groups—by ship, bus, hiking, biking, climbing, house tours, garden tours, archaeology, fine arts—whatever floats your group’s boat. Tell ‘em what you WANT; Road Scholar will suggest where, when and how; what’s more and they’ll make all the arrangements! Easy peasy.
The Ultimate Road Scholar Testimonial
     On our Croatian jaunt was a couple who told us this was their 29th Road Scholar expedition. “We wouldn’t travel with anybody else.”

Takeaways to Consider
• The more ways you can make customers happy, the more customers you'll acquire.

• On our return, we were immediately contacted by Road Scholar and asked for a detailed review of our experience—what we liked and what they could do better.

• With the Internet and social media (e.g., Yelp, Reddit), grievances by pissed-off customers—whether valid or imagined—can go viral around the world in twenty minutes.

• “A lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” —Attributed to Mark Twain

• Unlike retailers, as direct marketers we can be in constant touch with our customers.

• How does your organization handle incoming mail?

Turn Complimentary Mail into Marketing Tools. Testimonials from happy customers should go straight to your marketing people. Great testimonials should be cleared and permission given for use in marketing. Here’s the drill:

—Send an enthusiastic thank you letter for the kind words.

—Include the precise words of the customer’s praise you are asking to use,  saying you would be honored to share this enthusiasm with existing customers and prospects.

—Ask for an OK and a signature.

—Ask how the customer would like the attribution: (1) John Smith or (2) J.S., Merrick New York.

—Include a “Kindly do not use” box to check.

—Do not date your testimonials. You want them to be evergreen for years.

Unflattering or complaint mail is invaluable market research. It should be immediately directed to senior management for action.

—If the report of a screw-up ends up in the maw of your bureaucracy, the person(s) who caused the problem could cover their butts by quietly "losing" it.

Two quick ideas:

 —Successful direct marketers spend time and money on creating wants—finding new customers and making irresistible offers to their most profitable customers.


Word count: 2194

At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.


Denny Hatch
The St. James
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Philadelphia, PA 19106
215-644-9526 (Rings on my desk)

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