As you may recall, I’m what one would call, in maritime terms, an “old salt:” I’ve been a career Travel Consultant for 32 years, now – working for “brick and mortar” agencies the entire time – and happy to report, still going strong!
Imagine my surprise when I heard President Obama’s bleak outlook during his speech last week – implying travel agents are obsolete, likening us to bank tellers being eliminated in favor of ATM’s. At the risk of ruffling any political feathers, I beg to differ!
Summer is historically a very slow time for us at our agency. People are either travelling, about to travel, or have just returned from traveling. Aside from a stray last minute booking, planning travel is not on most people’s agenda during the summer; especially in Chicago, where summer isn’t just a season – it’s a celebration! People are out and enjoying it as much and as often as they can, for they know that before long, another dastardly winter will be upon us. Yet, in spite of this statistic, we’ve actually been considerably busier this summer than we’ve been in summers past.
Obsolete? I think not!
Which leads me to wonder:
- Why – after so many of our competitors are long-gone, are we celebrating our 40th year in business?
- What – sets us apart?
- How – can we not only maintain our strong client base, but continue growing it?
One can study all the graphs and pie charts they want, but without quality personnel delivering outstanding customer service with integrity, statistics mean nothing. My epiphany to all 3 of these questions, however, boiled down to one very simple element…
The Human Touch!
And it was confirmed as I recalled an interaction I had last week with a client. As I welcomed him into my office and we chatted about the trip he wanted to plan, I was surprised at how prepared he was. As a very well-traveled, self-assured, and computer-savvy older gentleman, he knew exactly what escorted tour he wanted. Quite frankly, he could’ve very easily booked it himself, online. Yet he chose to book it through me. I didn’t dare ask him why; I was just delighted and honored to be of help – although admittedly, he made my job very easy. However, after talking a bit more, I got a better glimpse of the “why.” He’d just had a harrowing experience with the phone company (imagine that), and was still quite agitated about it. After hearing about his ordeal, he reminded me that by booking with me, there would be no “Press 1 for English.” No umpteen voice prompts. No incessant music-on-hold. No misdirected calls. No being passed from one department to another. No being disconnected. No Indian based help desk. Just a friendly, experienced, travel professional, delivering honest, face-to-face, unbiased expertise–with a smile and a handshake.
Then it dawned on me: When was the last time that I received a smile from someone thanking me? I was truly at a loss to remember. Is our society so “automated,” as the President implied, that these simple gestures are becoming things of the past? If so, it’s no wonder we enjoy the brisk business we have. I honestly believe people want and miss these very simple things, and will even go out of their way to receive good, old-fashioned customer service.
Recent studies indicate that many who have booked online in the past are returning to agents once again – in droves. Could this statistic be attributable to the most basic element that has been lacking-the human touch? It’s nice to know that there are people out there, like my client who appreciates these qualities. They are not obsolete. Not yet. And neither are we!
You can take THAT to the bank!
Are you seeing a return to the human touch? Please leave a comment!
Linda Furlan is a career Travel Consultant with over 30 years experience as a front-line, brick-and-mortar agent. She is an ECC Cruise Specialist employed by Ensemble-affiliated Viking Travel Service/The Cruise Shop (www.cruise-shop.com) in Naperville, IL – celebrating their 40th Year in business in 2011. From Corporate to Groups to Leisure to middle-management, she’s seen and done it all – but becoming a niche specialist in her favorite genre – Cruising – has been the most fulfilling. Linda also recently combined her passions for travel, writing, and photography by starting her own Travel Blog . She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (630) 357-7447.