OK, I really mean passionate empathy. I know it sounds like I am trying to squeeze two topics into my column. But passion by itself can be misunderstood as a mere enthusiasm for travel. Your passion for travel brought you into the travel business. But it won’t keep you there. Instead, it’s your passion for helping others to travel that will give you the long term satisfaction necessary to keeping you happy in your profession of choice: travel consulting.
Once you realize that your mission is about helping others to travel, your travel practice becomes truly client-centric. You quit thinking with your own set of preferences and, importantly, you quit thinking with your own set of criteria about terms like “fun”, “luxury”, “cost” and “value”. Those attributes are personal to your client. What is a good value to you might not be to your client. What is expensive for you might not be to the client. What’s fun for your client might make your eyes roll up in your head.
But your travel practice is all about the client. Any other perspective will soon doom you to frustration with the client that asks too many questions, who cannot make up their minds or who is afraid to go to Cancun out of fear of drug cartels, the flu, earthquakes and Spanish.
Empathy with the concerns and fears of your clients will keep you sane. Understand that their hesitancies are those of an inexperienced traveler, just starting out on the path to what might be a lifetime of business for you. Taking good care of them, making their vacation an experience is a rewarding exercise for a dedicated travel consultant.
Thus, your first task is to understand the fears and concerns your client has about working with a travel agent. Tell them how you work, how you view your responsibilities. Let them know the successes you have had in the past for other clients. Speak in terms of enjoyment, satisfaction and memories, not in terms of price. Explain the concept of value and make sure that your client knows that you will take responsibility for finding the best possible value for them, regardless of their circumstance.
Most probably, your new client works under the assumption that there is always a “better deal out there” and that everyone in the world is managing to travel more cheaply than they are. It is this price-driven mentality that is the most difficult obstacle both you and your client will face. For you, the obstacle amounts to a sales hurdle. For your client, however, the situation is worse. If you are not able to shift the emphasis away from price to value, your client risks great disappointment with their vacation – no small issue given the cost of travel. There is always something “cheaper” – you can buy a cheaper car, house, television…the real question is one of value. As a professional you must be able to first understand this concern and then to shift your client’s understanding to value.
So what is a travel agent to do? Many agents greet these exercises with exasperation. A better response, however, is to grasp a client’s focus on price as entirely understandable. Most clients have a retail paradigm in mind when they come to you. They think you sell travel. If you do not explain your role as a consultant, how can the client know better? Your task is to engage the client in an open discussion of your role, and importantly, their needs. You have to make the client comfortable with your role, and, incidentally, with their own.