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Lean Thinking and Travel Agents – Waste, Pleasure and Pain

TRO’s 365 Guide is examining the concept of Lean Thinking and how it can be applied to your travel practice. Lean Thinking is “lean” because it seeks to eliminate waste in any process while coming as close as possible to delivering what clients actually value. Waste is a constant in business processes, often slipping in where we least expect it. Certainly you experience waste when you make a presentation that does not result in a travel planning event, or when a client takes your research and books elsewhere. You experience waste when you are on the phone for 45 minutes holding with a supplier. Missed appointments, frozen computers, misunderstandings with suppliers and clients all result in waste and, to some degree, pain. For your client, however, the situation is slightly different. To the degree that you can remedy their prior experiences of pain, to the extent that you can on occasion delight them with a surprise or by exceeding their expectations, the greater the value they will place on your services.


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For illustration purposes, let’s use a consumer with which you have no prior relationship. Excited by the idea of a vacation, the consumer begins their internet research. Overwhelmed by the options, however, they soon lose their initial enthusiasm and call you. They are not really excited about the call because they don’t really know you and they don’t actually even understand exactly what you do. You schedule an appointment.   They drive across town to meet you. Unfortunately, they have a bit of trouble parking at the noisy diner you chose for a meeting place.  Then, they learn of your “plan to go” fee. Pleasure has become pain.

But, you take your notes and tell them you will be back with a few ideas. They wait patiently for your return call after your initial meeting. You make your presentation, they accept and now they excitedly wait to travel. Then, unexpectedly, they receive a destination guide from you. The unexpected nature of the destination guide makes it a “delight” – if you had not given them one then they might not have missed it. But getting it sends them to a new level of delight.

Next comes all of the hassles of departure day. Getting to the airport, standing in lines, delays and being tired. But, because it is all expected and anticipated, it doesn’t really fall into the category of “pain” – until they get to their hotel and the room is not ready. After that slight jolt, their vacation is even better than they expected because you really took care of them! You planned their outings, gave them good advice and called during the trip to check in on them. Now, they return home and they find a thank you note, along with a suggestion to begin planning their next vacation. Your clients are delighted.

As you look at the first few steps along the process, you realize that you have delivered real value. Next time, your clients will hopefully think of you first and won’t be overwhelmed by their research or surprised by your plan to go fee. They can stay excited by the anticipation of your presentation and travel. However, they will expect the destination guide next time, so while you need to provide it as a part of your service, it will no longer be a “delighter” as it is now expected. Delighters are important because they serve to assuage any problems that might otherwise occur in the process and thereby increase the client’s perception of value.

Where could you have eliminated waste? The meeting could have been at the client’s home, or at a location more conducive to parking and conversation. Though the client viewed it as a neutral, this provides you with an opportunity to add value to the equation. After all, your client was willing  to spend both time and money to come across town to see you. Any improvement and elimination of waste equates to a value in this instance.

Note, too, that you could have warned your client that because of their arrival time, their room might not be ready, so they could plan on some other activity. Anticipation of a problem can remove it from the Pain category into a Neutral. Those steps will increase your perceived value to the clients next time. Remember, in Lean Thinking, we want to eliminate waste and thereby increase perceived value.

Your continual follow-up during and after travel keeps the client’s perceptions of your value high. You stay “top of mind” for them and you are the first thing they think about the next time they think about travel.

Might there be other areas where waste can be eliminated?  What about parking at the airport? Would a taxi add value? Airport delays – would an airline club be a welcome value? Thinking through the process gives you as a professional an opportunity to present options and add value.

Naturally, your own process will look somewhat different. Indeed, even a phone presentation will look different from an in-person presentation. However, it’s important for you to begin looking hard at the processes you undertake each time you interact with a client. By doing so, you can eliminate wasted time, energy and expense and increase your perceived value to the client.

Tomorrow we will look at how a small change in the way you present yourself and the options available to your clients can make a tremendous difference in your client’s perception of your value, and simultaneously enhance your profit margins.

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