A friend of mine, from my bartending days at the 23 East, Chestnut, and Ambler Caberets, recently married and formed an instant family, complete with a precocious eight year old daughter. Pat Godwin (shameless plug) is a professional comedian, and recently he was telling me a story (as only Pat can do) about his new daughter and how she really put him in a bind because she actually listened too well. There is a lesson in here; read on…
I am the brand new father of a 50 lb. baby girl named Avery. She’s 8 years old, my wife’s only child and she calls me daddy. Nothing warms the heart like being called daddy even if you haven’t done a thing to earn the title. I will love her forever and I am proud to call her my daughter. I don’t know little girls that well but I think she’s fairly typical. She has no attention span, lots of misguided energy and posters of Ashley Tisdale all over her room. She’s really in to Ashley Tisdale and that’s the only thing we have in common.
I try to keep my worldview and language in check so as not to fog Avery’s sunny outlook on life. If I accidentally say something inappropriate, I let her know that it’s not a word or philosophy I want repeated outside the Pat Cave. What I didn’t count on was how absorbent she is to seemingly harmless conversation.
I am not good at remembering people’s names; I have the bad habit of giving silly nicknames to neighbors, store clerks and various others with whom I have limited contact. They are for the most part quick, thoughtless and superficial observations. For example, I call the 6 foot 5 inch waiter with the slight hunch we see at “Monical’s Pizza”, “Big Bird” and the lady who jogs by our house in spandex with the huge thighs “Ham Hocks.” My wife laughs, Avery laughs and it’s our private little family joke. No one hears, no one gets hurt.
The other morning I was on my way to the airport and suddenly greeted by the man from across the street. He says, “Hi, we’ve never met officially, my name is Jim Reichart but you may know me as ‘Gin Blossoms.’ Your daughter told me that’s what you call me.” I said with a straight face, “daughter, what daughter? “I don’t have a daughter” He continued, “I’ll have you know Mr. Comedian, that these bumps and spots on my nose are not alcohol related but a form of cancerous Melanoma. I’ve had surgery to repair the damage and that’s why it’s red and swollen. No one in my family thinks your childish name-calling is funny. My wife “Muumuu” is not amused and neither is my son “Aiken Breath.” He paused and then added, “When I find out what “Aiken Breath” means I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have to kick your ass.”
I felt terrible all the way to Ft. Lauderdale and as I was waiting for the flight attendant to bring me a diet coke I decided that I would be more careful with nicknames around the “Little Sponge” when I got home. Boy, I sure hope “Snagglepuss” brings me some peanuts soon, I’m starving.
Aside from demonstrating the usefulness (and danger) of mnemonic devices, this is a fantastic lesson about tuning in. Having been in the travel industry for nearly 15 years, I can say that as a whole, we are very poor listeners; and I am guilty of being one myself. An agent that worked for me in the late 90s was a stellar salesperson; but she only sold Jamaica. It didn’t matter that the client wanted to tour the great opera houses of Europe; if they sat down at Linda’s desk, they were going an all-inclusive property in Jamaica. And they always had a good time and came back for more. But in all honesty, we never really served that customer—we only served ourselves. We need to take more cues from Avery, and sit back and soak up the information the client is throwing at us.
To run your business effectively, you need to have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program. You need to know their history, their interests, likes and dislikes. With this information, most experts will say you are ready to conquer the world of travel. A database is a useful tool; but the best tool at your disposal is your head and your ability to listen. I am convinced this is the one huge down side of the Internet. Databases are one dimensional—your brain is not.
But just when you think you know your client (because your database told you so), things change. Sometimes a lot faster than you realize; so it is important to listen to your client each and every time for the clues they are giving. For some odd reason, I have noticed that travel agents are a lot like hairdressers; clients will tell you absoltely everything if you only listen. So when you hear of a man squawking about his rough divorce, soak it up. Your CRM may tell you he likes to visit those European opera houses and fly in business, but this new information tells you that a bender in Vegas with the boys on Hooters Airlines might be a better solution. Track your clients’ family. Is their youngest child graduating college? You can bet their travel dynamic will change. An elderly client came into our office and told us her husband had died a few months prior. She said she needed to get away and “let her hair down”. After really listening to her, we discovered because of her life event, all of our assumptions were wrong! The best match for her was Hedonism II. Who would have thunk? Life events—divorce, death, growing kids, loss of a job, promotion, a near miss car accident—can and usually do have an impact on the traveling psyche. Detecting these subtle changes will never be done by a website or someone that is not committed to the profession. It takes someone with a passion for people and a passion for travel to match dreams with experiences. As a true travel professional, it is your job to be an “Avery” and soak it all up.