Over the past year, TRO has been very realistic about the state of the economy and the fragile position of the travel industry. Agencies closing up shop. Tour Operators ceasing business. Host agencies absconding with commissions and closing. Cruise lines increasing the NCF fees. United passing along their credit card fees. It is a very precarious place to be. We have offered agents tips and tricks to hopefully help them to shore up and even build their business. But, the one thing that we are unable to offer is a new set of ears.
At times, I think that many of us simply don’t listen. Sure, we hear fine, but we don’t take the time and effort to really listen. Yes, we may be experts on a destination, a product, a supplier, or a niche. But none of us are experts on our clients. That is why it is so important to open up your ears and really listen to what your client wants and what they are telling you.
I had an agent who worked for me many years ago and she was an outstanding sales person. Her personal favorite destination was Jamaica and her preferred supplier was either Sandals or Beaches. The running joke in the office was that no matter the clients’ wishes, if they sat at her desk, they would be on their way to Jamaica. Now, granted, Jamaica is a fun island and the Sandals and beaches products are good ones. But they are not for everyone. This was before the time when it was easy to track loyalty, but I often wonder how many people did not come back simply because she did not listen.
I also run a website called ClientBaseHelp.com and I am a Certified TRAMS Consultant. It is a free resource for users of ClientBase trying to navigate the program. One of the questions I get a lot is how to get information from a client without it coming off as an interview. My solution is to listen. Believe me, the clients will tell you a lot more than you realize if you only take a moment to hear them. For example, an agent sent a follow up email on a trip inquiry. The only information they had was a first name and an email address. Here is the response:
that week in aug. is too close to when my son starts school (8/24) so will pass. hopefully we can meet up another time that coincides with texas school system 😉
The message, on the surface seems to be just a standard “not interested” reply. But is it? Look carefully and we now know that this is a client from Texas with one child, a school aged son. You can make the assumption he is between 5 and 17. You also know that school starts on August 24, 2009. A little research on your part might be able to identify the school district and area of Texas. But, don’t you think this might be a perfect client to solicit for a spring break or summer cruise out of Galveston? Yes, the client is not interested in that trip, but they gave you plenty more information to see if they might be interested in the next one!
And sometimes we are even guilty of not listening to ourselves. In a recent interview with Travel Agent Magazine, a member of YTB (who has recruited enough people to be in Coach’s Corner) was interviewed and rather than analyzing the facts, he decided he’s rather rely on the word of others.
But YTB is still standing with $425 million in sales and a loyal cadre of travel selling agents. Worse for our critics, YTB is growing despite the economy and despite its critics.
I can’t be sure how this particular individual feels that a 53% drop in agents, a 52% drop in commission income, several pending lawsuits (one which is seeking $300 million+), a new release from the BBB warning consumers about YTB, a Fox report on the “YTB Pyramid Scam”, and a stock price that has moved from $8.50 to less than a dime in 18 months is growth. Most likely he is hearing what he wants to hear, but most certainly he is not listening.
In all aspects of our daily business, we can all use the opportunity to listen a little better. There is a world of information out there which will enable us to do our jobs better each day—if we just take some time to listen to it. I am reminded of the old axiom about why people have two ears and one mouth—listen more and speak less. These might be some very good words by which to live!