Mike Marchev, MBA, CTC has been sharing his upbeat, down-to-earth, entertaining and motivational business-building programs with travel professionals since 1984. Customer Service is his “pet” topic. Mike is a frequent contributor to a number of recognized travel publications as
well as the author of Become The Exception, The 52-Week Sales Planner and “More-On” Marketing.
TRO: What are travel agents doing right today?
MM: This is a hard question to answer in that I am not privy to what they are all up to. I’ll answer from a different angle.
If a travel agent has targeted a specific market and identified their “niche” based on their strengths, experiences and positive track record, and they are (1) practicing emotional intelligence to the degree that they are adhering to the Rule of Seven without excuse or exception, and (2) actively seeking new and creative ways to blow their customers away with unexpected service, then in my opinion, they are doing things right. (Rule of 7: Seven prospect contacts in an 18-month period.)
TRO: What are they doing wrong?
MM: Who am I to say? Without knowing, I am hoping that they are not whining, complaining and wasting valuable time lamenting their decision to enter the travel industry. If they try to “compete” with the internet, they will lose on shear size; if they hire less-than-squared-away people because of salary constraints, they also will lose. If they feel that the world owes them a living, I have some bad/sad news for them. If they are not finding the “fun” in this business, perhaps they should begin pursuing a degree in accounting.
TRO: You once noted that a seminar on customer service at a trade show sold out in hours? Why do you think this happened? Where are travel agents lacking from a customer service perspective?
MM: I will never know why this seminar sold out because to me it is so obvious that it makes no sense at all to “bite the hand that feeds you” yet so many travel agents still insist on this behavior. Apparently, and much to my chagrin, there are still people out there who have not internalized this message, and who still require a little prompting in this area. As far as specific areas where agents are lacking, I believe they fall into the same category where everybody is lacking. Many still position customers in an adversarial role. This is the result of either selecting the wrong clients or failing to reward front-line employees for recognizing how a profitable business works.
TRO: Many get discouraged as prices have gone down, every customer is looking for a “deal”, how can an agent cut through the noise and show off his or her real value to a client?
MM: Every person reading this article appreciates and seeks a “good deal.” I know I don’t like to spend more money on anything than I have to. That is only natural, human and the American way. The key to supplying value, and in particular, added-value is to define exactly what value means to the client. Where agents go wrong is they define value in their own terms. This is often times counter productive. Once an agent can feel confident enough to probe for a prospect’s true feelings, the sooner a sound working relationship will begin. Define and deliver value in the client’s terms and expect to get paid for your contribution. To coin a phrase, this will result in a true win-win relationship.
TRO: Many agents can get a variety of supplier knowledge, but where can they best get sales and marketing knowledge?
MM: There are three immediate answers to this question. The first one involves personal experience gained by a series of success and failure events experienced over time. The hard truth is that there never will be a substitute for experience. This is very much a part of one’s professional learning curve. Books, if well-written are also a good ongoing source for both motivation and stimulation. I’d be doing your readers a disservice if I didn’t recommend the sales book Become the Exception, which is an excellent resource. The third avenue that all successful sales professionals take is ongoing participation in seminars and workshops conducted by individuals who have actually “walked their talk.” I’ve just finished taping a set of marketing and sales videos with Nolan Burris, Stuart Cohen, Scott Koepf and Richard Earls that will be out sometime later this month, by the way.
TRO: How does an agent move from all of this “nickel knowledge” and apply it in real world situations?
MM: I must differentiate between nice to know “nickel-knowledge” and information that can realistically affect the outcome of one’s eating habits. Regardless of what you choose to call it, , new information, ideas and strategies will take some focused effort to get through the learning curve. The agents who can “connect” with the time-proven advice, try it and stick with it, will benefit in the long run. Bottom Line: It takes consistency and practice to become good at anything.
TRO: From your end of the pool what do you see as the same, different and emerging trends in the TA community?
MM: Change is a way of life and should be both anticipated and expected. As far as the travel industry goes there will always be opportunities for professionals in the know who will ply their trade to the good of the industry. I believe that self-motivation plays a major role in positioning travel professionals as we move forward. People have the ability to either repel or attract. Do not for a moment believe that proactive, happening people will voluntarily hook their wagon (future) to a bummed-out, worn-out travel (I could have been a contender) practitioner. I believe that the motivated, knowledgeable, personable and reliable travel specialist has reason to smile. Let’s face it. The world is a big place getting smaller and it is filled with people who want to experience life while remaining lazy. This sounds like the perfect storm to me.
TRO: Last year you built a new house in upstate New York. Relate a bit how you picked some of the contractors you wanted to work with?
MM: This is a very good question. I miss my tractor. My wife and I gathered the names of four builders that were “referred” to us. We scheduled a meeting and asked them all the “same” questions. We then asked to see a representative sample of their work. We asked for an idea of how they would price the project, and we selected the builder based on who we felt the most comfortable with. This is also known as “gut feel.” The more experience one has, the better his/her gut. I am happy to say that we were 100% correct.
TRO: If you could do it all over again, what would you change? Is there anything you wish you could go back in time and knock yourself in the head and say “Don’t do that!?”
MM: The first thing I would change is that I would not have been injured in college and I would have gone on to play Major League Baseball. That being said, the only way I could do justice to this question is to write a response whose length would challenge the book “War & Peace.” There are many things I would have done differently, and just as many things that I wish I hadn’t done. These are known as life’s experiences and I am afraid that there are no shortcuts in this area. Your learning curve may be trimmed by benefitting from others, but there simply is no substitute for your own miscues.
I’ll end this interview by leaving your readers with the same advice I leave High School seniors when I speak to the future of our country: “If you want to be more successful in life, fail faster.”