First the bad news. We have not recovered from the recession; in fact we are still deeply in it. Now for the good news, many people have become used to it and have adjusted their lifestyles accordingly. Money is starting to flow again and “discretionary income” is a phrase that is creeping back into our vernacular. It is time to celebrate! Bone up on your destination knowledge and give the clients the “wow” factor which you know you deliver every day. But remember, today’s customer, as compared to a pre-recession customer is a different animal. If you are prepared to tame it with these three steps, the world is your oyster.
Know your stuff
It used to be that the travel agent was one of the only resources for travel information. As we know, that is not the case today. Often, your customer is more knowledgeable of a destination or a cruise line that you are. And that’s ok. You job will be to match the right destination or cruise line with the customer. Remember all those columns Richard Earls wrote about being a consultancy? Just knowing the basics will no longer be enough. Determine what you are going to sell and become the expert. A recent article by Peter Greenberg highlighted this very well. An extended family booked a Mediterranean cruise with Princess Cruises. It involved points for the air, the cruise for three families, and pre and post stays. The Princess Cruises’ Cruise Vacation Planner neglected to let the family know that their 4 month old baby would not be allowed to sail. So much for going to the horse’s mouth. Greenberg was able to get it resolved, but how many people will go to that extreme? Know your stuff.
Make it easy
If someone wants to do business with you, make it easy for them. More than any other time in our lives, we have more options. A client can buy their vacation from a tour operator, the resort, a local agency, an online agency, or a discounter. Why on earth would you put up any obstacles to doing business with you? On your website, are you asking your clients to provide more than an email address to subscribe to your newsletter? If so, it’s an obstacle. I recently read a post in a forum about the hoops agents are requiring clients to jump through to give them cash! Some suggested going to Walmart and buying a gift card (NEWS ALERT: Walmart sells travel!)! Others were asking them to go to the local bank and get a cashier’s check. It is cash. The most negotiable instrument in the world. Take it! The same goes for checks—but make sure you are protected as well (don’t accept a check and immediately forward a final payment to the supplier). How do your clients want to communicate with you? Telephone, in –person, web-form, email, Facebook, Twitter, two tin cans and a string, smoke signals? It doesn’t matter. Your job as a businessperson is to talk to your customer however they feel most comfortable. Make it easy for clients to work with you.
Set the expectation
Have you ever bought a computer and when you got home, you read a tech article talking about how outdated your brand new technology was? Wow, that was fast, and we are living in a fast world. With information available instantly at our fingertips, we have become a society of “now.” Just two years ago, you needed to be on a computer to surf the Internet. Now you can do it quite literally anywhere. Clients have been known to complain that agents were not as responsive as they would like. One of the keys to success with programs like Tripology is the speed of connection. Sure, we know it takes some time to do the proper research and accumulate the quotes to present to a client. Sure, we know that we also need to juggle other tasks as well. But, the client does not know that (nor should they), but they do deserve for you to set the expectation. I have seen agents who have an autoreply on their email advising that they will return calls and emails within X hours. Honestly, that is more irritating than anything else; but in your first communication (and on your website) you should set the expectation for responses. Educate the consumer and explain that what you are doing is not a quick Orbitz search, but something more deep and complex utilizing tools and resources that are not readily available to the consumer or the online travel agencies. One agent begins each inquiry with an email thanking the client, telling them when to expect a response, telling them how to get in touch with her (email, phone, Twitter, Facebook, web, and cell for emergencies) with the proviso that she may be in the middle of something and unable to take the call immediately. Bingo! What more does the client need to know? Set the expectation.
When Oldsmobile re-branded many moons ago, the tag line was, “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Here we are in the middle of 2010 and you can be sure that this is not your father’s travel agency! As the wallets are beginning to come out of hibernation and people are more willing to spend money on a vacation experience, the successful agent will be prepared. Are you one?