Sometimes, the best examples are bad examples. At the end of last year a discussion in the TRO Community caught my eye and I have returned to it several times. The discussion was about an article entitled What’s Your Response to ‘I Can Get It Cheaper on the Internet’? Take some time to read that article this morning, it will serve you well. Be sure to read the comments that follow the article.
I doubt there is a travel agent anywhere that would not immediately sympathize with the plight of the appliance salesman in the article. How often have you lost a client to a lower price on the internet? Does it seem like clients just don’t “get it”? Why don’t they understand the concept of value, of everything that you add to the process, the additional effort that you put into planning their travels with them?
I want to break this to you gently, but it’s all your fault. We are the professionals. It is our responsibility to make ourselves heard and understood. The travel industry has done a terrible job of explaining itself to the general public. By and large, consumers do not understand what you do, how you fit into their travel plans and why they should use you. Most members of the public think of travel agents as one possible way to buy travel out of several retail alternatives. Many ill-schooled travel agents reinforce that perception with product-driven advertising and marketing.
If a client buys from the internet rather than working with you, you never had the client from the start. You don’t lose clients to the internet. They didn’t get it because you didn’t explain it well enough, you failed to persuade. Don’t be angry with the client, they at least gave you an opportunity. Rather, sharpen your game.
Consumers are civilians: they drive straight to price every time. It is not in the least surprising their chief preoccupation is price. But if we affect an attitude, if we are unsympathetic to their concerns, we lose an opportunity to earn a client. Too often, we allow frustration to drive the conversation.
We make a mistake when we “blow people off.” We all should learn the art of persuasion – it is infinitely more valuable in business than the art of debate.
We would all do well to prepare an answer to the question “Can you beat internet pricing?” Honestly, are you prepared to cogently answer that question when asked? When you hear that question you have a terrific opportunity to educate a member of the public and to earn a client. You will hear it again. And again. So prepare your answer now.
What about an industry wide effort? I have argued before travel agents should be promoting a grassroots effort to educate the public by jointly marketing in their local communities. Give some consideration to a cooperative effort with your peers locally. The time you invest working with your fellow travel agents may well pay off for all involved: you, other travel professionals and, not least of all, the traveling public.