Last week, Mary Jo Babiarz was lamenting the demise of client loyalty and it got me to thinking. In our industry, not only do we need to worry about loyalty from clients, but we also need to be very concerned about the loyalty of our suppliers. I might even go so far as to say that loyalty in many senses is one of the greatest threats to our existence—or one of the guarantees to our success.
As Mary Jo pointed out, clients can be fickle. And as we have all heard, it costs far less to retain a client than it costs to find a new one. Maintaining client loyalty should not be that hard. Quite simply, treat the client as you expect to be treated when you are the consumer. Answer questions in a timely manner. Provide full and accurate information. And be honest. Fortunately for us, the Internet and Online Travel Agencies are unable to provide those three items. So, already, we should have a leg up on the competition.
But never take that loyalty for granted. Just consistently doing an “OK” job is not enough. You need to be sure you are excelling. Make sure you ask your customers for feedback (maybe reward them), ask them where you could improve, ask them to help you (singular) shape your (plural) business. When people are involved in the process, they are naturally more loyal and will become you biggest cheerleader.
And remember, if you have a million clients only booking once, you don’t have much of a business.
Supplier loyalty is another animal entirely. While all suppliers reach out to the travel agency community, that reach is not based on a desire, but a need. Make no mistake; the suppliers need to be loyal to their shareholders and themselves. They do need us as an avenue of distribution, but their priority is their stakeholders.
Back in the early 90s we bought that whole “partner” thing from the airlines. Then they cut the commissions. In the 2000s we again bought it from the cruise lines when they began to add and increase “non-commissionable fares” into their pricing model. Suppliers, with few exceptions, have spent a lot of money to lower their distribution costs and to market directly to the consumer. And while 10%, 15%, or 20% seems like a paltry amount, when you look at the larger picture, it is a huge cost to the suppliers.
When a supplier quotes the fact that few 2nd time guests utilize the same booking method as the first time, you know they are listening. That fact means potential lost revenue to them. It also signals that the first time experiences may not be up to par.
Face it, they are not really loyal to us. But that does not mean we need to abandon one another. To a degree, we both need each other—it’s symbiosis at work.
As we move forward recovering from a dismal economy, make sure you are keenly aware of where everyone’s loyalties lie. Are your clients loyal to you? What percentage of your clients have booked more than three trips with you in the past five years? Run those numbers, I bet you will be surprised.