When was the last time you walked into a Ritz-Carlton and took notice of wilting flowers? How about the smell of raw sewage at a Westin? Of course the answer is NEVER! These companies actually get it. When you walk into a Westin you might smell a custom scent made from white tea, geranium and freesia. Likewise, the Ritz-Carlton has fresh flowers delivered daily. Why? Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Why do so many travel professionals fail to realize this in their individual practices?
I am not suggesting that you need to develop a signature scent or to spend all of your profits with the local florist. What I am suggesting is to take some time and take a critical look at the first impression you are giving to your clients and prospects. Your office appearance, your personal appearance, your telephone appearance, your email appearance, you web appearance, and your written appearance are all critical to that all-important first impression. At best, a bad impression shows carelessness. At worst, it shows ignorance.
Your Office. We all don’t have huge budgets to install flat screen televisions and mahogany furniture. But a regular carpet cleaning, clean windows and fresh decorations will go a long way.
Your Self. There are many different styles that will work in the industry. If you specialize in Caribbean getaways, you can realistically have a shorts and flip flop uniform. If you specialize in corporate—probably not. No matter your style, make it clean and appealing.
Your Phone. Mike Marchev has touched on this in many of his seminars. Smile when you answer the phone. People are likely calling you to give you money. And since the phone tends to be the first real “face to face” communication, why risk it? Another tip I have heard over the years—stand up when you answer the phone. It changes your diaphragm and gives your voice a whole new sound!
Your Email. Caution: controversy ahead! If you do nothing else, ditch the Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, and Gmail addresses. It screams amateur! Gmail is a wonderful tool to handle your mail from various accounts—I use Gmail to respond to half a dozen different emails from business domains and it is great. I have a Gmail address for my personal email. But for business—no way! (Note: Gmail is able to handle mail from your domain and that is fine, I am saying lose the email@example.com address!) Also, be mindful of what is in your message. Don’t use the smiley faces J or the frownie ones L–you are not in elementary school any longer. And be mindful of any links you might have in your signature. They need to be appropriate. I am glad you are selling opportunities with Mary Kay Cosmetics, but I called you for travel. And always make sure you have all of your contact methods in your signature—Facebook, Twitter, website, phone, etc.
Your Website. Take a look at it. Have someone take a look at it. What makes you stand out from the rest? Does the big old “powered By Go Daddy” add anything to it? Be cautious of the cookie cutter sites provided by some consortia and hosts. While they may be a viable means to get you online fast, they are all identical. What sets them apart? There are many companies that will offer templates for travel practices. Check them out. It is an online world and people will look for you online. If they see that your site is identical to the next persons, they are likely to make the same assumptions about your products and services—and buy from the next person!
Your Writing. To me, this is the most critical and relates to your email and web presence. Spell check is not enough! Last week, I read an article that was published and the word “loose” was used when “lose” was intended. That particular mistake is one of my peeves and it made me cringe—especially knowing the source. I saw a flyer once from a travel agent listing a cruise that stopped in “Gran Caymen.” When most of your clients are coming to you with more knowledge than ever—spelling does count! When I had my storefront agencies, I will gladly admit that writing was not the strong suit for most of my agents. Some letters were sent out spaced incorrectly, wrong words, you name it. Call it micromanaging, but I looked at every letter that went out. I was protecting my own brand.
So, how do you make these changes? Here are four sure fire tips to get you on your way:
- Proof, proof, proof, and proof again. Spell checking is never enough. An errant typo on an itinerary sending a client to see the Rock of Gibraltar could have devastating consequences.
- Have another set of eyes check things over. Do you see the dust lying on your coffee table at home? I bet your mother in law does. A second set will always see something a little differently—often with fantastic suggestions for improvement.
- Put it aside and look at it again later with refreshed vision. Many times you will see something you missed, or better something you should add!
- Use technology. Save common documents as templates and work from them. There are several group trips my agency arranges every year. The documents my clients receive are essentially identical. Of course the dates change, and I freshen up the words; but it is a lot easier to do that than to re-invent the wheel.
Is your agency up to speed?