Is there any group of professionals that feel so misunderstood by their clients as travel professionals? Face it – outside of our best clients, the public largely does not understand what we do. The best travel consultants think of themselves as advisors, counselors, travel coaches. Much of the public views us as retail outlets for travel. The disparity in those two perceptions is the cause of much of the anxiety and frustration many travel agents experience in their day-to-day dealings with their clients. Worse yet, for the past seventeen years, the mantra of the media has been overwhelmingly negative as ill-informed writers direct consumers to “book it yourself” and “be your own travel agent”.
I have maintained that the fault is our own. The problem is self-inflicted. Travel professionals have failed to cooperatively make their case to the public. As a result, new clients approach travel agents with caution, just as they do when they approach a car lot in search of a new automobile, frightened that they are going to be “sold” on a bad deal.
Such is the psychological swampland that you must contend with each time you encounter a new client. Is it any wonder your job is a bit stressful? What’s the solution? How can you properly work with clients when they don’t understand your mission, when they don’t trust you and when their every instinct tells them to check behind you to make certain you have given them the “best deal”?
They key is a psychological shift in the way you view your clients. Firstly, don’t blame them for their perceptions and misunderstandings. That is not their problem, it’s yours. As a professional, it is your responsibility to make your mission understood and your value clear. That is the challenge in front of you. How do you do it? With empathy. Embrace your client’s ignorance as a god-send, an opportunity. If you can make that shift, you move closer to the client and closer to earning the trust you deserve.
Your clients are almost certainly both excited and, if they are new clients, worried. Remember – they get to travel on vacation once or twice a year. Maybe less in these economic times. They are about to turn the process of planning over to you, along with several thousands of their hard earned dollars. Isn’t it understandable that they have some concerns?
Think of yourself as a coach. Your clients have travel ambitions. Your professional expertise can help them to achieve their goals. What you are selling is your ability to assist the client in making a wise purchasing decision. Your expertise is only important to the client insofar as they benefit from the experience of working with you. Face it – nobody likes to be “sold” anything. People love to make smart buying decisions, however. To the extent that you can assist your clients to be smarter and better informed in their buying decisions, the stronger the relationship you will form over the long term.
The psychological shift you want to achieve with clients is one of perspective. Imagine yourself literally moving around to your client’s side of the table. You are not pushing concepts, “deals” or travel product across the table to them. Instead, you are looking firstly at their needs and secondly at the travel products that best meet those needs. Then, together, you arrive at the best possible selection, coaching the client into a good buying decision.
Doesn’t that sound like the way you would like to buy a product? With a well informed, expert coach at your side looking out for your interests?
This 365 Marketing and Sales Tip is provided free to the travel agent community by:
Your first task is to understand the fears and concerns your client has about working with a travel agent. Tell them how you work, how you view your responsibilities. Let them know the successes you have had in the past for other clients. Speak in terms of enjoyment, satisfaction and memories, not in terms of price. Explain the concept of value and make sure that your client knows that you will take responsibility for finding the best possible value for them, regardless of their circumstance.
Most probably, your new client works under the assumption that there is always a “better deal out there” and that everyone in the world is managing to travel more cheaply than they are. It is this price-driven mentality that is the most difficult obstacle both you and your client will face. For you, the obstacle amounts to a sales hurdle. For your client, however, the situation is worse. If you are not able to shift the emphasis away from price to value, your client risks great disappointment with their vacation – no small issue given the cost of travel. There is always something “cheaper” – you can buy a cheaper car, house, television…the real question is one of value. As a professional you must be able to first understand this concern and then to shift your client’s understanding to value.
So what is a travel agent to do? Many agents greet these exercises with exasperation. A better response, however, is to grasp a client’s focus on price as entirely understandable. Most clients have a retail paradigm in mind when they come to you. They think you sell travel. If you do not explain your role as a consultant, how can the client know better? Your task is to engage the client in an open discussion of your role, and importantly, their needs. You have to make the client comfortable with your role, and, incidentally, with their own.
Approach your clients with empathy, and you will find them…well, more approachable.