More than fourteen years ago, Tom Peters wrote “The Brand Called You” for FastCompany magazine. The concept was simple, but profound. Each of us is our own brand. Whether in the context of a larger company or on our own, we brand ourselves by our actions, the way we dress, the opinions we hold and, ultimately, the company we keep. Further, to the degree that we promote our individual brand successfully, our own careers and the fortunes of the businesses with which we associate prosper.
The concept of personal brand has profound implications for customer loyalty and retention programs. We have established relationships as the key ingredient to customer loyalty. People form relationships with people, especially in service oriented businesses like travel consulting. The quality or the relationship you and your associates are capable of developing with clients will determine your repeat business.
Whether you are a sole practitioner or a team member of a large corporate travel agency, your contribution to the professional appearance of your agency is vital and significant. This column has many times argued that travel agents should stop selling travel: travel agents should sell themselves. Clients can buy travel anywhere. Direct from suppliers, on Travelocity or from the mega-box retailer willing to rebate back one-half of their commission in on-board credits or merchandise. Clients don’t need access to travel, they need access to good advice and guidance. Clients need travel professionals to assist them in getting the most out of their travels.
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The most tangible, visible and important asset of any travel agency is its agents. The professional demeanor, activities and attitude of the individuals both at the helm and on the front lines means more to the professional appearance of your agency than anything else. Fostering an internal culture of professionalism is absolutely key to an insanely great travel agency. This was the essential insight of Hal Rosenbluth’s book “The Customer Comes Second.”People buy from people and travel consulting is a relationship business. If I owned an agency today, I would scour my local community and cherry-pick the best travel agents I could find from each agency. I would give them terrific incentives for working with my agency. I would seek out the agents that cared about travel consulting with a passion. The ones that knew how to market themselves and who pro-actively were building their client list. The ones with advanced destination courses and niche markets. The agents with great supplier relationships. I would then make stars out of each one of them. My agency’s advertising would be all about the individuals in my agencies, their accomplishments and their individual capabilities to astonish their clients. I would build a team of individuals – the best of the best.
The public would respond to a campaign of “nothing but the best” when it came to your staff. It’s all about people.
Develop a corporate culture in your agency that fosters personal development and growth in travel. Require each agent to carry their weight, to represent the company well and to network throughout your community. If you are a sole practitioner, look to your community connections, your volunteer efforts, the way you dress and carry yourself. Ensure that the individuals that make up the corporate body each reflect the brand message of the whole. Businesses are called “companies” for a reason. Look to the company you keep and build your business on the most solid of foundations – its individual associates.