How well do your clients understand what you do? The fact is, most of the public operates with a set of misperceptions about travel agents. Consumers, by and large, do not understand the distribution chain, the commission system or the role of the travel agent. This is, of course, the fault of our own industry for failing to properly educate the public on the value of the travel agent. Most consumers view travel agents more as a retail outlet for travel product than a service. As a result, they enter into the relationship with a new travel agent in the same way they might with Wal-Mart. In the context of a retail relationship, the burden is almost completely that of the retailer. The consumer is completely free to bargain, to ask for the retailer to “beat this price”, to research the retailer and go elsewhere. The relationship is one sided in favor of the consumer and almost entirely price-driven. Sound familiar?
A retail-like relationship works counter to the entire ambiance of authenticity. The fact is, we don’t trust most retailers. We are taught to shop around, to self-serve, to complain loudly. The travel agent who fails to develop a more professional relationship with their clients will continually work against an undercurrent of mistrust.
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Train your clients. Educate them on the role of the travel agent. Explain what you do and how you do it. At the outset of the relationship, set expectations. Demystify the travel process and provide your client with base knowledge from which to more confidently operate and feel empowered.
More importantly, establish, up front, the role and responsibilities of the client. Make your client a fully empowered and active partner in the relationship. In the initial interview, set expectations on topics ranging from open communication to the necessity to have payments in on time. This early work sets the tone of a professional relationship. Anticipate the problems that might arise and address them from the outset.
Introducing a firm control at the beginning of the relationship allows you to demand behaviors of clients that will assist with the efficiency and accuracy of the entire planning, booking and follow-up process. By demanding that the client be an active participant, the work load is properly distributed and clients are more fully engaged in the success of the partnership.