The shortest path to obtaining what you want out of life is to assist others in getting what they want first. That is exceptionally true in travel consulting. However, many clients don’t really know what they want. Clients often operate with vague notions about “relaxation”, “Ireland”, “travel” or “cruising”. Like a good psychologist, a travel consultant will assist the client in better clarifying what they most desire from each trip and then finding the best possible match for that particular experience. Being an expert travel consultant begins with knowing how to ask the right questions.
At one time the process of asking the right questions was called “Qualifying the Client”. While there is some validity to that way of viewing the process, to me that phrase smacks of old-school sales. I think the reality that most good travel consultants work with is more like “Understanding the Client” and then “Qualifying the Trip”. The process of understanding the client needs to take the form of a well-directed conversation. Qualifying the trip is the very important expert task of choosing the right tour operator, cruise line or constructing the perfect FIT based on the clients needs.
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Value relates not just to every individual client, but to each individual trip. A client may have traveled with you many times in the past, but have very different needs depending on circumstance. Each time a client travels with you, take the time to ask about some very important issues – the purpose of the trip and familiarity with the destination, his traveling companions and the type of accommodations he will be desiring. A change in any of these circumstances from trip to trip will alter the client’s needs. Many clients travel with a far different set of criteria for a business trip as opposed to a family vacation or an adventure outing such as a safari. Even a luxury client may want to rough it on occasion, and your budget client may have been saving for years for the trip of a life time. Make each planning exercise an adventure in exploring the possibilities together with your client.
Professional conversations go in both directions. Intelligent conversation is more than “active listening”. Good conversation is also the art of smart questioning. To do a good job of travel planning you need a lot of information from the client. With new clients, it is important to obtain an understanding of the manner in which they have historically traveled. Where have they been? What did they like about the experience and what did they dislike? What hotels did they stay in? What did they think of those properties? Did they use a travel agent? How did that go? A client’s travel history will tell you much you need to know about the client’s preferences and tolerance levels. In addition, speak to the client’s travel ambitions. Where does the client hope to travel over the next 5 years? Over the next 10 years? What places are on the client’s “must see” list? All of this information is acquired by asking the question and then letting the client speak. From a strong client interview can come the information you will need to make intelligent recommendations based on your knowledge of product and suppliers. The client will feel far more comfortable that you have their interests at heart, that you will be acting as their advocate.
Listen attentively to your clients and give them visual cues that you are listening and they are being understood. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarity if you do not understand any point. If you don’t agree with anything the client might say, don’t interrupt but make a mental note to circle back around to the point. With the exception of polite small talk, stick to the purpose of the meeting and respect your client’s time. Be courteous. Remember that you are the expert and not to confound your clients with industry jargon. Demystify travel for the clients and make it understandable and accessible.
Wind up the meeting by covering any “action items” that each party needs to accomplish. Establish the timing for any follow up. Close with a handshake and by thanking the client for their time. Provide the clients with business cards and any important collateral.
Follow up with the client as promised and you will have successfully accomplished your business meeting. With a bit of planning and the proper degree of professional formality, you can assure yourself of better results from each meeting effort.
A client interview for each trip demonstrates your desire to match the client with the perfect travel opportunity. The consultative nature of the exercise is clear – you are coaching the client to make a smart purchasing decision.