As a senior in college majoring in economics, I wrote a senior thesis on the Japanese practice of Kaizen. Kaizen is most well-known for its implementation in the Toyota production line. It was created in Japan following World War II and the word means “continuous improvement.” In stark contrast to the western attitude of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the practice of Kaizen is about making small changes on a regular basis. The Japanese philosophy is “do it better, make it better, improve it even if it isn’t broken because if we don’t, we can’t compete with those who do.”
So what does this have to do with your travel business? Everything! I can’t tell you how many times I see an agency owner running his or her travel business exactly like he or she ran it 20 years ago. Even worse is that newcomers to this business are learning from very old, outdated programs teaching them how to sell travel as if it were 1995, not taking into consideration that the business model has changed dramatically since then.
If you are feeling well behind where you want to be, or have days where you are so overwhelmed by all the “to-do’s” on your “to-do” list, then maybe it’s time to employ some Kaizen practices of your own. Follow these four phases to put a little Kaizen back in your marketing:
Phase 1 – Marketing to new prospects. This is the marketing you do to add NEW CONTACTS to your list and platform. This is NOT the marketing you do to contacts you already have. This is a critical phase because every business should always be list building. This phase is a big blind spot for established travel agencies who may have great marketing programs through their consortia, but the marketing programs are typically for their existing list. They think that’s all they need to do, but with no list building activities, their business is very vulnerable in the long term.
Phase 2 – Begins the moment you get an inquiry and ends the moment you take a deposit on a travel itinerary. Phase 2 is the true “selling” phase. This is where your most experienced agents should be spending 75% of their time. This phase should have a soft framework to follow for the most efficiency. For example, when an inquiry comes in, what’s the first step? Do you or your agents immediately jump on sending quotes? If yes, that’s not the most efficient way to handle it – unless it’s a regular, repeat client that always comes through. Instead, if it’s an inquiry from a new client, get the client on the phone. Schedule a time to chat. In that chat, establish rapport and your value.
Phase 3 – Begins when the deposit has been taken and ends when the client has returned from their travel. This phase is the “service” phase. It’s where you deliver on your promise of outstanding service. It’s the greatest opportunity to shine, relative to online booking engines or other travel agencies that don’t put any focus on this phase. But if you fail in this phase, you’ve given your client no reason to believe they need you. So what can you do in this phase? Two BIG things:
- Prepare your client for travel. In other words, over communicate, over deliver, and over prepare them for their travel experience.
- Be of service. One of the best ways to be of service is to be pro-active. Reach out to them and ask them if you can book additional things to their itinerary. Contact the hotels in their itinerary and ask for VIP status. You won’t get if you don’t ask. If you systematize it and build a framework for what happens in this phase, you will be far more consistent in your service levels.
Phase 4 – Begins when the client returns from travel and ends when the client reaches out to you for a new inquiry. This is the relationship-nurturing phase. All those marketing programs provided by suppliers and consortia do a great job at helping you with this phase. The weekly electronic newsletter is also a big component of this phase. You must stay in touch with your clients for them to come back. But there are additional things you can do that have a high touch effect. For example, make sure you phone your client when they return from their trip to get feedback. You can also send them a welcome home card or postcard.
Phase 4 will then circle back to Phase 2, skipping phase 1, and the process begins all over again. It doesn’t matter if you are large travel agency with frontline agents or an independent consultant working from home – you need to establish a framework for these phases. Map them out, write them down, and get to delegating.
Meredith Hill, ex-President of Hills of Africa Travel, founded the Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs (GIFTE) to empower frustrated and struggling travel consultants by helping them to connect with their passion again, attract ideal clients, and build a business that makes positive difference in people’s lives. Visit GIFTE at www.travelbusinessu.com.