People talk. Sometimes, they talk about you and your travel practice. Sometimes they say really nice things about your skill, the last trip they booked with you, and the wonderful experiences they had. Every now and then, someone might say something not so nice. When that happens, your brand is damaged. You probably know your brand is not what you say it is: your brand is what others say it is. However, it is possible for you to influence the public perception of your brand and to raise the positive profile that others have of your travel practice. In the event of a problem, it is possible to effect damage control and to take possession of the course of conversation. But none of this is possible if you are not closely monitoring your brand image.
How well do you know what your clients are saying about you and your travel practice? Every business should have in place an effort to obtain both direct and indirect feedback from their customers, but it is particularly important in a one-on-one service business like travel consulting. Your existing clients are one of your most important sources of new business as they refer others to you and act as evangelists for your agency. Continually improving your services based on customer feedback is one of the most important aspects of ground-level marketing. If you fail to monitor your client’s utterances in a variety of platforms, you may not be hearing some very important gossip – about you.
Client surveys, properly timed and of appropriate length, can be useful. However, too often these appear more as intrusions and one-sided requests for assistance. A survey placed immediately after a trip is a good tactic, and a well-conceived survey can tell you a great deal about a particular trip. However, a customer survey that comes out of the blue, not in the context of a travel planning exercise, might be viewed as unwelcome. In general, to truly get to the heart of client perceptions of your travel agency as a whole, you need to delve deeper than the typical satisfaction survey.
Depending on the size of your agency, you may find a rich store of information about customer satisfaction with your services online. A quick Google search on your company name is an important activity at least once a month. Better yet, Google Alerts can deliver that same information to your doorstep. But Google is not the only vehicle for monitoring your online reputation. Following your clients on Twitter and Facebook is an excellent way of not only maintaining your relationships but of also getting an inside look at how your clients feel about any number of consumer oriented services – including your own.
But the very best way to learn how clients feel about your services is to ask. Taking clients to breakfast or lunch is a time-honored way to delve into their perceptions of your business. Many business people make a client lunch a regular appointment each week, rotating through their client list to determine what clients love about their services, as well as what disappoints them or what needs to be improved. This is a particularly important exercise for senior management who may often delegate client relationships and account management to others.
Larger agencies will sometimes create a customer advisory board to provide feedback. This is a very strong indicator to clients of your willingness to listen to feedback and evidence that you value their opinions. However, customer advisory boards need to be of a relatively limited duration and need to rotate through willing clients frequently. Participants will typically anticipate some form of compensation as well… usually in the form of a dinner at meetings.
When you receive positive feedback from your comment harvesting, ask for permission to use the comments in testimonials. When you receive negative comments, you have a brilliant opportunity to salvage the situation. Promise immediate action and follow-up. Write a note after the meeting thanking the client for the constructive criticism and tell them what actions are being taken. Follow up within a couple of weeks to let the client know how the remediation has progressed.
Clients are going to talk about you. An internal program designed to harvest and act on that feedback gives you a chance to modify and participate in the conversation.