All business people tend to be optimists and travel agents perhaps even more so than most. A positive outlook is in the nature of the profession. Travel professionals inherently plan for best case scenarios. People love to travel and at the outset of every client relationship, there are great expectations about the trip to come and the long term possibilities of a life-long relationship of travel dreams realized. Yet, far too often, that “next trip” doesn’t materialize. The client drifts off and books their next trip with another agent, or online or direct with a tour operator. There are many reasons a relationship might never gel between a new client and a travel agent, but here are three steps you can take to help ensure your clients will return to you year after year.
Don’t misunderstand what training is all about. Training is absolutely essential to any relationship. We train our animals, our life partners and our co-workers. We teach people how to act and respond in the relationship. If you fail to do so, then you are likely to be unhappy with some of the responses you receive and may even blame others.
Most of the rules that follow fall under the concept of training your clients. You are, after all, their travel coach. It is important to remember that many clients will come to you without knowing in advance exactly what a travel agent “does”. The client is likely to have a number of erroneous assumptions. They may feel you represent a limited number of travel suppliers. The client might assume your task is to “get them the best price.” Your new client might think you are merely an information resource and run with your insights to the nearest booking engine. Properly training your client is the key to establishing the ground rules that will allow a long term relationship to grow and flourish.
- Set expectations – Explain to your client exactly what you do on their behalf. Describe in detail for them the role of a travel consultant. Frame your explanation in terms of value, and explain how value differs from price. Explain every supplier choice by relating the price of the trip to the value they will receive, and match suppliers with clients carefully. Equally as important, explain to your clients their role in the relationship. Let them know what you expect of them. Explain the need to communicate their every wish and concern. Explain the difference that an open and candid relationship makes to the success of every trip. Detail the necessity for on-time payments, for insurance and for planning well. If you charge a fee, and you should, explain what the fee is for and how it allows you and the client to relax into the research and planning of their trip as partners.
- Think relational, not transactional. Don’t base your relationship on the first travel planning exercise the client brings to you. Instead, base your first travel planning exercise on the relationship. Avoid placing yourself in a retail model of travel. Let the client know that you are not selling them a cruise or a tour. Instead, you are assisting them in making a smart purchasing decision based on their individual desires and needs. Establishing a relationship built on trust empowers the client to ask questions, to explore and research on their own, to bring you suggestions and to think of you each and every time they travel. Here’s a secret: your client knows about the internet. They know there are other places to buy travel. You have to have a relationship based on your ability to plan, not on your ability to sell travel. Make your client value you for your expertise, not for “cheap.” While you are at it, plan for the long term – know where your clients want to go five years from now, ten years from now. Let them know you are there to assist them in achieving their life-long travel ambitions. That is a real relationship.
- Maintain the conversation – Stay in touch with a client: before they depart, during the trip, follow up, during the holidays, on birthdays, via newsletters. You don’t have to overwhelm the client with travel specials and offers – in fact, you shouldn’t. Only send them items that they have requested or in which they have expressed an interest. However, be a small, quiet but steady presence in their life. Maintain the conversation and continue to monitor the life-long travel plan for clients. Invite their input and strive for a dialogue with them that is both meaningful and productive for both parties.
A well-trained client stands a far better chance of being a happy client. Expectations are well grounded, the relationship is established and based on trust. Infuse your travel practice with a plan to train each and every client to be a life-long client, and they might just be.