Last week, I got in a discussion with a colleague and the topic of preferred suppliers came up. I have my list and he had his. In short time, the discussion turned into a friendly banter with each of us picking apart the other’s choices. I don’t know why you like Supplier A because they did this and that way back in 2010. Well Supplier B has a reputation for doing this. Eventually we agreed that we could pick apart ANY supplier if we dug deep enough. So we decided to restructure the debate to what we WANT in a preferred supplier. Hey Supplier A and Supplier B–you listening?
- Be responsive. Responsiveness is critical. I get it. Automation is taking a lot of the work out of the equation; but, if I call or send an email, it is because the automation is not cutting it for me. Suppliers need to understand that agents are indeed clients and need to handled as such.
- Keep me up to speed. As an agency owner, I have a lot of balls in the air to juggle. And to be honest, keeping up with the changes can be very time consuming–especially since I have several preferred suppliers. So, make sure I am aware of the major changes that I need to know. Bonus points if you can explain the reasoning for the changes so we can effectively relay that to our mutual client!
- Be a real partner. I understand you need to make money and ultimately have shareholders to answer to. So do I. But if we can communicate and be responsive (see points 1 and 2) we can discover new ways to be true partners. We all have some great ideas to further advance our separate businesses together. Without a true partnership, we’ll never know if they will work!
- Cut me some slack occasionally. S%^& happens! We all make mistakes from time to time. A true partner (see point 3) will do what they can to mitigate a mistake. If I sell a cabin for $100 by accident, I certainly do not expect my supplier to eat that. But if they can waive a policy to give me a few more days on a payment, that can be huge in my book.
- Don’t diss us. And please don’t say that you never diss us. While most BDMs are on board with our value, many times the others are not. I have been told by airlines that they flat out do not like to work with travel agents. Suppliers’ consumer sales agents routinely use the “why would you use a travel agent when you can come direct to me” line on mutual clients. Just stop it. There is plenty of business to go around.
- Thou shalt not steal my clients. The corollary to “don’t diss us” is “don’t steal our clients.” We know that the best time to re-book a client is when they are having a fantastic time on their vacation. You are at an advantage because you are there! And if they want to re-book–please re-book them. But, please give us the credit. After all, if it weren’t for us, that client might have been someplace else!
- Train your employees. One of the most frustrating aspects of this job is calling an expert who is anything but. If you have “sales specialists,” please train them adequately. The frustration usually happens when there is something that needs to be done and we know how to do it; but have not been given the access to do it. Either train them to do it; or give us the ability to do it ourselves–remember, we have likely been working this industry longer than your inside sales people.
- Make it simple. The geeks in the IT department thrive on complexity. The more complex they can design a task, the more job security they have! Unfortunately, the travel agent industry is an older one. We do thrive on complexity and think the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle is a great one. Look at your sites and apps and portals and make sure that they are the most user friendly they can be. Paying for tuition for my kid’s college is nearly impossible. They change the process it seems monthly. Why can’t there be a “make a payment” button on the main page with a short form with banking info, amount, and student ID?
What are your ideal characteristics in a travel supplier?