Marketing has a two-fold function – to acquire new clients and to retain your existing clients. For that reason, smart travel professionals put into place a comprehensive client retention plan designed to keep an ongoing conversation with their existing clientele. When economic times get tough, it is your existing clients to which you can most easily and cost effectively turn for support. It is commonly known and accepted that it is much more expensive to acquire a new client than to retain an existing one. Existing clients represent the stability of your travel planning business. If your clients are not traveling with you on a repeat basis, chances are you are doing something very wrong.
Most conventional marketing resources will tell you that client retention is a matter of great customer service. I agree, but would add the qualifier “client-centric” to customer service. When you engage in client-centric customer service, the client comes first. The rationale for your action is for the benefit of the client’s experience, not merely for you to retain the client. While the difference seems slight, the psychological shift it represents is significant and will communicate itself to your clients.
Indulge me a moment. Re-read the last paragraph. The reason you should institute a “client retention program” is not to retain clients, it’s to provide better customer service. That fine distinction is very important to you. It makes you authentic. It will make you a star.
Act on behalf of your clients. Claim ownership of their travel experiences from their perspective. Treat them as you would want to be treated if you were a client. The results will show.
Retention is all about the relationships you form. The odds are very good that during the course of the year, your client will be approached by a travel opportunity that originates from somewhere other than your offices. It may come from a television ad, from the internet, from TravelZoo or from another travel agent. Your client is exposed to all type of “retail” travel environments. That is a good thing! Those marketing efforts, paid by others, motivate your clients. Your ability to retain the loyalty of the client regardless of the origin of their motivation to travel will directly depend on the strength of the relationship you have established over the course of your engagement with the client. You want your relationship with the client to be so strong that the client will bring the new travel opportunity to you for evaluation because you are “their” travel consultant. That sense of ownership only arises when the client feels that you have their interests first and foremost at heart and that your historical performance has been one of high quality and standards.
Here are a few of the most important items that go into a solid client retention program.
Do insanely great work. Go the extra mile. Impress your client. Ask yourself “What have I done for this client that will WOW him?” If you cannot answer that question, neither can the client.
Use a CRM program and track client birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates. Send greetings when appropriate and be in touch.
Make your communications relevant to the client. If they don’t like to cruise, don’t send them information on cruises. Know their 10 year travel ambitions and help them work on achieving their goals.
Know who your client is and know what their preferences are.
Have visible quality control systems. Solicit feedback. Anticipate problem areas.
Empower clients by training them and demystifying travel. Help them to be worldly and educated in their travels.
In the quest to obtain new clients for your travel agency, don’t allow your existing clients to drift away from you. Hang on to your existing clients with a ferocity.
If you don’t somebody else will.