Readers of TRO know I value highly the concept of authenticity – the idea clients will seek out and choose a travel agent with whom they can identify and trust. A credo of authenticity seeks to fulfill every explicit and every implicit promise made by the travel agent. Making good on your promises is important – authenticity without stellar performance means little. The consumer wants your performance to be well above the norm – to be exceptional to such a degree, in fact, as to be unique. That is why the small services provided to a client throughout the relationship are so important – they can potentially set the authentic travel agent apart from all others.
If we are not careful, however, we begin to die the death of “value add.” We add first one little service and then the next, increasing our own overhead without really bringing exciting, tangible value to the client. For example, how often do you hear the claim/promise of “excellent customer service.” Perhaps you make a similar promise to your clients in your own marketing collateral. But businesses repeat the phrase so often it has lost much of its meaning. How do you bear out this very important promise? The bottle of wine in the cabin, the destination report, the thank you note – these are all no doubt important, but they only keep you at a level all other travel agents stake out. These only represent “the norm.” The danger with each of these “great customer services” is the possibility by performing them you are only incrementally better (or worse) than the next travel agent.
What are you doing that is truly, amazingly different?
Here’s the problem. Those extra services have value only if your client views them as valuable. An example – many of your clients may not even care about that bottle of wine you send. It might not be up to their standards (if it costs less than $50 at dining room prices, that is a real possibility!) Your client may not even drink! But if your client loves local, authentic dining opportunities, a little research to make restaurant suggestions just for that particular client could go a long way. That’s real value to the person to whom it matters most – the client.
What if your client loves antiquarian books? Would a list of first edition bookstores add value to his London trip? What are the client’s interests? The client’s hobbies? That is where real value-added services are to be found.
Ask your client!
Instead of thinking first about the services you offer – move to a completely client-centric perspective. Engage your clients in a two-way conversation of their perception of value. Do you know what they perceive as valuable? During the course of the year the engaged travel consultant not only sends information, but solicits it as well, in a back and forth engagement with the client. Asking for feedback, suggestions, testimonials and referrals incorporates the client into the life of the agent and humanizes the agent’s travel practice. Conversation suggests open communication and a concern for the needs of the client – and that includes their interests, hobbies, and reasons for travel. Travel agents who engage clients at this level soon hear clients begin to describe the agent as “their travel agent.”
Surprise them with what they value most – your attention to client-centric detail. In fact, don’t just be client-centric; be client-eccentric!
Genuine. Honest. Open. Authentic. Most of all – client centric. These are the qualities consumers look for in their consultants. The travel agent who can embody these characteristics gracefully will earn the loyalty of many clients for a long, long time.