Psychologists, poets and advertisers all know the extent to which our language defines and shapes perceptions of reality. The words we use to describe our interactions are not only descriptors but also betray our inner feelings as well as orienting the way others view our performance. Deconstructing the vocabulary we use in the travel profession might lead us to some interesting revelations about how we perceive our role and the relationships we have with clients. Let’s spend the next few minutes exploring a few of the words travel consultants often use in their travel planning efforts revealing possible weaknesses in our approach to our profession. I’m hoping to provoke you into thinking through the way our language both leads and misleads us as we think about what we do.
Price vs. Value: How often do we use the word “deal” or some equivalent? I dare say too often.
- “Let me see if I can find a great deal for you”
- “We won’t be undersold!”
- “We can beat anyone’s price.”
- “I can save you some money, I’m certain.”
Naturally the client often starts the conversation with words like “budget” and “cheap.” Each of these phrases leads the conversation directly down the road to the bottom line: price. The problem here is the downward spiral focused solely on cost. Many clients will race to the bottom each and every time, and that is to be expected as the consumer is a civilian. But let’s not give them the opening on this important topic. You are a professional and, as such, do well to take command of the conversation.
Rather than using a vocabulary denoting cost and price, steer your client in the direction of value instead. Properly understood, cost is only one component of value. However, too often we allow clients to make price the centerpiece of the entire travel planning exercise. When instead we focus on value, we emphasize the other appropriate elements of the equation: not just what the client will pay, but also what they will receive. If we do a strong, professional job of describing the travel experience, the benefits to the client, the romance of travel, the memories created, the cost is a logical result, not a cold surprise.
If the above considerations have some resonance for you, consider the following:
Selling vs. Buying: Your role in each and every travel planning exercise is not to sell travel. In fact, in an established relationship with a client you are not selling anything. Instead, you are assisting clients to make intelligent buying decisions. People love to buy, but they don’t like being sold anything! When consumers are happy with a purchase, they will brag about the buy they made. When they are unhappy, however, they will complain about what they were sold.
Would vs. Should: Here is an analogy I don’t like: “Would you like fries with that?” I dislike the analogy for any number of reasons beyond calories and cholesterol. Firstly, the analogy suggests the merits of the sales trick known as “up-selling.” It is inauthentic. If you are a consultant, you don’t up-sell. Instead, recommend. Replace “would” with “should.” Why on God’s green Earth would you leave a balcony view, or an amazing tour as an option? Up-sell? Why not just ask, “Would you like to enjoy yourself?” The answer is pretty clear without asking the question. Instead, recommend the best, most complete package your intelligent assessment of the client and their travel history suggests. If it is too expensive, I assure you they will let you know and you can begin to subtract elements of the plan.
As we take leave of the discussion, there remains a small lexicon of other words I want to suggest we avoid. In each case, the problem with the word is largely one of connotation: regardless of the intent the wrong psychology is implied in its use.
“Customer” – you don’t have customers, you have clients. The word customer implies a transaction rather than a relationship.
“Honestly” – this throw-away word indicates other things you have said have not been honest. Its a light-weight infraction, but one that sets off bells each time I hear it.
“Prospects” – I use this one sometimes and I’m weaning myself away from it. The word makes you sound like a “49’er” rather than a professional. “New clients” sounds better.
“Obviously” – If it’s really obvious there’s no reason to say it. Many people do not like this word and it’s inherent implication they are not intelligent enough to understand what you are saying.
“Guarantee” – this one is not just bad diction, it’s dangerous. Don’t guarantee a good time, the weather or anything else you don’t have absolute control over. You might just find yourself, well, guaranteeing something you don’t have absolute control over.
It’s easy to be overly concerned with matters such as these, but it is equally easy to give your language no mind and thus conveying the wrong impression to a client. Strong travel professionals are very deliberate in their actions. They don’t “wing it.” Think through your choice of words as you practice your next presentation and you may find yourself with an easier conversation with your clients leading to a long term relationship rather than a single transaction.