7 Steps to Becoming Indispensable to Your Clients
by  and  rew Sheivachman

Travel agents need to think differently about their role—and what their clients want—to compete successfully in today’s technology-driven world.

Tapping into clients’ desires, acting as true advisors and focusing on what human beings can do—and machines can’t—are among actions agents can take to transform themselves into “indispensable” resources, according to Nolan Burris of Future Proof Travel Solutions

Burris presented these and other tips in an address—From Agent to Advisor to ‘Indispensable’—at this year’s cruise3sixty conference in Vancouver. Following, in his own words, are selected highlights.

#1. Tap into clients’ desires
If you ask the average person, most don’t think they need a travel agent. You need to understand the difference between needs and desires; these are two very different emotional states. People desire a cruise, and in the days when nobody thinks they need a travel agent, we should celebrate that. You need to make them desire you [and your advice] as much as they desire to go on a cruise.

#2. Return to advising
If you go back 100 years, people did not call themselves travel agents; they called themselves travel advisors. Way back then, 100% of the revenue they generated came from professional consulting fees. Commissions did not exist yet, so it was all about selling themselves as an advisor. Being an advisor is the oldest thing in this industry, since people are asking for advice and not just information.

#3. Titles matter
Titles still have a role to play because a title is what you tell your customers you are. If you see yourself as a travel agent, clients are probably going to think of you as a travel agent. Try to call yourself a travel consultant, because that’s what you really are. You guide people just like consultants did 100 years ago. Booking has become the domain of machines, but that’s not what clients come to you for. Advisors will still be sitting here in 20 years, while agents will be replaced by an iPhone app.

#4. Connect with emotions
How do we move into the future? We focus on humanity––the thing machines can’t do and will never be able to take away from us. Advice and opinion are not the same thing. Advice requires a human being connecting emotionally with another human being to find the right fit for that person. Only humans can do that.

#5. Question your clients
Rule No. 1 of consulting is never to think consumers know what they want. If you believe them based on that artificial reality [of Internet research], you’re rolling the dice that they’ll get something they really want. The machines always believe [your clients], because they are driven by advertising—where it’s the right thing to buy because the advertising tells them to buy.

#6. Go luxury: charge fees
Anything that is rare is perceived as more valuable and people are willing to pay more it. For those of you who are considering charging fees, now may be the time. No one is sitting around the table saying, ‘Let’s take an $899 cruise;’ that’s not how it works. They’re talking about emotional stuff [instead]. Advisors who tap into that emotion, put their focus where it belongs.

#7. Start with emotions
Start with the human aspects of emotion, experience and desires. Those are what create the indispensable atmosphere that bonds people to you emotionally. To an advisor, a cruise is a [client’s] dream; to a machine, it’s just data.”

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Tip of the Day
I learned a lot about better ways to market the product while I was onboard [the Viking Star]. The biggest challenge for travel agents is understanding which is the best line for each customer, being able to distinguish the products from one to the next.
John Werner, MAST Travel Network president
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