The following guest column is the latest in a series by the founder of Talking Travel.
Many travel agents worry that their clients are proverbial fair weather friends, loyal only until a competing agency or supplier offers similar products and services and the promise of a better deal.
But when the client feels you are watching his or her back all the time, it becomes difficult for them to turn their back on you.
Agents need to understand that the service they provide and the value they deliver are dynamic. These are the great influencers in a client’s holiday decision-making, and they have a big impact on client loyalty.
Here are seven ways to foster amazing client loyalty.
A creative travel agent can work magic with any product through customization. This requires three things: 1) understanding the clients’ needs, 2) knowing the product inside-out, and 3) having contacts who can assist when needed. These allow you to tweak, revise or amend a product, including by up-selling and cross-selling, to suit the client. This turns a static product into a dynamic product, often eliciting the response: “I had no idea you could do this for me.”
2. Strategize. Great service is the hallmark of any lasting customer relationship. The goal is not only to meet expectations but to exceed them, creating the Disney “wow” factor. The agent’s job is to understand each client’s expectations, then strategize how to go beyond satisfaction to wow. How you do this depends on the client’s needs and personality. For some, it may be free parking or a welcome card and chocolates in the hotel room, for others a room upgrade or VIP service at the airport.
3. Evaluate. Each traveler has their own concept of value. For some, value results from a fulfilling or even life-changing experience. For others, value implies a vacation where everything runs smoothly, leaving the traveler free to relax and enjoy themselves. For others, value is about getting their money’s worth. If the agent suggests an upgrade to a hotel suite with concierge services and the experience makes the client feel special, the value of the agent’s advice is woven into the travel buying equation.
4. Cocoon. When a travel agent provides consistent and caring customer support before, during and after the client’s vacation, the client is immersed in a cocoon of support. The elements of this cocoon include: timely response to emails and phone calls and appropriate answers; anticipating client concerns; checking in during the client’s vacation to ensure that all is well, and personally contacting clients on their return to solicit their feedback and to collect ideas for future trips.
5. Involve. Involving clients in your business instills loyalty by creating feelings of status and community. You can do this by: soliciting client testimonials for your website or newsletter; asking clients for customer referrals; inviting selected clients to participate in a focus group or on an advisory committee, and acknowledging long-time clients at agency events. Loyalty begets loyalty.
6. Personalize. Personal interactions with clients differentiate travel agents from online booking engines. It’s important to customize your communications strategy to each client. During the initial client interview, ask about preferred methods of communication (email, phone, Facebook, texting, etc.), as well as best times of day and frequency. Establishing a rapport builds comfort levels and trust. While these can take months and years to build, they are not easily torn down.
7. Educate. Educate your clients by sharing information on new products and services in which they’ve expressed an interest, such as a new resort, activity or dining spot in their favorite destination. Sharing information that is near and dear to the client’s heart creates a connection and confirms your value.
A commercial relationship between agent and client can evolve into a mutually supportive relationship in which the client depends on the agent for advice and the agent depends on the client for business, testimonials and referrals. In this way, each partner holds the other in high regard. Each is loyal to the needs of the other.
It’s classic pre-Internet relationship-building, and it still works!
Travel educator Steve Gillick delivers sales, marketing and destination training to travel professionals via his consultancy Talking Travel. He served as president and COO of the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors from 2001 to 2012. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.