FORT LAUDERDALE-- At first glance, the connection between computer technical support and selling travel may not be obvious.
Yet Robert Stephens, the founder of Geek Squad and former chief technical officer of Best Buy, built a multi-million dollar business by catering to the needs of the average consumer, much like travel agents do.
Building a powerful brand, is a combination of using creative tools to attract clients and making things simple for your clients once you’ve acquired them, according to Stephens.
“There are all sorts of things you can do to differentiate yourself from the competition that don’t involve traditional marketing,” Stephens told agents during a talk at the recent cruise3sixty here.
Following are Stephens’ tips for building relationships with customers and embracing the digital world as a service provider and travel expert.
Don’t fear the future of technology
Many agents fear that technology will end up innovating them out of a job.
Instead of steering clear of technology, Stephens believes agents should be active in the digital realm. By learning how consumers make purchasing decisions, agents can insert themselves into the picture.
“Take the device out of your pocket, and play with all this new stuff,” Stephens advised. New apps can enable agents to make local purchases and decisions for clients, giving them great access to shaping trips.
Stephens also sees a consolidation in the tech world; fewer apps will do more things. He noted Path Talk as a strong example.
It’s critical that agents are active in and take advantage of new opportunities in the digital space, he added. By combining their expertise with digital automation, agents can apply their personal touch around the world.
“You can order a pizza in a foreign country, and have it delivered to [your client] all within one chat conversation,” said Stephens. “Customers would rather deal with their travel agent than twelve different services [anyway].”
Technology has made things simple
Stephens showed off his business card which features only his name and Twitter handle @rstephens.
He encouraged agents to make themselves available online through as many social networks as possible. Even online communication can now lead to business leads in the real world, Stephens said.
“If you have a fax number on your card, I’m judging you,” said Stephens. “Twitter is nothing more than modern CB radio.”
Batman is a branding expert
Super heroes may not be real, but they’re ubiquitous in American culture. And they can teach business people about the importance of branding.
“What do we know about Batman?” Stephens asked the audience. “He teaches us everything we need to know about differentiating ourselves in the marketplace. He even brands every employee with their own logo.”
When founding Geek Squad, Stephens took a cue from Batman and roamed around Minneapolis in a distinctive French car: a retro 1958 Simca.
“There’s no phone number on [Batman’s] car,” said Stephens. “If you’re really in demand in the marketplace, they’ll find you.”
Have a clear brand
Stephens initially called his computer tech support TechnoMedic, in order to communicate to potential clients the basics of his business.
“But everybody thought I fixed medical devices, so I had to change the name,” said Stephens.
Part of branding is presenting your services with clarity—but also doing so in a manner that’s appealing to potential clients.
“I wanted the logo to remind people of what we used to call service stations,” he said, equating computer maintenance with car repair.
Be the best, not the first
Geek Squad expanded around the U.S., and experienced more success than similar companies, because it focused on customers’ needs instead of competing on price.
“It’s not what you do in business, it’s how you do it,” said Stephens. When his company was acquired by Best Buy, he watched the company struggle to increase sales by cutting prices below other electronics retailers.
“Price is the last thing you compete on when you’ve given up on everything else,” said Stephens. “There’s always a way to grow your business [besides cutting prices].”