Providing an Expert with Expert Customer Service
by Judy Jacobs

Some might find it intimidating to serve as the travel agent for a consultant named the “New Guru of Customer Service Excellence” by The Financial Post. But Lisa Timmons of United Nations Travel in Philadelphia takes it in stride.

Timmons met Micah Solomon, a speaker and author on customer service, after he gave up trying to book his own frequent travel online and decided to use a travel agent.

Early last month, Solomon wrote about why he uses an agent on Forbes.com. The article is titled “Why I Happily Waste Money on a Travel Agent (Maybe You Should Too.)

Solomon found Timmons through his tennis teacher, who is also a concert promoter. He felt that an agent who can handle musicians with their demanding travel needs, should be able to handle his as well.

United Nations Travel is a single-location, brick-and-mortar agency in downtown Philadelphia with three full-time agents. All of its business, which is about 80% corporate, comes through referrals. The agency doesn’t have a website.

As a musician herself – and member of a four-piece female Celtic band called the Molly Blooms – Timmons is well aware of the needs of musicians and other travelers with out-of-the-ordinary requirements.

Travel Market Report talked with Timmons about how she’s able to impress a customer service expert like Solomon.

What does customer service mean to you?
Timmons: For me customer service is natural. It’s taking care of every need that you see. Being happy, being friendly, having clients walk away feeling better than when they came in. Doing whatever’s needed and doing it with a smile.

What practices make for good customer service?
Timmons: Follow-up is an important part of customer service. If someone sends you an email they don’t want to wait three days for you to get back to them. If I can’t deal with them right away, I email them and tell them I’ll get back to them later. I never wait more than an hour to get back to people. It could be 10 minutes, but an hour’s the maximum.

Customer service is being aware of every little issue that needs to be dealt with. Getting seats, for example, is a big problem. If there are only middle seats left, we’ll call the client and tell them. They might want to book another flight. We do whatever it takes. For international travelers, we advise people to check their passport to make sure they have six months left on it.

You also need to be willing to admit that you’ve made a mistake. If we’ve made a mistake, we take care of it, but we also recognize that it happened.

What do you think some agents are doing wrong in serving clients?
Timmons: People like to get somebody they know to begin with. In a lot of companies you’ll get somebody on the phone, and you may not get the same person the next time. A profile can only do so much. When you deal with someone again and again, it gives some consistency. Because we’re a smaller agency we can offer that real intimate service.

What do you think sets you and your agency apart?
Timmons: Here we’re more than just travel agents. Most of my clients would call me a friend. I like that. It makes me feel good about myself. They trust me. That’s a good thing. They know I wouldn’t let them down.

Related Story
Customer Service Pro: Be a Partner & a Mommy



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When something goes wrong, you can't get any satisfaction by yelling at a computer. Travel agents give the demanding customer accountability they don't get online.
 
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