As technology permeates every task of the travel agent’s job, digital time stamps and electronic client records are beginning to reveal patterns that could help travel agents improve their close rates and accelerate sales.
Consortia like Travel Leaders Group and host agencies like Avoya Travel are capturing millions of pieces of data as a consumer interacts with their websites and social media. As sales leads are forwarded to travel agents, these firms are analyzing how agents respond and are trying to detect patterns that lead to greater success for all parties.
Having studied sales lead data at Travel Leaders for about five years now, Jeremy Van Kuyk, PMP, vice president, information technology, says first and foremost, agents need to reply within that first 24 hours.
“It’s that desire for instant gratification that consumers have today,” Van Kuyk said. “As an agent, you need to be ready to contact that consumer as soon as the lead hits your pipeline.” In general, when agents do, close rates average around 25-30 percent for sales leads created when a consumer opts in from the company’s Vacation.com website.
About 70 percent of those consumers remember being contacted by a Travel Leaders agent in those 24 hours, according to company client surveys.
Setting an automated response as a backup
Agents may not respond for a variety of reasons, of course, including being out of the office for business or personal reasons. That is why it is so important for agents to have automated email software to respond when they cannot do it manually.
Travel Leaders advises member agents to clearly identify the urgency they place in every sales lead. “We have even gone on to tell them that their out of office message should say, ‘Don’t go away, we will be back to you currently.’ Or ‘I’m busy right now, but your email is very important to me and I will be responding soon.’ You need to start that relationship assuring the client how much they mean to you.
“If you’re an IC, does your host offer a backup system? Are there other ICs in your network you can rely on to respond quickly for you? One of the biggest issues for agents is that you can’t be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, when you are running a business, taking care of a family, etc.,” Van Kuyk acknowledged.
At 21 days, Travel Leaders sends another email survey to new sales leads, asking them to rate their experience with the company’s agents. Nearly 77 percent say they are “likely” to book with Travel Leaders as a result of their initial experience with an agent.
Avoya Travel also has been doing more client profiling, pulling data from cookies clients receive when they land at the host agency network’s website. The software pieces together the client’s interests based on what they click on and passes that information onto the agent so that initial conversation makes the client feel like they are getting personalized service from the very beginning.
Translating data to soft skills training
Gloria Mickelson, Travel Leaders director of educational services, was a retail travel agent when she first joined the industry in 1978. In 1988, she moved into training, and understands how agents can sometimes lock in a daily workflow that deprioritizes new sales leads.
Working with her company’s technology team, she agrees with Van Kuyk’s assessment of travel consumers’ increasing demand for fast responses, and is trying to more deeply understand consumer behaviors in the digital world, and how agents need to adapt.
“We’re all creatures of habit,” Mickelson said. “But as the consumer changes, even if we have been doing something for 10 or 20 years, and it works for us, we have to adapt with the consumer’s expectations.”
Travel Leaders provides its agents with a response template that can be easily sent out to new sales leads, taking away one of the largest burdens for agents, finding the time and clarity to fashion a cogent response.
“It takes so long to craft a message sometimes, when you have other tasks to accomplish and it’s hard to concentrate. We’re saying, ‘Here, take this template and just modify a few words,’ so they get the response out in a timely fashion.”
Travel Leaders is also working on agent time management skills, so that they create set times in the day to respond to sales leads. The company will be dedicating time specifically to personal organization skills at its June conference in Las Vegas.
Initial discovery phase is important, too
Once you have established contact with a new client, that initial discovery phase is critical to building on your quick response time, Mickelson said. “The more you dig to understand what a person wants to do on the trip, the better your first recommendations will be, and that will enhance your close rate and time,” she said.
Don’t be afraid to call a client back if after your initial call with them reveals you forgot to ask a question or two. “I know I would be excited if my agent was thinking highly enough about my business to call me back because we didn’t discuss an aspect of my interest,” she said.
Those additional questions may not necessarily lead to a final booking for this particular trip, but the answers may create the client data that leads to a sale later. “Capture everything you can about the client. Maybe they mentioned their love for Hawaii when you were discussing a Europe trip. Now you can send them an email later saying, 'I know we talked about your love for Hawaii five months ago, and I have this great opportunity for Maui, and wanted to let you know about it,'” Mickelson said.