What Agents Can Learn From the Top One Percent

by Maria Lenhart
Michael Hoffman

What is it that the top one percent of achievers in any sales-based profession do that everyone else doesn’t?

Sales trainer and motivational speaker Michael Hoffman, president of Dallas-based Igniting Performance, has made a business out of analyzing the behavior of top achievers and inspiring others to emulate their success.

Travel Market Report sat down with Hoffman to get his take on how travel agents can join the tanks of the top one percent.

How can people in sales-based industries such as travel keep their business strong even in challenging times?
Hoffman: Even if the economy is doing well, there are always challenges. There are people issues, technology issues. The important thing to realize is that while business goes through dips, it’s rarely over.

It’s also important to realize that you’re in a profession, not just a job. A profession is something you get better at by learning throughout your life. If it gets challenging, then it’s time to invest in yourself.

How about when economic times are on the upswing – as they are now for many travel agencies?
Hoffman: When times are good, it’s time to assess how to keep things going and take them to the next level. Those at the top of any profession, people I call the one percenters, have a drive to understand why things are going well.

Picture a graph that goes up and down. Stop and analyze why your business is up or down. Maybe there were things beyond your control – such as terrorist incidents that affected travel -- or perhaps there were things that you didn’t do well enough. If you understand what is making things happen, then you know what to address.

You work a lot with top achievers. What is it that they do that is different from everyone else?
Hoffman: They are constantly learning and they are always open to new ideas. Tough economic times are just a rallying cry for ‘let’s do it different.’ It’s an energizer for them. They don’t throw their hands up in the air. They get excited.

Secondly, top achievers are open to new ideas and approaches. They don’t spend a lot of time thinking of why new ideas won’t work. They look at ways they can make new ideas work for them. They’re adapters.

Thirdly, they are people of action. Especially during tough times. They will try something and do something. A one percenter charges ahead.

How can travel agents create stronger relationships with their clients?
Hoffman: Travel agents have opportunities to create customer experiences that go far beyond what most people provide. So you have to think past the order-taking mentality and get into the experience-making mentality.

Come up with tips or recommendations for your customers that they might not think of on their own. Travel is an emotional product. So get creative and connect with your customers on an emotional level.

A relationship will be cemented when you do something above and beyond what is expected. It will make customers want to use you again and recommend you.

Have you experienced this with an agent?
Hoffman: When I went to Rome with my family recently, it was like the travel agent was with us the whole time because of her agenda and the personal connections that she made for us.

The people we met already knew about us. They brought her name up. She was a champion for us.

Any other sales advice that you have for agents?
Hoffman: This business is about people and it will always be about people. In a sales presentation, a one percenter builds value by connecting solutions with the customer’s own verbiage.

For example, if the customer tells you that he’s been waiting to do this trip for 15 years, the agent should acknowledge this during the conversation. ‘I know you’ve waited 15 years for this trip…’

Just being generic doesn’t work. Customers really want to feel that you are seeing them as individuals and thinking of their specific needs.

You emphasize that non-verbal communication speaks volumes. Why is it important to be aware of this?
Hoffman: Ninety percent of your communication is nonverbal.  It’s about your tone of voice, your body language. Stress is very physical. It shows up in your voice, your body language.

If you’re under stress, it will show. A customer may have done or said something to make you angry. When that happens, it’s easy to carry those feelings over to the next customer. Don’t let that happen.

Do you have an example of this?
Hoffman: I was standing at an airline gate and asked the agent about using my frequent flyer miles for an upgrade for my parents. It was just a simple question. The agent took a deep breath, muttered ‘you frequent flyers’ and proceeded to lecture me on the situation.

Evidently she had been dealing with a lot of tiresome people on this topic. So she let me have it. She stopped seeing me as an individual. That is what happens if we’re not careful.

How can people in customer service relieve the stress that leads to poor communication?
Hoffman: If you are sitting down in your office, get up out of your chair every 20 minutes and walk around the office. Go to the water cooler. Physical energy is vocal energy. If you have a bad phone call, get away form the phone and refresh yourself.

Your mood impacts you verbal and nonverbal manner. Whatever happens with one customer can get transferred to the next customer. This can be deadly in customer service.

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