This is the first in a four-part series featuring practical sales and marketing advice from four industry notables.
Treat your customers like you would your beloved pooch and they’ll be just as loyal. This means lavishing them with affection, spending a little extra money to keep them happy, and never, ever leaving them alone for too long.
“People have the same built-in meter that dogs have. I can tell if you’re interested in me, and if you’re interested in me, then we have a future together,” Mike Marchev told Travel Market Report.
Marchev, a sales and marketing consultant, headlines one of a five-part DVD series for travel sellers on ways to improve their business. In Marchev’s DVD, “The Secret to Success: Treat Your Customers Like Dogs,” he focuses on customer service and customer retention.
Beyond lip service
“When push comes to shove, customer service is most important. Everybody can do it, but very few do. They give it lip service, but they really don’t understand exactly what it is and how devastating it can be if you do it wrong.”
Unfortunately, the only time you know you’ve failed the customer service test is when people don’t come back, he noted. “They vote with their feet and you can lose.”
Following are seven tips from Marchev on how to keep customers from straying.
1. Invest time & money
Travel sellers need to spend as much time and money – if not more – on cultivating relationships with current clients as on finding new clients, Marchev said. “Before you go out and look for new prospects, you better solidify what you have in your back pocket.”
Too many travel sellers assume that once they’ve gotten a new client, that person will come back. “We spend all of our time and creativity focused on prospects.
“But here’s the problem: Your customer is my prospect, so I’m going to spend more energy and money trying to get your guy, than you are going to spend to keep your guy. That’s suicidal.”
2. Stay visible
“You have to keep doing something for your clients,” Marchev advised. “You have to stay visible with them over and over again, so they really understand that you care about them, not just their checkbook.”
A few simple ideas include: a last-minute phone call before a client’s trip, letting them know they can call you anytime; a quick email reminding clients not to forget their passports, or a birthday or anniversary card.
Even an email celebrating the cancellation of the TV series Pan Am would do the trick, he quipped.
“It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you internalize this truth: When you are out of sight, you are out of mind.”
Staying in front of customers also closes the door on competition, Marchev noted.
3. Do better than good
Today’s customers are jaded, so doing just a good job is not enough. You have to be great if you want to keep customers coming back and to inspire them to tell their friends and family about you.
“People have come to expect less than promised, but if they receive what was promised, their attitude is, ‘that is as it should be.’ To gain favorable attention you have to go further.”
This too can be simple – a follow-up call after their trip; a small but meaningful gift; an extra piece of information in their final itinerary, such as a great restaurant recommendation. These all are small steps that will take you beyond good to great.
4. Focus on little things
“Little things count, and people notice” – partly because so few travel sellers bother, Marchev said.
A few little things to keep in mind:
• Use people’s names. It’s powerful to call people by their first names, to start an email with a first name, Marchev said.
Don’t be afraid to ask for someone’s name again if you forget, Marchev added. “It’s flattery to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m bad at names. Can you tell me your name again?’”
• Call people back promptly. This shows clients they are important to you.
• Look people in the eye and shake hands firmly.
5. Do what you say you will
Give clients a timeline for when you’ll get back to them, Marchev advised. For instance: “‘I’ll call you back within 24 hours; I’ll call you back by Friday.’ Give parameters and then do it.”
For a lot of agents “I’ll get back to you” actually means, “‘I’ll get back to you when I get an answer, and if the cruise line doesn’t get back to me I’m not getting back to you.’”
That’s not good enough, Marchev said.
“If I tell you I’m going to do something, you can take it to the bank. Or you’ll get a communication from me telling you why it didn’t happen. Doing what you’ll say you’ll do is extremely important.”
6. Be quick about it (speed wins)
It’s imperative that you acknowledge people and return their phone calls and emails in a timely manner.
If that requires staying late one day a week, closing the office for half a day, or finding some other strategy for responding to people as quickly as possible, then that’s what you have to do Marchev said. “You have to make the time.
“You say, ‘I’ll get to it when I’m ready,’ and then you wonder why you don’t have more business. That’s discipline. A professional does things when it’s time to, and an amateur does things when he wants to.”
7. Be enthusiastic
When the phone rings or someone walks through your door, it’s show time, and you’re on! Remember, passion sells, he reminded agents.
“I’m coming into your world expecting you to bring something into my world. And that’s enthusiasm, excitement, personality and hopefully a little sense of humor.”
Being boring, tedious and depressing are surefire ways to turn off clients, Marchev cautioned. “I can bore myself without you, and I don’t care about your problems. I have enough problems of my own.”
Mike Marchev’s DVD, “The Secret to Success: Treat Your Customers Like Dogs,” is part of the five-DVD Travel Agent Success training series. The series features 10 hours of marketing and sales advice from travel industry thought leaders.
Next time: Scott Koepf on the “ultimate sales process.”