With a little forethought and a lot of commitment, travel sellers can make outstanding customer service an integral part of a winning brand.
No big concepts are needed; no fancy formulas – just basic common sense, said Gregg Lederman, author of Achieve Brand Integrity: Ten Truths You Must Know to Enhance Employee Performance and Increase Company Profits.
So whether you’re known for checking in with clients while they’re on vacation or following up with them afterwards, these are your branded behaviors that customers come to expect.
“Every point of interaction leaves an impression in your customer’s mind,” he said. “It all comes down to how we act.”
The CEO of consulting firm Brand Integrity, Lederman regularly advises businesses on how to create the optimum customer experience. His primary tool is the Achieving Brand Integrity (ABI) model, a step-by-step process for determining series of “non-negotiable behaviors” that all employees must commit to.
Walk a mile in their shoes
Travel Market Report spoke with Lederman to find out more about the process, including the five steps that form the framework of his model for achieving brand integrity.
“The framework forces people to think about what it’s like to really be a customer. What do they want? What obstacles get in their way? And what behaviors can you do to make their experience consistently good, if not great?”
The first three steps require travel agents to walk a mile in their customers’ shoes.
Step #1. Identify points of interaction
The first step is to determine your various points of interaction with customers. Who is the customer and where are you going to deliver the experience?
For a travel seller that could be the initial contact, which might by phone, email or social media.
Other touch points could include the booking itself, the post-booking pre-departure, while clients are on vacation, and their return.
Step #2. Look at desired outcomes
Before you can determine what behaviors are in order, you need to understand exactly what customers want.
So pick one point of interaction and ask yourself: What is the desired outcome the customer wants to have? What are they looking for?
“For example, upon their return home, do they want to be able to share their experience with you? If so, there are behaviors you need to come up with that enable that.”
Agents should identify as many desired outcomes as possible, then prioritize them in terms of the outcomes most customers want, Lederman said.
Another way to prioritize is to ask, “‘Who are your best customers that you want more of?’ Then pick the desired outcomes that they most want.”
Step #3. Explore possible obstacles
Once you’ve created a list of the desired outcomes for each touch point, start exploring the possible obstacles that might get in the way of each desired outcome.
Obstacles could include an agent not having an answer to a client’s question during an initial consultation, or bad weather during the client’s vacation, or lost luggage.
It doesn’t matter whether you have control over the obstacle or not, Lederman said. You have to take the attitude that whatever went wrong might not be your fault, but it is your problem to try and solve.
Handling what you can’t control
For problems that are not within a travel agent’s control, showing empathy is essential. If you know that a client’s cruise hit bad weather, don’t avoid the fact. Send them a note card acknowledging the bad weather and saying you hope they enjoyed the sunny days they did experience.
“Acknowledge it; be empathetic. That’s a branded behavior that shows that you care.”
Step #4. Develop nonnegotiable behaviors
Once you’ve identified the desired outcomes at each touch point and possible obstacles to each outcome, it’s time to develop a series of behaviors that ensure customers receive the outcomes they want.
The behaviors you settle on will become nonnegotiable. You must do them all the time.
“Are you always going to send some sort of thank you note? Are you always going to follow up with an email? Then that’s a non-negotiable behavior.”
Examples of nonnegotiable behaviors include: returning a phone inquiry within two hours of the call, never answering another call while you’re on the phone with a client, sending a restaurant recommendation while clients are traveling, or always having a welcome home balloon waiting when clients return home.
Step #5. Go above and beyond
The last step is identifying behaviors that go above and beyond your nonnegotiable behaviors. These are the behaviors that create “wow” moments.
“Maybe you send a gift basket that’s waiting for them when they arrive home. Maybe you send them an oversized beach towel with your company’s logo on it. These are the types of things that really wow a customer. We only do them now and again.”
Alternatively, you may create a series of above and beyond behaviors that are nonnegotiable, but only for a subset of customers.
“If you have a repeat customer who regularly books X amount of dollars with you, then those might become standard for them.”
Keep it manageable
Finally, Lederman said, you don’t need to do a lot of behaviors for each touch point. You just need to do a few things really well.