This is part two in a three-part series on CRM systems.
Used effectively, a customer relationship management (CRM) system can support and improve just about every aspect of a travel agent’s business—from sales, customer service, and marketing to invoicing, data reporting, and supplier negotiations. (See story, Still Haven’t Embraced CRM? It’s Time to Get Onboard)
Many traditional travel agencies and all OTAs “live and die by their CRM,” said Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies for Signature Travel Network. “I think most agencies are well-engaged in using CRMs.”
But CRM applications also are a confusing mélange of features and tools for frontline agents and owner/managers, and newcomers to the agency business may find them overwhelming. Even experienced agents often underutilize their CRM systems.
Getting on board
At MAST Travel Network, president and COO John Werner, CTC, said he finds that “typically agents don’t use it as much as they should.”
“The biggest gap is just opening up their minds to how much better their customer service can be by using it more fully and more efficiently,” Werner said. “They would find that their relationships with their customers would improve vastly.”
Sharon Meyer, director of agency back office and CRM for Sabre, said she and her team spend a lot of their time educating agents about the power of CRM.
“We’re trying to help them implement a CRM culture,” said Meyer, who has trained thousands of agents in the use of Sabre’s CRM Clientbase and its TRAMS back-office system.
As with so many technologies, most people just scratch the surface of what the systems can do. And that’s fine, too. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced user, here are a few tips to improve your experience.
1. Take baby steps.
Don’t let all the options intimidate you. Rather than avoiding your CRM altogether, start by focusing on the things you already can do, and build slowly from there.
If nothing else, use the CRM as the core place where you store your client interactions, Yeates suggested. Then “focus on smaller pieces, and you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck. It doesn’t have to be a huge training issue; just learn how to build a basic client profile and a Res Card.” Those two elements power everything else, especially client communications and marketing.
2. Live it and breathe it
Make your CRM system “the cornerstone of all client interactions,” Yeates advised. Every time a clients call in, review the information in the system to see their birthday, names of their family members, and what they’ve done with marketing materials in the past.
“Live in the client data,” Meyer said, and make it “part of a process as your interact with that account.”
3. Begin at the beginning
Frontline agents need to get used to recording interactions at the point of inquiry, not at the point of sale, Yeates said; “start the Res Card at the point of inquiry, and then convert it into a booking.”
4. Make it a habit
Many agencies pay for and install CRM systems—and then fail to take advantage of them, said TRAVELSAVERS chief operating officer Jim Mazza.
“You’ve got to commit to it,” he said. “If you don’t commit, then you don’t have great data. And if you don’t have great data, what’s the point?”
And while you are at it, “Make sure you put in as much information as you have, then utilize that for all three legs of the stool––sales, customer service, and marketing,” said Scott Koepf, CTC, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel/American Express.
5. Track the trends
Especially for owners, it’s important to use the CRM system to track bookings, so you know what’s selling and what’s not.
If you put the service provider in the Res Card, then you can run a sales report for each individual supplier, Yeates noted. When it comes time for supplier negotiations, “you have so much more power if you go to the hotel and say, ‘This is what we did for you in sales last year.’ ”
CRM sales data also helps you see the big picture, identify the trends, and decide where to focus your marketing efforts, Yeates said.
Next time: Not everyone’s happy about a new CRM for leisure agents.