This is part one in a three-part series.
Travel agents who aren’t making good use of a customer relationship management system, or who lack access to a CRM application altogether, are losing out in a big way.
“Without question, a serious travel agent should have a CRM system. If you don’t, you’re just playing,” said Scott Koepf, CTC, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel/American Express.
“From our perspective, client relationships are the most important asset a travel company has,” agreed Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies at Signature Travel Network. “The only way to stay on top of that is to have a CRM system.”
If you are among the many agents who still are mystified by CRM systems, or challenged by the technology, Travel Market Report offers the following primer.
What is CRM?
At its most basic, a customer relationship management application gives agents tools to record, track, and manage everything they need to know about their clients, from personal data to information about trip preferences and upcoming travel plans. It acts as a central repository for information about each client, and can be used for both transactional and marketing purposes.
“It is the one place where all of the data is kept, so you can retrieve it in an easy manner,” Koepf said.
Having all that data in centralized client profiles enhances three critical aspects of an agent’s business: sales, customer service and marketing.
Building lifelong relationships
Client profiles allow agents to respond to and reach out to customers in a way that “enhances the relationship, so the customer feels the agent really knows them, is looking out for their needs and thinking about them,” said John Werner, CTC, president and COO of MAST Travel Network.
It’s all about providing communications to customers that are personalized, timely, and relevant.
Sabre’s Sharon Meyer offered a big-picture explanation. “The heart of it is the customer and what we know about that customer, so we can leverage this lifelong relationship with them.”
CRM really “enables an agency to evolve its brand through effective marketing, exceptional service, and high-touch client strategies,” added Meyer, director, agency back office and CRM for Sabre, whose Clientbase application dominates the market. (Other CRM offerings for agents include ClientEase, newcomer VacationCRM, and a few home-grown proprietary systems, such as one that Avoya makes available to its agents.)
Agents can use the applications to manage all phases of client contact, from trip planning and booking to follow-up. Ideally, an agency’s CRM system is “the cornerstone of all client interactions,” Yeates said.
It begins when agents create an electronic client file in the CRM, ideally when a customer makes his or her first inquiry about a booking. Then the agent uses that file to record their interactions every step of the way, including research, vendor quotes, client itineraries, documentation, payment reminders, notes about client conversations and preferences, and more.
This client file, which in Clientbase is called a Res Card, is key to the kinds of high-touch strategies that can differentiate a leisure agent from the competition.
Signature Travel Network, for example, uses Clientbase as a platform for tools that make it easy for its agents to push out information and reminders, such as prompts about buying insurance and booking trip add-ons, as well as content about destinations, and messaging during and after the trip.
The idea is to use branded communications to excite the customer and keep them tied to the consultant throughout the whole process.
“They’re touching their customers with basic things, like welcoming new customers when they come in, bon-voyage and welcome-home messages, passport renewals, celebrating anniversaries,” Meyer said.
CRMs create a huge marketing advantage for an aegncy, providing tools to deliver targeted and timely promotions. As Koepf explained, agents use customer relationship data “to make sure they’re sending the right offer to the right person at the right time.”
Increasingly, travel agency consortia use CRM to power their marketing programs, using data gleaned from client profiles and Res Cards to market more effectively on their members’ behalf.
MAST, for instance, ties some of its marketing to Clientbase. “Our email marketing and even direct mail customer list segmentation is very reliant on Clientbase as a tool,” Werner said.
Signature uses Clientbase to get what Yeates called a “unified view” of clients, including their responses to Signature marketing, such as which messages they opened and clicked on. “We use that whole picture to make the best choices to send them the most relevant messages.”
The consortia also provide those analytics to member agencies, so they can follow up with clients who have demonstrated interest in a product, product category, or destination.
. . . and more
CRMs incorporate many other functions as well.
They interface with web-based booking engines and/or GDSs, allowing agents to export profile data into the passenger name record (PNR) and in turn import reservations back into CRM customer profiles, saving agents time and increasing accuracy.
They provide efficiencies, such as agent reminders and daily to-do lists, and facilitate business functions such as invoicing, financial accounting, and internal reporting.
They make it possible to analyze sales data, useful both in supplier negotiations and in guiding future sales and marketing efforts.
And they can be a big help to agencies involved in the group market, streamlining management functions, such as creating group reports and rooming lists, and group marketing.
Next time: How to get more out of your CRM