Customer service is at the heart of being a travel advisor. It’s why most travelers choose advisors over online booking engines or low-cost wholesalers.
But what does great customer service mean when you’re a travel advisor? Is it simply being nice and saying please and thank you? Is it giving the customer exactly what they’ve asked for because the “customer is always right”?
Travel Market Report spoke to a number of long-time advisors to find out what they think people who are new to the biz should know about customer service.
(This is the second in a five-part series in which travel advisors who have been in business for at least 10 years share the wisdom they’ve learned over the course of their careers. In the first installment, we spoke to advisors about the things they wish they’d known when they were first starting out. Next week, we discuss supplier relations.)
1. Honesty goes a long way.
“Be honest with your clients,” said Penny Rushing of Florida-based Four Points Travel, an Avoya Travel agency.
Unlike in other industries, the client isn’t always right when it comes to travel. People think they know what they want, but without all the background knowledge that advisors have, they’re often wrong.
“To me, respect is king and that means always being honest with your clients, even if it means telling them no,” said Justin Smith, president of The Evolved Traveler, an Ensemble Travel member agency.
It’s much better to say no and explain why you can’t do something. Or why it’s not the right choice but something else is, Smith added. Acting in their best interest helps build trust – and loyalty – and they’ll come to rely on you for the right suggestions.
“Saying yes just to appease them doesn’t benefit anyone,” he said.
2. Listen. Carefully.
“In most cases, the customer wants to be heard,” said Ann Sadie Osten, president of Sadie’s Global Travel Ltd., a TRAVELSAVERS member agency. “Listen carefully and don’t interrupt them. Allow them to talk, vent, express frustrations, and then and only after they have finished talking, repeat what you understand them to be saying, and then offer the proper response – whether it be an apology, a thank you for sharing their feedback, etc. I value feedback – whether negative or positive – and thank my clients for sharing as it allows us to learn, grow and be more informed of the needs of our clients.”
John R. Schmitt, Jr., president of Frankenmuth Travel, also a TRAVELSAVERS member agency, echoed Osten.
“When it comes to customer service, above everything else, it is vital that advisors learn the skill of listening and understanding client needs,” he said.
Travel advisors nowadays are just that, “advisors,” not agents. Your job is to do more than be the middle man. But to give the best advice, you need to understand who your client is and what they want. Don’t stop at questions about how much money they want to spend or what destination they want to visit. Ask them why they want to go there or what they’re hoping to experience. It might turn out you have a better suggestion for what they really want.
3. Be available.
Both Rushing and David Locke, co-owner of Seize the Seas, also an Avoya Travel member agency, told TMR that being available to your clients at all times is key to good customer service.
“Answer your phone. Respond promptly,” Rushing said.
Locke went even further. “We are ‘always’ available to our clients. We do not work ‘24/7’ but we read our emails and texts and visual voicemails no matter what time of day or night (it may be an emergency), or no matter where in the world we are.”
In a highly competitive market, Locke said, if you aren’t responsive, clients will find someone else on the Internet who is.
4. Set the bar high and never let it down.
“From the start go over and above with the way you treat the guest,” said Richard Stieff, owner of a Boynton Beach Cruise Planners franchise. “Set a high bar so they realize nowhere else will they be given the ‘white glove’ service you will provide.”
Once you’ve set the bar, you have to make sure you keep it up. As mentioned above, that means always being available, listening to what your clients want, and having the best advice.