How travel agents can win vital repeat business by really engaging with their existing client base
By Sean Johns*
WHEN you look at a large number of successful travel businesses like we do at Resurg, as bench-marking specialists, you see in their DNA similar strengths including well trained staff supported by strong systems, processes and procedures to create strong return business revenues.
For any retailer recurring revenue is essential as hunting new business can be costly with extended lag periods, compared to farming additional sales from clients with whom they already have relationships.
A satisfied corporate account, seasoned travellers returning for the next trip, the yearly group tours frequented by the same clients are all examples of a travel business’ recurring revenue streams.
Poor repeat business through disengaged clients is like having the tap on in the bath tub with the plug out. It stays relatively full until the tap is turned off and then levels start to decline.
In a competitive travel market retail travel businesses are often competing against discounted commodities, sold through different and often cheaper channels. The strategy to fight this trend will always be through delighting clients.
In this article let’s concentrate on the booking process. When we are approached by a client to organise their travel shouldn’t they be happy if that work is just completed? Doing just enough will never differentiate your business from the market and clients will expect more as competition increases.
Good listening is a key behaviour
It’s only when your staff are making suggestions and describing aspects of their work in detail that they will need to do most of the talking.
Not talking might seem strange for them and even to some of your clients, as they often get used to people meeting with them and in next to no time telling them what they should be doing.
Don’t get sucked into this mistake: train staff to take the time to clearly identify clients’ issues and needs, asking questions that will make clients think carefully about their response.
Train staff to always take the time to make it clear from the start that they will be asking lots of questions, listening and engaging in dialogue – They are clients’ personal specialists.
The client is not always right
Clients come to agents for an impartial, objective assessment. They can get pandered and lied to by anyone wanting to sell to them at all costs.
Balancing the delivery of unwelcome news or an option clients may not have considered with the desire to retain the sale is a difficult concept – but highly important for staff to understand.
You and your staff are advisors, not service providers and clients are looking for you to use your combined knowledge and expertise to tell them what is in their best interest. This will inevitably lead to you helping them change their mind.
Providing staff are suitably diplomatic about how they put it across your business will be providing just what your clients need and probably wanted in the first place, as they don’t know what they don’t know.
Train staff in how to present difficult information and to ask for a confidential one-to-one with the client if your environment does not provide the required privacy.
Delivering and exceeding client expectations
Build and develop your staff’s skills to identify client expectations and focus on delivering or exceeding those expectations.
Process-driven staff can often miss on delivery, getting caught up in the process of pulling together plans and bookings.
Occasionally it is impossible to meet clients’ requirements, even after staff have provided alternative options, but it is imperative that any issues affecting delivery of the clients’ requirements are communicated early in the process and accepted by the client, not assumed to be understood.
Hopefully, additional servicing or “value adding” will become a natural progression.
Client management systems that enable consultants to keep notes and track client details, needs, communication, history and any issues and resolutions are essential.
Develop and build a system for staff that enables them to reflect on the overall engagement after it has concluded and capture some observations and thoughts that can then be sent to your client as an added contact point.
If you can get the chemistry right between your staff and your clients and deliver what they need in a professional manner, you are well placed for repeat business and referrals and who doesn’t want that?
* Sean Johns is one of the two founding partners of Resurg, established so that their collective knowledge and research could be better used to drive performance improvement in businesses. Working across a wide range of sectors and industries, Sean is deeply involved in both business and research development as well as facilitating professional development programs. He is a conference keynote speaker and facilitator, where he shares his passion for performance improvement.