Written By: Jackie Friedman, President – Nexion Travel Group
I’m sure we can all agree that customers are the most important part of any business, especially for Independent Travel Advisors, and that without customers, there is no business. Did you know, though, that more people spend time and marketing efforts on gaining new customers than on customer retention, which means working harder and not smarter. Here are a few eye-opening stats:
- Acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing customer.
- Increasing customer retention by 5 percent can increase profits from 25-95 percent.
- The success rate of selling to a customer you already have is 60-70 percent, while the success rate of selling to a new customer is 5-20 percent.
There’s no doubt that marketing to acquire new customers is important, but it’s only part of the picture. As proven with facts like the three above, it is as important – if not more important – to have a strategy in place for keeping existing customers and building your business from that.
So, how do you go about focusing on customer retention?
It starts with leveraging the right technologies to leverage your greatest asset – your relationship with your customers. I regularly hear from travel advisors who say how hard it is to compete in the world of OTAs (Online Travel Agencies). But really, would you want the artificial intelligence of “Alexa” to be your travel advisor? The key is to focus on what you can do for your customers and not what you can’t do. The knowledge you have of your customer is one of the biggest assets you bring to the table that an OTA or booking directly with a vendor does not have. However, if you’re doing nothing to nurture these relationships, you’re throwing your greatest asset to the wind.
Let’s look at five tried and true tips on how you, as a travel advisor, can keep your customers coming back for more and build relationships for life.
1. Take time to get to know your customers – not just when it comes time to travel. Set up an appointment to understand what they like and don’t like, such as what’s important to them on vacation as well as personally. During this meeting, ask well-placed questions and do more listening than talking. Listen for key milestones or dates that would equate to a travel celebration in the future (i.e. anniversaries, birthdays, graduations). When they return from vacations, ensure you also contact them to find out what they loved and what they did not like. There should be a call after every trip, so you can continue to refine recommendations you give to your clients.
2. Next step is to document all the information you learn about your clients in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. Several host agencies, including Nexion Travel Group, offer a CRM as a solution to you. If not, there are some good ones in the marketplace that you can research. And remember, taking the time to learn about your customers without taking the time to document your learnings does you no good. With this information stored in a CRM, you have a gold mine for relevant marketing and client conversations. In addition to key information such as milestone dates, bucket list destinations they may mention and basics such as name, address, email, etc., be sure to document those “likes” and “don’t likes” you discovered in your conversations in the CRM. This will make it easier to give them suggestions on future travel.
3. Find and implement relevant touch points and make connections. Keep in touch with your customers and find ways to “touch” them so you and your agency stay front of mind. For example, if they have a major milestone, send them a card. Handwritten notes make a big difference. Or, just pick up the phone to say hello. Find meaningful ways to reach out. For example, if you see one of their children in the paper being recognized in sports, arts, Eagle Scout, etc., cut it out and send with a note of congrats. Perhaps their graduate got into their first-choice university. Don’t make it electronic but personal. Another example: If you see an article in a magazine on something they have an interest in (travel bucket list destination, hobby, etc.), send it with a special note. Don’t feel you have to sell them something every time you contact them. Just let them know you’re there. One more: Make note of when they typically book holiday or summer vacation and reach out proactively beforehand.
4. Generate future marketing that is relevant to their interests. Take advantage of marketing opportunities your consortia or host agency offer. However, don’t rely on them to do all the work for you; follow up on who received the marketing and get those conversations going (see step 1). Follow up is just another important way to keep you and your travel agency front of mind with your customers. In addition, review who is getting what in terms of marketing. Don’t send luxury marketing emails from A&K or Silversea to your Carnival clients, for example. Or, if your client hates to cruise but loves land adventures, ensure they’re not receiving all the latest cruise offers; any marketing that comes from “you” should not include something they know that you know they don’t like. The most sophisticated marketing segmentation in the marketplace can never replace your knowledge of your customers. Invest time to ensure the right marketing is reaching them.
5. Finally, surprise and delight! Find ways to send small surprises or ways that will truly make them smile. There’s an ongoing debate about rebating and whether to provide a discount to customers. Personally, I am not a believer in giving back your hard-earned money. Instead of rebating, find ways to stand out by showing your customer service skills and knowledge you’ve gained through your relationship. Do something that really wows! For example, send them off with a little care package for the kids to bring on the plane to keep them occupied, or have a pizza or dinner delivered on their first night back from vacation, so they don’t have to cook. Or, for pet lovers, maybe offer to cover one night of doggie day car when the family is traveling. Of course, don’t set expectations that may not be sustainable.
Bonus tip: Indifference can be your greatest enemy. We all love to hear when our customers are delighted, but also take the time to hear when they aren’t happy as well. Addressing issues and being willing to listen can help avoid indifference and turn a negative into a positive. How you deal with challenges can solidify your relationship and whether they’ll think of you next time they’re ready to travel.
With these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to having customers for life. And customer retention = more sales and more profits!