Written By: Scott Koepf MCC, CTC, V.P. of Strategic Development, Cruise Planners
There are many professions that are compared to travel advisors and each provides some excellent take aways as to what will help bring your business to the next level.
Real Estate salespeople are pointed to often as the structure of salespeople funneling up through a broker (agency/host) is so similar. It is also a business based on relationships and maximizing contacts. We can learn from many best practices used for real estate success.
Due to our embracing of the term travel advisor instead of travel agent (which I hope you use proudly now), we see the comparison to financial advisors used. In so many ways this is a great analogy as they also were predicted to disappear with the advent of the internet. It was believed that once the consumer had direct access to all of the statistics, reports and analysis previously only available through financial advisors that their usefulness would be eliminated. But just like travel advisors, financial advisors have become even more valuable because of the plethora of information that is now overwhelming. The typical consumer spends at least 40 hours online researching their vacations and all of that time is leading them back to you. Not because they need an agent, they need an advisor!
My favorite comparison of industries may come as a bit of a surprise, but I think travel advisors should copy many elements of this business. It also has some business models with employees and many with a large number of Independent Contractors. Those ICs are free to move to other locations, so just like in our business it is up to the owners and management to make sure what they offer is the best option. While some would argue that this is a price driven industry with huge chains offering cheap prices (sound familiar?), it has a huge range of pricing for what is essentially the same product.
In a Wall Street Journal article by J. Bailey, he pointed out what makes the most successful operations in this business. I hope you will agree that it is the same for selling travel (and if the following are not part of your operation, then start now!):
The Owners/Managers and the ICs focus on excelling at the few things that the consumer feels most important.
The top performers commit to one or two days of training per week!
Fee increases are primarily based on creativity.
In summary he says, ‘The little guy…has nothing to fear.’ But the context indicates that is true IF the above indicators are followed.
So, what is this business you should learn from?
Hair Salons! The similarities are astounding. While haircuts are available for $15 many people have no problem paying ten times that or more for the same thing. ‘Oh noooo’ I hear you yell from the depths of your soul. ‘I would never pay $15 for a haircut’. That most likely is true but most people who do pay significantly more have never even wanted to try the cheaper product. Why? I will dare say that it has much more to do with personalities and loyalty than the product itself.
I remember once early in my marriage before I learned not to provide such valuable input, I questioned my bride’s haircut and logically her stylist, and suggested she might want to consider a change. ‘What?!’ she exclaimed. ‘I cant leave her. She knows all about me and about you for that matter. Changing hairstylists is like emotional suicide.” Obviously, I did not push the issue nor the fact that I had never met this person (and as I tread lightly on the subject now, our marriage is healthy and happy). However, her reaction was fascinating to me and I realized that that type of relationship is exactly what every travel advisor should strive for. You don’t want customers; you don’t even want customers for life. You want fiercely loyal raving fans!
So, if you follow the advice provided through the Wall Street Journal article and, of course, all of the advice provided in this series of articles, you can build the same kind of client loyalty that great stylists have. But, how will you know when a client considers your relationship at the same level of loyalty as their hairdresser? It is in the introduction. If a friend of yours had this kind of relationship with their stylist and were to introduce them to you, it would be one magical word that you would hear and you should aspire to have all of your clients introduce you in the same way.
You see, the introduction would sound something like this:
“Betty, I would like to introduce you to my hairdresser Francesco.”
Now the introduction may have continued with flowery compliments and accolades, but the magic has already happened with one word. Did you catch it?
It is a kind way of saying ‘I own him!’ It is simply the ultimate word to describe a personal and loyal relationship. You may have a few professionals you would introduce this way. Not surprisingly: ‘My Relator’, ‘My Financial Advisor’ or I even had one poor soul who told me they have ‘My Plumber’!
Now you may be thinking to yourself that you must be doing something right as you have a few clients who do introduce you with that magic word. First of all, congratulations. It does indeed mean that you are doing a number of things right to create a raving fan who claims ownership of you. Second, you don’t have enough clients who introduce you like that. I am making a strong statement here, but the point is you need more of these raving fans. Whatever number of clients introduce you as ‘My Travel Advisor’ (who are most likely your best and favorite clients), it needs to increase significantly. Imagine if you doubled or tripled the number of clients who claim ownership of you and would never consider a vacation without your advice?
You now have a goal to not only increase the number of clients who call you ‘My Travel Advisor’ but creating clients who will also tell everyone they know that “It is emotional suicide to change Travel Advisors, I will be with him/her as long as I travel!’