Written By: Jesse Morris, Owner – We Book Travel, LLC
Prior to starting my travel agency, I spent many years working with small businesses. I was a banker, and later, I advised individuals and companies about leveraging the internet to find clients. I had the good fortune to meet some very intelligent people with great ideas, but over the years, I’ve watched some of those same people close their unsuccessful businesses. Running a business is hard work; it’s an endeavor where you can do everything right and still fail. I’ve found that running a travel agency is really no different than any other business; it is subject to the same pitfalls that other small businesses encounter. Consistently there were five things that I recognized among those who failed.
The most important ability is availability.
Have you ever called someone only to hear, “Oh, we just booked!”? I know I have, and the feeling of lost opportunity due to something within your control is miserable. Making time for your potential clients is crucial. The internet puts a vast amount of information at your potential clients’ fingertips whenever they need it. So, with little effort, they can find someone available faster than you can blink. Furthermore, consider that most of your clients complete prior research about their trip via web searches. The pages they visit bombard them with banner ads, emails, and exploratory phone calls from savvy companies. With each click, those same companies are gathering valuable information via cookies and data mining. Using that information, your potential client can be swiped from you in a flash. Combat these circumstances by opening your availability beyond the normal 9-5.
A colleague reached out to me recently to share her experience as an agent. During our conversation, she shared a frustration: “I have been doing nothing but quotes all week!” Despite providing innumerable quotes, none of them ended in sales. I asked her to share her process with me. “What’s the first thing you say when you get them on the phone, and what is the first question you ask?” She responded that she finds out what trip they want, how many people are going, and when they want to go. Think about internet booking sites; they ask the same questions before giving a quote! So, if a client gets the exact same experience from a website, why should they work with you?
Companies with deeper pockets are willing to rebate commissions and make up the difference via volume. Since travel agents simply cannot compete on price, we must use the human element to set us apart. The best way to connect with your clients is through engaging dialogue: “Why is this trip important?” “Why, out of the thousands of options out there, did you select this one?” “What are the most important things that need to happen for you to feel that this was your best trip ever?” “Tell me about the people traveling with you- what do they enjoy?” The answers to these questions provide more than just valuable information; they create a feeling that websites cannot emulate.
Give clients a compelling reason to choose you.
Your potential clients bring their expectations to every interaction. Additionally, they continually make assumptions while talking to you, and unspoken objections may linger after a phone call is over. Over the course of a dialogue, these objections and assumptions might never get expressed. Don’t let unstated objections hold you back! Instead, be proactive and take control of the narrative. Say, “Many of my clients are concerned about…”, and then address that consideration. There are a finite number of objections out there, and it’s your responsibility to be prepared for them. Otherwise, what starts as a great conversation turns into dead air when you try to call them back. Without being asked, explain why your clients choose you and what makes you different; chances are, you will overcome some of those unspoken objections.
Prior proper planning prevents pretty poor performance.
I firmly believe that it is okay to not know something, once. And just as the internet has created countless competitors in our industry, it also changes the way we do business. Use it to be prepared for all of the most common questions clients ask and many of the uncommon ones, too! People seeking your services expect that you’re the expert. So when you don’t know an answer, be honest, but you should also be clear that you will get the answer for them. This will be acceptable once or even twice with a potential client. But if you cannot answer too many of their questions, they begin to doubt your expertise; they will wonder if you are the right person to help them. After all, they can use a search engine to get the same answers you would find and decide that booking online is more valuable than you are. To help prepare, I keep a sheet of paper beside my desk to jot down the questions I don’t know the answers to. From these sheets, I update a master list of commonly (or uncommonly) asked questions. I invest time and resources into self-education and develop resources to ensure that I am the expert in the eyes of my clients. The old saying, “failing to plan is planning to fail,” is absolutely true.
Always follow up.
This one is totally obvious. If you asked 100 people, all of them would tell you how important the follow up is. So, why do so many people fail at it? Life gets in the way. You get too busy. You will get to it eventually. These, and a host of other excuses, will stand between you and success. Instead, take steps to prioritize your business. Rhetorical question: What is your follow up process, and how do you ensure nothing falls through the cracks? If you don’t have one, make one. If you do have one, make sure it’s foolproof. This can be the differentiator for your client. Ever heard someone say, “They never called me back.”? Don’t let that statement be about you!
These are just five of the reasons travel agents fail, but there are many more. Be critical of yourself and your processes if you aren’t getting the results you want. Ask successful people to help you overcome your challenges. I would love to hear about other reasons you feel that agents fail. Share your thoughts with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.