Written By: Jesse Morris, Owner – We Book Travel, LLC
One area that I have struggled with as a newer travel agent is what product lines to sell. A jack of all trades is a master of none. There are far too many types of travel with far too many promotions to become an expert in them all. Clients value expertise. Clients don’t choose me for things they could use a search engine to find themselves. They choose me because I take the time to get to know them and make recommendations that fit their lifestyle. At the same time, specializing can be scary. Finding clients is hard, so the idea of turning someone away who wants to buy just feels bad.
The benefits to specialization are that as an expert you have knowledge your client doesn’t and that other non-specialists cannot match. You can answer questions immediately that others have to do research and call back to answer. You become known for your expertise, which generates more qualified referrals from your clients. You can target your marketing to people who fit the niche that you specialize in. People tend to search more specifically for what they want. People will go on a search engine and type “Travel Agents who specialize in Italy” or “Honeymoon Travel” for example. If you have been a travel agent, these are all things you have heard time and again because everyone tells you how important it is to specialize.
So, what do you do with a client who comes to you and doesn’t fit your specialty? Let’s say you specialize in cruise travel, but someone wants to book a luxury train trip, an area outside of your wheelhouse, how do you handle it? On the one hand, you know nothing about luxury trains. On the other hand, they have money and want to spend it with you! Making this decision can be a challenge, and only you can decide what is right for your business. Turning a client away, however, brings several benefits to my business:
The amount of time spent on a product you have no knowledge of can be staggering. If you don’t spend that time, it can cost you money, reputation and a client. You will have to cultivate a relationship with a new supplier, take their training, do tons of research on a new product that you may not even have any desire to keep selling – all for one client. Making beginner’s mistakes in a new area also means you spend more time on correcting mistakes and repairing relationships, each costing you money.
Building trust takes time and effort, but when you can prove you are honest and act in your client’s best interest, you are on the fast track to an outstanding relationship. If you turn away a client because you do not have the expertise to take care of them and you are honest about it, you have immediately proven you are trustworthy and care more about them than the money. They are more likely to come to you in the future because they know you will do what is in their best interest. That type of loyalty is priceless.
What do you do with this luxury train request? “Sorry, I don’t do that. Good luck!” isn’t a good answer. This is your time to shine and develop partnerships with other agencies who do specialize in luxury train travel. A referral relationship between your agency and others which specializes in areas distinct from yours is needed. I cultivate a wide network of agencies whom I would trust to take care of a client when I need to refer someone. Referral relationships are mutually beneficial; sometimes other agencies come across clients who require my specialty, and refer those people to me. Or, we can come up with a commission split arrangement. If you are a member of a host agency or consortia, your peers may specialize in exactly what your client is looking for. These relationships are developed over time and will net positive results for your agency.
What does all this look like?
“I really appreciate the opportunity to earn your business, but making sure that I can take great care of my clients is very important to me. Luxury trains are not an area that I have any expertise, and while I could take the time to research it and come up with options for you, the level of service I would provide to you just isn’t to the level that I expect of myself and that you should expect of me. I have partnerships with several other agencies who specialize in areas that I don’t and with your permission I would love to pass your information on to someone who I feel will be able to expertly handle your trip. Would you mind if I did that?”
How much time have you saved? Has your client’s trust in you grown? Have you expanded your partnerships and made a client happy? Turning clients away is hard but overall can be in the best interests of you and your client.
Have you turned away a client? How did you handle it? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org!