Are You A Great Agent?

By Mitchell J. Schlesinger

I read an interesting article about ASTA’s Travel Advisor of the Year award announced at the recent ASTA Global Convention in Washington D.C. This got me thinking about the conversation I had with a travel agent many, many years ago, that led me to pen my series entitled “Clients for Life”, which has appeared here and was a stand-alone chapter in the book I co-authored with Joannie and Tom Ogg.

The travel agent proudly told me that roughly 35% of his clients were repeat customers of his agency. This, he explained, was a far better result than the 25% repeat rate expressed by Carnival Cruises, at the time.  I thought about that for a minute and then asked him, wasn’t he concerned that 65% of his clients were not repeat purchasers? I said I realized that clients like to try different products, especially as the cruise industry introduces new and exciting ships, but they should be buying these trips from your agency. He was silent for a moment and admitted that he should work harder at retaining a higher percentage of clients.

Some of the criteria mentioned at the ASTA convention included being dedicated to customers, going above and beyond, building lasting relationships with customers and the focus on advice and service that separates great agents from just good ones. The eventual winner of the award was cited for commitment, passion, attention to detail, level of knowledge and ability to listen and provide feedback so that clients were able to make informed choices for travel.

For decades, cruise & tour executives and CLIA have been providing training, marketing and sales seminars at conferences, webinars, podcasts, branded educational programs, etc., all designed to enhance “salesmanship” and marketing skills of travel professionals who still provide a dramatic majority of bookings for cruise lines. And in the 21st century this has become more valuable with both the expansion of demographic target groups and numerous marketing outlets available today, particularly online.

The “bottom line” for good agents to become great agents is focused on 4 main criteria:

Understanding that clients aren’t “sold” but are provided with expert knowledge, insights, and advice about suppliers and destinations to insure the purchase decision customers make aligns with their own psychographics insuring they return having enjoyed the experience.

Agents must use marketing message content that appeals to a diverse group of clients and prospects.  Various demographic target audiences have different desires, expectations, and experiences in mind when purchasing vacations. Marketing messaging to millennials, families, seniors, adventure seekers, etc. all must be very specific to each target market.

Marketing messaging must also promote value, extol experiential opportunities and address expectations of specific demographic target groups rather than promote prices and just list itineraries. Customers will respond positively to a marketing approach that involves them in the description of the vacation and the value of purchasing upgraded accommodations.  

Back to “Clients for Life”, agents must build relationships with clients that by design, last a lifetime.  This is critical from 3 standpoints:

Every client you successfully obtain comes with a “cost-of-acquisition”, based on how much time you spend before closing the sale, applicable marketing costs and potential extra benefits you provide. The more times your clients repeat, the “COA” is reduced as you have already done the foundation work the first time they purchased from you.

REFERRALS, REFERRALS, REFERRALS. — In between your clients purchasing trips, clients are a primary source of referral business, IF YOU ARE AGGRESSIVE ABOUT SETTING UP A REFERRAL PROGRAM. Clients should be rewarded for every referral they provide who purchases from you. Clients are a wonderful marketing tool and provide 3rd party endorsement of you based on their experiences. You should urge them to post photos online, and perhaps even speak at an open house you host.  And remember, it is far more efficient to obtain new clients via referrals than spending media dollars

THE ANNUITY FACTOR. — The longer clients buy travel from you and the older they get, eventually they will buy longer, more expensive trips. It is crucial that you are communicating with them on a consistent basis, sending them travel opportunities that are selectively interesting to them during the various stages of their lives.  Annuities are investments you make early in life that pay dividends and interest later in life, that is why you consider your clients annuities to you and your agency.

Being a great agent means being fully customer centric. Clearly this takes determination, dedication and perseverance. Think about being a consumer and the businesses you encounter, and which ones provide attention that makes you feel special. In truth, there are less of these businesses than decades ago due to conglomeration, mergers and the elimination of traditional small merchants. Fortunately, you have the opportunity, ability, product knowledge and supplier relationships to be extraordinarily customer centric and have clients who will regard you as a GREAT AGENT!!