Building Like, Know & Trust – Then Loyalty Results

By Cindy Bertram

With so many diverse ways to search, find and make a purchase today, people have many choices. It’s beyond shopping at just a retail location. Think about a purchase you made recently. What were you looking for, how did you do research, and where did you actually  go to make that purchase?  After making that purchase, were you satisfied? If so, have you made additional purchases there?  Would you recommend this company/person  to your friends and colleagues? As professionals we need to also see ourselves as offering more than just  providing a one-time purchasing experience to a client.  It really gets down to building that “like, know and trust” experience, and then loyalty results. 


Being a Fan and sharing it in positive ways

I’m a fan of one airline, and not only are they easy to work with, but I feel  I’m treated like a human being. And I share that in diverse positive ways. While flying back from a conference in Florida last summer, the flight I was booked on was delayed a bit due to some foggy weather conditions in Chicago, the city I was flying back to. We took off, but after only 2 hours of flying, I could feel the plane descending. Then one of the pilots made an announcement that they would have to land in Atlanta, because the Chicago airport was closed, due to heavy fog.

 We landed at 2 am in the morning and got off the plane. The airport was closed, but the airline brought in staff members to get us all rebooked-on flights. These  staff members were so concerned and caring about us getting rebooked. I made sure I got their names and then sent off an email to one of the top executives at that airline. She got back to me a few hours later and personally thanked me.   Did these staff members go above and beyond? Yes. Did I share this story to business colleagues and friends? Yes. And my loyalty to this airline continues.


Insights from Ken Muskat, Executive Vice President & COO, MSC Cruises USA

I had an opportunity to talk with Ken Muskat, Executive Vice President & COO of MSC Cruises USA, about their growth. In our discussion  I mentioned that MSC Cruises has been around for a while, but still sometimes tends not to be known by travelers. I asked Ken, “You’ve worked extremely hard building the ‘like, know and trust’ with travel advisors.  Can you share a bit more about these steps and efforts?  With a few examples?”

Ken said, “MSC Cruises has seen tremendous growth since its start in 2003, introducing 16 ships in a span of 16 years. And, with a $15.6 billion investment plan in for a total of 29 ships by 2027, we have no plans to slow down. Alongside this growth, there is an increasing appetite for what MSC Cruises offers — an international on-board experience inspired by our European heritage with enriching, one-of-a-kind opportunities to discover the destinations we visit.”

Then we talked a bit more about their growth. Ken explained, “Along with this global growth, the company has placed a priority on expansion in the North American market, where MSC Cruises is quickly becoming a major player. And, in order to be successful here, it is paramount that we continue to work closely with travel advisors. This means providing our partners with the tools and resources to understand our brand and be able to effectively sell MSC Cruises to their clients. This effort began when we launched MSC Academy in 2017, our learning module created to help advisors increase their earning potential with MSC Cruises. And, just two years later in May 2019, we celebrated surpassing 10,000 graduates of the program.” 

Encouraging Travel advisors to experience MSC Cruises

Ken noted, “We also recognize the importance and value of experiencing the product first-hand, and nothing is more convincing to a client than hearing a personal account of their cruise. With this in mind we began our ‘Get on Board’ campaign to encourage more travel advisors to try a cruise on our newest ships in the Caribbean. Travel advisors who have graduated from MSC Academy can take advantage by booking a balcony stateroom at $499 per person, based on double occupancy, for Caribbean sailings on MSC Seaside, launched in Miami in December 2017, and MSC Meraviglia, arriving to North America for the first time this October.”

Adapting their product to the North American Market 

Ken and I then covered efforts that MSC Cruises has been making to adapt to the North American market.  Ken, explained, “Over the last several years, MSC Cruises has made significant strides to adapt our product to the North American market, and we are confident in what has become the new MSC. We have focused heavily on improving service, to not only meet but also exceed guest expectations in North America. We’ve adjusted menus to reflect the kinds of dishes travelers in this market look for and brought into the company experts like Jacques Van Staden to ensure the cuisine is reflective of our brand and of the markets we serve.”

Another area Ken mentioned involved partnerships. He  went on and said, “We are working with partners to bring new experiences that guests here will love. For example, on board MSC Seaside we added an improv comedy show, Beerprov. We also recently launched a partnership with Martha Stewart for specially curated shore excursions and on-board celebration surprise packages.” 

Ken then explained, “Ultimately, we are committed to continuously evolving our product to bring guests a memorable vacation experience. Our goal is to maintain strong partnerships with our dedicated travel advisors. We are consistently looking for new and exciting ways to provide the tools and resources they need to succeed, and we appreciate the continued support as we move forward.”


Building the Trust Element – Ken’s Suggestions

Today building trust is an important part as far as building relationships. Ken and I  covered more of that. I mentioned that the “trust element” needs to occur when building relationships with future potential clients, as well as existing ones. I asked Ken, “Do you have any suggestions for travel advisors when it comes  to building trust, as well as loyalty?”

Ken mentioned, “Travel advisors stand to gain from the incredible new product entering the industry, with more ships being introduced than ever before. But, with so much new opportunity it’s vital for advisors to be trained and up to date in order to effectively grow their business. That’s why education tools like MSC Academy are so important — it is a dedicated platform that is continuously updated with changes, new ships and new products for advisors to stay up to date.”

He then went on and said, “Understanding each product is crucial to building trust with new clients and loyalty among existing clients who are looking to an advisor to help them navigate unfamiliar territory and select the right cruise for their needs. For MSC Cruises in particular, travel advisors may want to look to clients who appreciate an international experience and connecting with people from all over the world while enjoying authentic, immersive experiences in port.”

More insights from Ken on building rapport even with changes in the industry

Another area Ken and I discussed were the changes in the travel industry, and how new avenues, including technology, were available for travel advisors to really embrace and use.  Ken explained, “The travel industry has changed dramatically over the last two decades, especially on the trade front. The implementation of technology has inspired an evolution that has significantly impacted how travel advisors work with their customers, and how suppliers work with advisors.”

He went on and said, “It has become imperative for travel advisors to take advantage of the rise in technology to build a rapport with clients and attract prospective customers, whether developing a strong social media presence to reach consumers or increasing e-communication to existing and prospective clients. On our advisor website, Travel Advisors can access a variety of tools to help, like flyers and fact sheets, and they can even request customized brand videos for their use.”

Building relationships will build the business

Ken shared a bit more as far as the need to build relationships. He said, “Building business in this industry truly stems from building relationships, and clients who feel appreciated will more than likely return in the future. At MSC Cruises, we recently started offering something unique travel advisors can surprise their guests with outside of just a bottle of champagne or shipboard credit. We recently kicked off a partnership with Martha Stewart who curated special shore excursions, celebration surprise gift packages, and onboard special holiday dinner menus and recipes. The three celebration surprise packages, with options including a wine, dessert and personalized letter from Martha Stewart, are a great special addition to a client’s stateroom to show appreciation. You can learn about them on our website.”

MSC Cruises Status Match Program — Unique to the Industry

Something MSC Cruises brought to the cruise and travel industry in 2015 was their Status Match Program. There’s no other product quite like it, and it brings a new benefit to repeat cruisers. I asked Ken to share a bit more about this along with providing details. Ken explained, “MSC Cruises Voyagers Club, MSC Cruises loyalty program for repeat cruisers, was first launched in 2015, offering members access to on board benefits and booking discounts, among other privileges. For example, when MSC Cruises opens sales for a new ship, Voyager’s Club members get the first pick of staterooms during their exclusive two-week booking period. And, when they book, they’ll receive a 5% discount on top of their regular 5% Voyager’s Club discount for a select booking period.” 

 excellent program within the Voyager’s Club. For members of other hotel, cruise line or tour operator loyalty programs, MSC Voyagers Club will match their current status, meaning these new members will be granted similar or higher privilege status than their current loyalty program. We launched our loyalty program to reward cruisers who frequently sail with MSC Cruises, and the status match element offers a channel for us to reach cruisers who aren’t as familiar with our brand.”

Ken shared more on benefits, and explained, “This is also great incentive that travel advisors can use to encourage their regular cruise clients, who haven’t sailed with us, or new-to-cruise clients to try MSC Cruises for the first time. Benefits of each program level are available on our website for additional information.”

MSC Cruises’ efforts building strong relationships with travel advisors

Over the years, MSC Cruises has worked extremely hard building strong relationships with travel advisors.  When talking with Ken, I said, “This brings that important component of trust. Could you share a brief example or two, Ken ?”

Ken shared his thoughts, and said, “We are committed to ensuring that hard work allows travel advisors to increase their earning potential with MSC Cruises, and we will continue to prioritize offering competitive commission rates on bookings and pre-booked experiences. In addition to booking commissions, travel advisors can earn 5% commission on all pre-paid packages, including shore excursions, spa treatments, specialty restaurants, and more. Plus, advisors can earn 10% commission on group pre-paid shore excursions. For spa in particular, advisors can help their clients save up to 50% on spa packages, while also earning themselves 5% commission on each spa package booked.”

New ways for travel advisors to earn commissions with MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises had introduced some new ways for travel advisors to earn more commissions, which Ken and I talked about.  Ken said, “We’ve also introduced a few new ways for advisors to earn commissions. First, MSC Cruises recently launched MSC Upgrade, a new bid-based stateroom upgrade program that allows clients to take advantage of fantastic upgrades on select staterooms and cruises. For any upgrades, travel advisors will receive commission on the total based on the commission percentage on the booking.”

MSC Cruises’ new partnership — rail service 

In addition to other partnerships they’ve added, a new one involves rail service. Ken explained more and said, “We also kicked off a partnership with the Brightline, soon to be rebranded Virgin Trains, a rail service currently offering transport from West Palm Beach to Miami. The Train-to-Port packages offered through the partnership allow MSC Cruises’ guests sailing from PortMiami to park their car, check-in and check their luggage at Brightline stations before boarding the cruise.  Brightline will safely and seamlessly deliver guest’s luggage directly to guest staterooms on the ship. Advisors earn 5% on each booking, which can be a great add-on for clients who live locally in South Florida, or those who might be thinking of extending their trip before and after their cruise.”

A few more ideas when it comes to Loyalty

When dealing with potential clients as well as existing ones, it’s important for them to know that we genuinely care about them and have their best interests at heart.   Utilizing technology along with that human touch today is even more important.  As Ken Muskat mentioned,  helping clients navigate unfamiliar areas and selecting the cruise that best fits their needs, going beyond their expectations is critical. And this is where loyalty evolves. And our focus on this as travel advisors evolves into loyalty from our clients as well.

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