Written By: Sandy Elson, MCC
In my last column, I outlined four of my eight “WOW factors” to help streamline your business, set you apart from the competition, and increase your bottom line. This article will describe the remaining “WOW factors.”
To recap, my first four “WOW factors” are as follows:
- Hook potential clients with a speedy, impressive response, using “canned” email responses.
- Become a mind readerand anticipate your clients’ fears and objections.
- Set up a “private,” dedicated web site for each group, using easy publishing software or pages you create with your content provider’s software.
- Streamline billing using a billingprogram that allows you to email invoices and receipts to your clients.
Now for the next four “WOW factors:”
WOW factor #5: Keep In Touch From Sale To Sail
The best way to merge high tech with high touch is to keep in touch with your clients from the time they give you a deposit, until they leave on the trip. Clients do not want to be “sold” and then forgotten until more money is needed, an error too many travel agents make. Streamline the communication process by creating a “group” in your email program’s address book, with the email of each group member. This means you can write one email and with one click, send it to the entire group. Please remember to have your own email address appear in the “To:” field, and have everyone else’s address in the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) field. This does two things: it eliminates the long list of addressees in the email that each group member will read. Also, it addresses privacy concerns of those group members who do not want their email address viewable by everyone else in the group.
Send out general information regarding the group’s trip in the early stages of the group process. This information can include a summary of the trip, including the general itinerary, clothing suggestions, passport information and where to go online to view passport renewal information, any information the Group Leader would like to provide, how much cash you anticipate each traveler will need to take along, etc. I send out monthly updates to each group member once we’re within six months of travel. Don’t be afraid to repeat important information in multiple updates. Some information, such as proof of citizenship requirements, bears repeating! When we are within three months of travel, I send more specific information in the updates, such as where and when the group meeting/cocktail party will take place, check-in procedures, group transfer information or suggestions, and the like. Your clients will appreciate this individualized level of contact, and your group email list makes keeping in touch with the whole group no more work than emailing one individual client.
WOW factor #6: Watch For Price Drops
We have all heard stories and have had the experience ourselves of finding out that the price of your clients’ trip has gone down since they sent in their deposit. This happens frequently with cruises, especially in our current economic downturn. The cruise lines and tour companies will never tell the agent that the price has gone down. However, our clients are very internet savvy and may well be sniffing out these price reductions on their own. Be proactive and check the price of your clients’ trips once a month. Your clients will view you as their advocate if you tell them the price of their trip has gone down, and they are eligible for the lower price.
Most cruise lines will give the clients the lower price, either refunding the difference, upgrading their cabin category, or giving them the difference in the form of an onboard credit. Some cruise lines will do this right until sailing date, while others will reduce the price if it is before final payment date. Some cruise lines will not change the price. Be sure whether the cruise line or other supplier will lower the price before emailing your clients.
Remember that your clients are likely to find out about the price drop on their own, and you’ll make a great impression if you inform them of this reduction first. Price reductions are an opportunity for service. What you may lose in commission will be more than compensated in terms of client loyalty. This is one way to keep clients for life!
WOW factor #7: Enhance Your Pre-Trip Package
While some travel agents send out documents with little else, I like to send out an impressive package that includes the clients’ documents. This is yet another opportunity for service, and for impressing your clients by offering value-added items your clients would not receive if they had booked with another agency or directly with the supplier.
I have detailed, “canned” itineraries on my computer for many types of cruises and tours, along with the clothing suggestions and proof of citizenship information I have been emailing in my monthly updates. It takes a few seconds to bring up the itinerary, and just change the clients’ names and stateroom number to print out a personalized itinerary for each couple or group member. In addition, I have collected and stored on my computer several information sheets on such things as how to pack, staying safe and healthy while on vacation, and currency exchange information. I print each of these documents to include in my pre-trip package. I even include a small bottle of hand sanitizer and agency luggage tags. The clients perceive this package as very high touch information.
WOW factor #8: Follow up from sail to sale
Do not forget your clients as soon as they leave on their trip. Keeping in touch with group leaders and group members is easy, using your group email list. This keeps your name and agency in front of the client and establishes a relationship that extends beyond the sale.
Email or mail a “welcome home” letter to arrive a few days after your clients get home. Ask for feedback on the trip and on your agency’s service. Even if there are complaints, this opens a dialogue that allows you to address problems and continue your value-added service.
Keep track of special occasions in your Client Relationship Management (CRM) software or database. Email or mail a letter or card on these birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc.
Suggest other trips for the future and encourage the group leaders to set up their next trip with you as soon as possible, so the group remains a unit and can share the excitement of planning the next trip. This also encourages spin-off groups, such as a group member deciding to be the Group Leader of his/her own family reunion. Encourage your group members to send referrals your way. Each group member has a circle of friends and relatives of his/her own, each of whom is a potential new client or group leader.
These eight “WOW factors” allow you to streamline your routine processes through technology, thereby allowing you to deliver extraordinary service to each client. When you deliver the unexpected “WOW,” your clients will be yours for life!
Sandy Elson, MCC
Sandy Elson, MCC has been working as a travel agent since 1986. She is credited with starting the first ever online travel agent community, “The Biz,” on CompuServe in the early 1990s. Sandy owns Your Cruise Concierge, LLC, a home-based agency specializing in groups and Family Reunion cruises.