As I decided to write about customer service in this week's column, I thought I'd begin with a short synopsis of my recent retail experience.
Last weekend I was in a shopping mall in the States. From grocery store to discount warehouse to high end boutique, I was always greeted every time I entered, and was asked numerous times as I shopped if I was finding everything. While I was in the fitting room, attentive staff checked on me often.
Just the day before, I was in a shopping mall in downtown Vancouver where the staff in one designer shop made eye contact with me as I walked in and actually looked away without uttering a word. More often than not, I was ignored.
Despite our lowly Canadian dollar, the drastically superior service in the States won my heart and wallet. This led me to wonder - does this disparity in customer service translate into the world of retail travel?
Regrettably so. Many clients have walked into a travel agency not to be acknowledged, or being treated as a nuisance. While some are genuine time wasters, most are automatically judged as they walk through the door. Can they tell right away they are not welcomed or cared about? You bet. Will they buy from those agencies? Not a chance.
Customers who have a negative experience will not only shun an agency, but will tell all their friends to. And with today's social media reach, the word will spread to a worldwide audience in an instant.
Now more than ever, service is paramount. Think of your own retail experience. How often have you purchased from a salesperson due to a pleasant interaction? And how often have you taken your business elsewhere because you did not connect with that salesperson? When clients are investing their hard earned dollars into a cruise vacation, it is imperative to provide that same pleasantness to ensure they spend that money with you.
As an agent, it is essential to learn the art of relationship building. Be personable, interested and genuinely care about every client. A smile is a simple but powerful tool to make someone feel special. Treat every prospect with respect. Practise mirroring. Customers who identify with salespeople will buy from them.
As agency owner or manager, motivate your staff to serve to their best ability, empower them to make decisions, and most importantly coach them to exude a positive attitude and provide a pleasant shopping experience for your clients.
I have met plenty of cruisers who are loyal to their Travel Agents. When I ask them why, the common answer is that they feel special and well looked after, and many have even become personal friends. There is an element of trust and respect, which is the foundation of all human interaction. Master this, and you will have clients for life.
As for our sad state of retail reality in Vancouver, I hope it will improve with the arrival of Nordstrom this fall. May it create inspiration for a future column!
Ming Tappin is a cruise veteran with over 20 years’ experience in the industry and has sailed on 36 cruises and counting. Based in Vancouver, Ming is Owner of www.yourcruisecoach.com.