Is there a travel professional anywhere who has not had a client or family member book their trip through some alternative venue? One moment we are certain of having a loyal client and the next we are learning of the great trip they booked online, or directly with a cruise line, or even with another agency. As regretful as these experiences may be, there is a lesson in the pain.
We all make the mistake of wrongly assuming once a client is happy with our services they are ours for life. Unfortunately, however, the perceived value of any service diminishes with elapsed time. Your clients are visited daily with images of travel opportunities, and unless your brand has a very strong hold on their psyche, you may lose them to the first shiny opportunity that comes along.
No matter how good past experiences with your brand may have been, unless you keep the relationship immediate and fresh, your clients are easily led astray. As Mike Marchev reminds us, your clients are somebody else’s prospects.
So what’s the secret to perpetual customer loyalty?
Clients return when they feel connected to you and your travel practice at an emotional level, the result of a relationship. It’s not enough for them to have been satisfied with their prior encounters, they need to feel you are a vital, even an indispensable part of their travel life.
Under the best circumstances, your clients don’t think of themselves as your clients – they think of you as their travel agent. If your clients take ownership of you, you don’t have to worry about whose clients they are.
Beyond performing like an absolute savant each and every time you engage actual travel planning exercises, here are a few things you can do to achieve a powerful loyalty:
Stay connected – don’t let too much time elapse between contacts. Visit with them on a regular basis with newsletters, phone calls, Facebook posts, notes, and letters.
Know your clients – market to clients on a one-to-one basis. Know their hobbies, know their family, know why they travel. If they like to cruise, provide them with cruise opportunities and information. If they don’t like to cruise, then don’t! Market appropriately.
Train clients – don’t be afraid to let clients know your expectations. Ask them to bring you any travel offer in which they might be interested. Let them know you will help them evaluate the merit of any travel opportunity, no matter how big or how small. Empower them by teaching them the logistics of travel, how you best perform your duties and what you need and expect from them. Establish the parameters of the relationship from the outset and have them agree to work with you within those ground rules.
Be approachable – believe it or not, some clients feel like they are “bothering you” by asking about travel prior to a booking decision. Assure your clients you want to hear from them.
Be involved – look for opportunities to be engaged with your clients outside of their travel planning. The more actively you participate in your community, in volunteer work, in civic functions, or in social gatherings, the more “top of mind” you remain when a travel opportunity strays into their path.
Finally, when a client slips up and does book outside of your purview, don’t shun them or make them feel badly. Instead, congratulate them on their upcoming (or past) travel experience and then graciously remind them of the opportunity to work with you when they travel. Ask openly if they were not happy with your past efforts on their behalf and extract a promise of their return to you the next time they travel. Assure them you want their business.
Marketing is not an on-again, off-again activity. Customer loyalty is a hard-won prize and one needing continual maintenance. Never let up in your efforts to win over your clients.
Richard Earls is the Publisher of Travel Research Online, an online travel industry resource dedicated to enhancing the professional lives of travel agents.