Most travel agents who have been in the business for any period of time can tell stories of clients who in some manner disappointed the agent in the relationship. The client who took the agent’s hard work and booked direct, or the client who could not be found when final payment was due. The client who goes to the airport without their documents and blames the agent. The client that won’t return phone calls. The client who is upset that the agent cannot find a trip to Hawaii for 7 nights for $499. The client who discovers a cruise $50 cheaper on the internet and is unhappy. In almost every instance, however, the real root of the problem can be found in a failure of the agent to properly train the client and set expectations. Client training is more than a technique to prevent problems, however. Properly training clients sets the stage for the buying process to occur in the context of a relationship.
One of the 1st tasks of any experienced service professional is the proper education and training of clients. An accountant will demonstrate for a client the proper way to keep receipts, to assemble expense reports and to record checks and deposits. By doing so, both the client and the accountant have better records with which to work. When it comes time for the accountant to perform for the client, he can do so more efficiently and produce a better work product. Likewise, there is some necessary training in which every travel consultant should engage with clients to make life easier for everyone.
Training is a more rigorous exercise than merely “telling” the client. Training involves sitting down on a one-to-one basis and going over particulars using visual aids and demonstrations. Training involves education, illustration and explanation. The time spent will assuredly prove to be a valuable investment, and the problems avoided as a result will assist you in retaining and maintaining your clientele.
A good 1st step is to explain to the client what you do as a travel consultant. Be particular in details. Explain exactly the kind of information you need in order to do the best job of travel planning. Explain the optimal lead time to fully research and plan a trip and to obtain the best values. Let the client in on the trade-offs between price and amenity so that the client can make informed decisions about value.
More importantly, however, a good travel consultant will also establish, up front, the role and responsibilities of the client. The client should feel that they are a full and active partner in the relationship, fully responsible for their part in the success of the travel planning exercise. In the initial interview, an experienced agent will set expectations on topics ranging from open communication to the necessity to have payments in on time. This early work sets the tone of a professional relationship. These agents anticipate the problems that might arise and address them from the outset.
Lay down basic groundwork early in the relationship. Tell the client about the merits of travel insurance and recommend it in all instances. Make sure the client understands the importance of timely deposits and payments to ensure that no penalties or cancellations snag the plans. Train the client to go over invoices and itineraries carefully, even doing it with the client to avoid costly mistakes. A client that fully understands the relationship as well as the agent is less likely to abuse the agent’s time and will instead become a full partner in the relationship, actually assisting the agent to do a better job. When a client is fully educated and informed on the mutual responsibilities of each party, their faith in the travel agent’s concern for them as a client is enhanced, and the buying process is accomplished more easily.
Travel consulting is a relationship business. Relationships prosper in an atmosphere of open communication, clear expectations and accountability. A client training program provides the proper groundwork for client retention and repeat business.
A well trained client is a happy client.
Richard Earls is the Publisher of Travel Research Online, an online travel industry resource dedicated to enhancing the professional lives of travel agents.