Staying in Touch

It's amazing when you catch up with friends and family during the holidays how much has happened to them over the course of the year. One friend just had quadruple bypass heart surgery, another got a raise and a promotion. A dear, and now far-flung, friend lost her mom while a couple I know is moving their business to Madison Avenue, thanks to an extremely successful year. The other day I read on my nephew's blog that his dog got hit by a car; today I checked the blog again and the dog is happily at home. Life has a habit of creeping up on us, and it's tough to avoid the major ups and downs that at times force their way into our otherwise peaceful, day-to-day routines. Ruthanne Terrero

What's so amazing about all the news I just shared is that I received it all electronically by either reaching out to folks I hadn't heard from for awhile or by their reaching out to me during the holiday season. If it weren't for e-mail and the Internet in general, I probably wouldn't have learned about several of these news items for quite some time, because none of us really takes the time to write lengthy messages on our holiday cards anymore.

I still have a friend from college who encloses one of those generic "Dear friends and family" letters that provides a general update on the entire family on a single sheet of paper. I used to think those letters were the most impersonal way to communicate with someone, but these days she is actually the only one left who still bothers to write a traditional note and send it via snail mail.

My point about all of this is that we all have so much more access to each other than we ever did before. How many of you use your cell phone to constantly update your partner on your whereabouts (as in, "I'm on the train," "I'm in the car, I should be home in five minutes" or "I'm in the supermarket, do you want chicken or lobster for dinner?")? My favorites are the indecisive shoppers who call a friend to ask if they should buy themselves a piece of apparel and then actually describe it over the phone: "It's blue with a pointy collar; I think it makes me look heavy but only if I stand sideways"). Sometimes it seems as if we're reaching out to each other for one simple reason—that we can.

These days, there's really no cause for us to be out of touch with each other at all, unless we're on a cruise to nowhere or on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Which of course means that you have no excuse to be out of touch with your clients in 2007, especially because there are now even more ways to reach out to them electronically. (Will they be downloading travel itineraries onto their iPods?)

In sales, it's important to touch the client in as many ways as possible; however, you should really reach out only if your message has meaning to them. Do you have a "tickler" file that reminds you of when their special anniversaries and other commemorative dates are so that you can suggest a trip to them?

Do you have a system that enables you to implement a one-to-one relationship with them? Do you have lists of their preferences and access to research that will allow you to send information that is of extreme interest to them? If so, perhaps you can create a truly beautiful e-mail message that will catch their eye and encourage them to get right back to you with an affirmative reply that indicates they want to know more about this wonderful trip you've got in mind for them. Or, perhaps on a more simple level you may want to reach out to your client via e-mail to get a simple update, the way my friends did over the holidays. Who knows, you may find out more has been going on with them than you ever imagined, and this information may help you more than ever stylize a vacation for them that will wow their socks off.

And now for a truly revolutionary idea: How about hand-writing a note to your client the old fashioned way, with a beautifully designed itinerary created just for them on parchment paper, with their names inscribed in pen and ink at the top of the page? That's bound to impress them even more than the most elaborate electronic message you can send them!

Ruthanne Terrero, CTC Editorial Director rterrero@questex.com

Letter to the Editor

Each time I receive my Travel Agent digital edition I read your column first as it is always so timely and pertinent to our daily tasks as travel agents. I especially liked what you had to say about the "Don'ts" when arranging travel ("What Not to Do," Dec. 18, 2006). I have found myself doing some of those very things and have to really step back and take myself out of the picture.

A good story regarding this: I just sold an FIT for a family of four going to Italy next June. When they gave me the destinations they would like to see (Rome and southern Italy), I knew it would probably not be easy to keep the costs down. I went to my on-site and she put together an outstanding and expensive trip, which I thought would never go over with them. They were so excited and never looked back. If I had started from the bottom, trying to save here and there, I would have probably driven them into the arms of another agency. We learn many times from our mistakes and sometimes just by dumb luck.

Natalie Johnson Reid Travel of Florida, Boca Raton, FL