Kathy Bedell and her husband Tom Neeme at a recent Classic Vacations
If you ask successful travel industry veteran Kathy M. Bedell what an agent's most important tools are, she won't point to a BlackBerry, an iPhone, a sleek Dell notebook or an office with a skyline view.
Rather, the 25-year veteran and senior vice president of BCD Travel in Atlanta will point to either side of an agent's head.
Yes, the ears.
It makes sense, right?
After all, a man or woman who doesn't listen in a relationship will eventually get the "we can still be friends" line.
Why should it be any different for your clients? If you don't listen to them, they will walk.
Judging by Bedell's success and her agency's recent recognition as one of Classic Vacations' top producers, she's been putting those eardrums to good use.
"In today's environment, the good agent is one who listens to the customer, understands what he or she wants and makes the appropriate recommendations accordingly," she told Travel Agent.
"Listen. Do what you say you are going to do. It is all about service. Listen to what your customer is saying. It will go a long way for a continued relationship. Follow up with a note, and keep in touch after the sale."
Bedell began her travel career in a senior management role with a strong focus on developing corporate sales. Currently, as a senior vice president with BCD Travel and previous agency owner, she has more than two decades of experience.
"I joined the industry to establish a career where my business skills set could be utilized to the fullest," she says. "What happened as a result was that I acquired a passion for the business, and this has been a driving force in my personal success."
Bedell often reflects on how advanced the industry has become since she first got her feet wet. "We used to have to look up tariffs in the OAG [Official Airline Guide], and the only tickets we issued were handwritten," she recalls. "The introduction of automation, technology and continuous training has enabled us to improve our skills set to become more consultative and focus on exceeding our customers' expectations. The way we manage our business today from an operational standpoint is different from the way we did things 25 years ago, but the same philosophy remains: service, service and service."?
What exactly does that "service" entail?
We know Bedell is a big fan of listening, but what else does she recommend agents do in order to provide quality service?
"Qualify the call," she advises. "Don't promise what you cannot deliver. Read travel brochures, and know the different products that are available for each destination and your customer's budget. Each agent needs to be thorough and explain the particulars of the travel. Highlight all the features of the trip you are trying to close."
Sometimes upselling can not only lead to more money for the agents but also can help in clinching a deal.
"Don't be afraid to upsell," she says. "For just a few dollars more, moving to a different room category or cabin can make the difference as to whether or not they will buy the trip from you and return to book their next trip. Give them options. Share some of your personal experiences with them about a resort or destination. Let them know you have been there and can recommend hotels, resorts, restaurants and sightseeing. Gain their trust."[PAGE-BREAK]
Okay, so now we know
"Beach destinations, whether they're in Europe, Mexico, the U.S. or the Caribbean," she says. "The majority of our customers today are looking for local history and to experience a new culture, but they also want to relax on a beach and take in the sun or a swim."
What about niche markets?
"Our clients are taking an average of two to three trips a year," she says. "We are seeing an annual trip averaging eight to nine days and then long weekend getaways averaging four days. We receive numerous requests for girls-only weekends, which include spa experiences, shopping excursions, etc. And men also are planning getaways for the ultimate golf experience."
BCD Travel provides the traditional travel-management services, with a strong emphasis on corporate travel, as well as a focus on providing leisure services for its corporate travelers, Bedell say. BCD Travel also offers corporate clients the option of a leisure travel-benefit program for employees. The company's services vary from country to country, but employees receive exclusive travel offers among other incentives.
"We achieved this recognition based on the quality of the products and services, and our ability to sell these services to our clients," Bedell says of the top producer honor from Classic Vacations. "It is very easy to direct business to a vendor whom you trust and is consistent in delivering the best products and services to our customers."
Apparently, Classic Vacations employees are also good listeners.
Kathy M. Bedell
SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF BCD TRAVEL
HEADQUARTERS: 2500 CUMBERLAND PARKWAY, ATLANTA, GA 30339
Affiliation:Signature Travel Network