ALMOST 20 YEARS AGO, ROBERT FULGHUM WROTE A BOOK ENTITLED ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN, A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS THAT CELEBRATED MOMENTS IN ORDINARY LIFE. The San Francisco Chronicle said that his stories "remind us that within simplicity lies the sublime."
The simple things often are overlooked in our daily grind, so it is in the spirit of simplicity that we offer you a primer on the elementary ways you can best serve your clients.
Do your best to accommodate special requests from your customers. "If they desire a cruise cabin that is close to the elevator (but not too close), has plenty of room (but is not too expensive) and is on the starboard side of the ship so they can see Alcatraz as they sail out of San Francisco and so on, go the extra mile and try to get it for them," recommends John Bell, manager of the Luxury Travel Network host agency. "They will be far more likely to recommend you to their friends."
Bear with your customers at all times, and try to understand their situation. Few predicaments anger people more than when travel plans go awry (even when the circumstances are out of your control). "Try to bear with the anger of the customer stuck in the airport because their flight was delayed or cancelled, and find a workable solution to get them home," advises Bell.
Connect with your customers. Know who your target clients are, what is important to them, when they prefer to travel, pertinent details about their family and what their "dream" vacation is, and arrange travel plans that play to their interests.
Why would someone want to book with you? What makes you stand out from other travel agents? "Distinguish your unique approach to booking and servicing travel to ensure new customers become repeat customers," Bell says.
Engage your customer in the destination they are interested in visiting. Use brochures, travel magazines, videos, articles, and websites to get the customer excited about visiting that place. Especially inspirational for travelers are any personal experiences you may have with the destination yourself. Share your memories and any tips you learned while at that location, such as where you had the best meal or where you got the best shopping deals. (Another "E" word to focus on is enthusiasm. If you're not enthusiastic about their travel plans, why should your clients be?)
Following up with your customers is just as important as planning their travels. The last communication you have with them should not be when they depart for their trip. Call or e-mail them upon their return to find out how the travel experience went and ask specific questions about how you can improve your service for their next trip.
Someone is always the line leader, and in travel planning, that's you. It's your responsibility and privilege to guide your clients through numerous options and details to reach the goal of planning their ideal vacation.
Help With the Fine Print
You know that page-and-a-half of information that's printed after a flight confirmation, typeset in print that seems to get smaller as the list goes on? Your clients may or may not read this, but you should know what this information conveys, just in case any questions arise. The same goes for the fine print from any other vendor.
From airline seats to cruise reservations, overbooked activities to car rentals, travel experts have more buying power than the average consumer, according to ASTA. Take advantage of your professional status; it may aid you, should a sticky situation arise.
Travel Insurance? Exchange rates? Liability limitations? Refundable versus nonrefundable tickets? Transferable versus nontransferable? Be prepared to explain what these terms mean.
Know your stuff. If you don't know something, do everything you can to learn about it. If you can't find your clients an answer, they'll find someone who can.
Identifying your target client ensures you're not chasing bookings that won't help you meet your financial goals. Know the limits of your profit margins.
"Keep a consistent level of service," regardless of whether you are working with your big spenders or someone who is simply purchasing a plane ticket or hotel reservation, says Andrew Wainer, director of sales for the NEST. Everyone wants to believe they are a special client.
"If you don't know geography, you're in the wrong business," Luxury Travel Network's John Bell says simply.
Knowing your clients' likes and dislikes allows you to contact them when an opportunity for a travel experience comes along that you know they will enjoy. Create opportunities to get your name publicized and capitalize on opportunities that showcase your strengths as a travel advisor.
"Hopefully, this one needs no explanation," says NEST's Andrew Wainer.
Call clients back as soon as you can. Nothing shows attention like a speedy reply, even if it's just to say that you're working on finding the answer to their request.
What can you book ahead for your clients? Which activities might sell out early that you'll need to make them aware of?
Sociable and Smiling
Are you happy to hear from clients when you answer the phone? Smile, they'll be able to hear it in your voice.
Just like your mama said, honesty is always the best policy.
If you are in constant communication with the travel community—and you should be—you will be able to offer your clients the most up-to-date information on airlines, hotels, car-rental agencies, travel visas and other pertinent travel services as you plan their trip.
In its article, "101 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent," ASTA offers an excellent reminder: You can make your clients' vacation dollars go farther. Through you, they have access to finding all sorts of deals, ranging from flights to hotels to dinner recommendations. Plan the most vacation for the best value.
Where To Go With Kids (or Where To Go To Avoid Them)
Expand the horizons of your clients. A vacation can be earth-friendly, compassionate, thrill-seeking—or all three. Offer options that go beyond their wildest dreams.
Year After Year
Bring your clients back again and again by offering them service that can't be matched anywhere else. You'll both win.
The word "zenith" is a synonym for pinnacle, summit or apex. The message is that you want to bring your client a mountaintop experience. Do all you can to plan a memorable vacation—the trip your clients will refer to as their best ever.