Audrey Hendley, of vice president of marketing for American Express Consumer Travel Network, served up an excellent and inspiring presentation at the Luxury Travel Expo in which she cited five exercises travel agents can use to improve business during the economic downturn.
"This is a big, big world; it's a beautiful place and our clients want to experience it," said Hendley.
Her recommended exercises are:
- Understand the customer's psyche— Hendley noted that Tiffany's is now emphasizing price by advertising engagement rings "from $1,400 and up" while Nordstrom is now emphasizing that clients will "never pay more," and that these two luxury retailers were certainly not promoting that value message last year. She also cited a recent American Express survey of travel agents that said there's been a marked increase in their clients looking for bargains and using points to earn travel.
- Stand out from the crowd— "There's a lot of sameness out there," Hendley said. "We need to go deeper." She noted the culinary and adventure tour are programs that stand out, and suggested that small changes can make a big impact— from updating stationary to adding another coat of paint to the office. Hendley pointed to LG, the appliance manufacturer which sells its products in bright colors, as an example. She admitted that she had recently bought a bright red washer and dryer from LG because she thought they were beautiful. "I'm making a statement with them," she said. "I've redecorated my entire basement around them."
- Exude passion— "When you pick up the phone do you sound as if you're really glad the customer called?" Hendley asked. "It's easier to buy a suit from someone who loves clothes and knows their product. Similarly, for travel agents, people want to buy travel from someone with passion."
- Grow with your client— "Aunts and uncles are on Facebook, it's not just kids," Hendley said, pointing out that research shows that 85 percent of Facebook users have four-plus years of college and spend 24 minutes on the site. "Have you logged onto Facebook?" she asked. "Growing with your customer helps you stay in tune with them."
- Keep learning— "Use this time for 'agent stays' at hotels," Hendley said. "There's no substitute for personal experience. Take in the environment. Then go home and share it with your colleagues."