Effective Communication in Selling Travel

Irrespective of industry, the most successful salespeople understand human nature. Last week Travel Agent explored how travel professionals can learn to understand what motivates their clients, and how this builds strong, lasting relationships that last into the future. But just as important for agents is understanding the psychology of communication, including learning how to speak and what vocabulary to use to present their offer.

In this, the second of a two-part series, Travel Agent explores how agents can identify their clients’ communications behavioral style, how to adapt their own behavior and what words to choose when speaking to clients.

“The last thing we want to do is have an agent go through the sales process from A to Z and come back to the table with the right product, but then, just by the way they’re communicating, not match the customer in a way that could result in not getting the sale,” says Drew Daly, vice president of sales performance for CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.

As part of the companies’ training, agents listen to actual sales conversations between agents and clients. They hear both calls that go well and calls where the agent is unable to connect with the client.

In order to help their agents avoid the latter scenario, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. launched a training program based on the DISC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness) personality assessment. Through training, agents learn what personality type they are and how to adapt their behavior to other personality types.   

The Four Personalities

Dr. Gregory Stebbins, author of People Savvy for Sales Professionals and a partner at People Savvy, a  training, coaching and consulting company, offers a quick explanation of the personality types:

A D personality is somebody who needs to be in a position of power, dominance and control. A D-client will typically contact an agent and say "this is where I want to go and this is what I want to do."  Communication with a D-client should be quick and to the point. Travel agents should not spend a lot of time trying to convince D-clients that a different vacation option is better because they’ve usually come in with their minds made up. However, if they’ve made a decision based on erroneous information, the agent must communicate that to them.

An I personality is somebody who is outgoing and social. An I-client will want to be the agent’s friend; they’ll want to sit and chat. Agents should indulge these clients and take the time to be friendly. However, they need to be cautious because the majority of agents are also I personalities and the chatting can go on a very long time. According to Dr. Stebbins, once I-clients have established a relationship with an agent, they’re likely to stay with that agent for life.

An S personality is very reserved and doesn’t like a lot of change. An S-client is calm, relaxed and consistent. The S-client will want to go someplace safe, someplace tried and true. Agents should be patient and deliberate in their communications with an S-client and should consider recommending a product the client is already familiar with.

A C personality is analytical, detail-oriented and cautious. The C-client will analyze every aspect of their vacation before making a decision to purchase. Communication with a C-client should be systematic. The C-client will want to do a budget accounting of every aspect and look at the pros and cons of every option. A detail-oriented travel consultant will work well with this client. However, convincing a C-client to commit to a booking can sometimes take so long it’s not worth the time spent with them.

To be a successful salesperson, travel agents must communicate with each client in the manner in which they will be most effective. Like a chameleon, they must change their communication style to match that of their clients.

But before they can do this, they must first understand their own personalities. To do this, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. administer a 25- to 30-question evaluation. Once agents have pinpointed their own behavioral type, they can learn how to adapt.

Both Dr. Stebbins and Daly agree, the best way to learn adaptation techniques is through practice and role-playing. This must be done between two people of different personality types so that each can give the other feedback.

Dr. Stebbins also suggests videotaping practice sessions so participants can actually see when they did and, more importantly, did not, manage to adapt their behavioral style.

Staying in Touch

While agency executives consistently tell agents they need to stay in front of their customers, including calling them occasionally even if just to say hello, Dr. Stebbins says this may not be effective for all clients.

While I-clients will always be open to a call and happy to spend a few minutes chatting, clients with other personality types may not be as open. D-clients, for instance, tend to be busy people and may not appreciate a call unless the agent has something very specific to offer, and is as brief as possible. S-clients tend to be private and reserved, so unless an agent has already established a strong rapport with them, they are not typically open to unsolicited phone calls. C-clients, like D-clients, are not interested in wasting time chatting. However, if an agent has some new information regarding a booking the client is already considering, the C-client will want to know.

If agents want to stay on top of D- and S-clients, Dr. Stebbins suggests e-mailing rather than calling. You may ask if they’re open to a phone call, he adds.

Choose Your Words With Care

In their everyday speaking, people use a select group of words through which they interpret the world around them. The most successful salespeople will use their clients’ customary language to communicate with them, so that clients do not need to translate what they’ve been told, thereby avoiding miscommunication.

Agents can learn which words to use during the questioning process. By listening to the vocabulary clients use when answering questions, agents know which terminology to use. For instance, if a client says he is looking for a relaxed vacation, but the travel agent or the brochure for the product the agent may suggest uses the word “laid-back,” the agent should instead say “relaxed.”

Clients immediately understand and connect with a travel retailer that speaks their language, Dr. Stebbins says. “If we change the words, or we use what I call travel brochure language, it may or may not resonate with the client," he adds. "The client is going to have to take the information that you’ve just given them and translate it in their heads, and they may not translate it correctly, because they’re going to translate it based on their own experience.”

Additionally, language is often determined by how people perceive the world through their senses. All people have a preference for one sense over the others. In the U.S., most people are sight dominant, with a significant number focused on their auditory sense.

Speaking to clients using visual or auditory vocabulary is another way to increase the effectiveness of communication. Once again, by listening to clients speak, a travel professional can determine which words to use.

For instance, a visual person will say things like: “That looks interesting,” or “Show me more.” An auditory person will say: “That sounds interesting,” “or “Tell me more.” 

Dr. Stebbins offers has some suggestions on wording to use when speaking to visual and auditory clients.

To present an offer to a visual person an agent could say: “Today, I’m going to show you something you may not have seen before. I’ll try to make it colorful for you.”

For an auditory client, an agent could say: “I’m going to tell you something you might not have heard before, which will hopefully sound harmonious to you.”

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