1. I read in USA Today that Panera, the national fast-food restaurant that puts a focus on freshly baked breads and healthy foods, such as soups and salads, is bucking the downturn. It has raised prices this year and has come up with ways to improve the quality of the food it serves. “In a world where everyone is cutting back, we want to give more, not less,” says Panera’s CEO Ron Shaich, adding that people are surprised to receive a better food experience during a recession. And even though he’s the CEO of a company with 1,264 stores nationwide, he takes the time to read 20 to 30 customer e-mails a day.
2. It helps if your staff likes you. An article on Entrepreneur.com points out that, “When the employer provides an environment that is conducive to earning respect, employees will perform their work to these levels of expectation. But if there is no mutual respect, there is a likelihood that one or more of these requirements will not be met. In turn, the employer will lose customers and sacrifice the growth of the company.” This is especially true in a small office, says the article, where employees are often considered one of the company’s greatest assets. (P.S. to agency staffers: It helps if your manager likes you, too.)
3. London’s Daily Mail is reporting that United Airlines lost 10 percent of its market share after musician Dave Carroll wrote that great song about how the airline broke his guitar and refused to compensate him. He uploaded his video “United Breaks Guitars” on YouTube and has received nearly 4 million hits. Whether United is losing market share for this reason (or because it decided recently to make certain travel agencies pay the credit-card merchant fees for booking their tickets), there is a lesson to be learned here for all travel providers. United got busted by Carroll for flatly saying “No” to him when he tried to seek recompense for something that happened on his trip. Now, the airline is apologizing to its customers on Twitter because the video went viral and everyone knows about it. Hotels, other airlines and even travel agencies can easily be put in the same position. The challenge for you is to manage each customer problem fairly as it arises. Consumers are king now when it comes to getting their complaints aired.
4. You’re never too small to Twitter. Okay, this isn’t from the business pages, it’s from the street. I passed this sign outside of a sandwich truck off Park Avenue in Manhattan this week. The owner of this establishment updates his Twitter account daily with incentives to get customers to purchase meals during the slower times of the day. He also lets you know what he’s serving each day. (Today it’s popcorn chicken over waffle fries and organic salad. We may just head over there.) He only has 54 followers so far, but we at Travel Agent are following him because we salute his entrepreneurial spirit and we like good food sold from trucks.
Not on Twitter? You can still catch our fabulous webinar, which talks all about Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn; it’s posted on TravelAgentCentral.com. I’d like to thank the panelists, John Clifford, president of International Travel Management.com, and Sherry Laskin Kennedy, owner of the Vacation Shoppe. They both did tremendous research for their presentations and gladly shared their successes with social networking. These very successful travel agents are both rising stars in the social networking arena and we were very lucky to have them.