I found your recently published column, "Sell Me Something, Please!" (July 30, 2007) very interesting.
Your experience with the vet and the thoughts you expressed as a result of that experience exactly parallel the feelings and thoughts I have every time I leave a trade event/training function. Unfortunately, this conceptual, almost sterile thought process does not square with today's day-to-day reality in the trenches.
I have absolutely no doubt you were very excited about the possibility of an upgrade in both geography and service levels of your veterinary provider. Both of those things are, however, very tangible attributes, which the vet has available to provide to another customer if you opt to place your business elsewhere. Even with this realization, the vet's front-line personnel could not get past the fact that your sincere interest as a potential customer probably represents less than 10 percent of their similar encounters—the other 90 percent yielding "no sale." As travel consultants, we don't have the luxury of better boarding facilities, and our geographic advantage is only as good as the length of a telephone or other electronic connection. Our stock in trade is our knowledge, our contacts, and most importantly, our time. Once we expend that time with a potential client, we have absolutely no way of getting it back, regardless of whether that time, knowledge and expertise yields a relationship and a sale with the resultant commission or fees.
When my first son was born, my wife and I "interviewed" pediatricians. Interestingly, the pediatricians all charged us for an office visit. We were glad to pay, considering we were embarking on an 18-year relationship. The pediatricians all sat down with us to answer our "new parent" questions, convey their philosophies and talk about office procedures. One of the pediatricians "won" our business. All of the pediatricians—not just the "winner"—were compensated for their time.
A veterinary relationship should be a long-standing relationship. A travel consultant relationship should also be a long-standing relationship—based on mutual trust and respect. Part of that respect must be respect on the part of the traveler that the travel consultant deserves to be compensated for their knowledge, contacts and time.
I would love nothing more than to provide a fresh, spirited, insightful dialogue each and every time the telephone rings. That is the enthusiasm I bring to bear after returning from those trade seminars and training sessions. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to sustain those levels when the other end of the phone considers the travel agent a commodity and only wants the lowest price on the "Ship of Fools," sailing December 15 in Category XYZ.
Larry D. Swerdlin, CTC
Burton Travel Ltd.
I just read your editorial about the value of suppliers to the agent community ("Suppliers and Agents," August 6, 2007), and believe me, I agree completely. I have many, many colleagues and friends who are truly experts in their fields, and who like nothing more than to share this knowledge with their travel agent friends. Each time I attend an industry function (and I have been to more than I can count), I see colleagues I've known and worked with for decades.
It's this collective knowledge that continues to make our travel agents more professional in every part of their day.
Thanks for your support!
Bill Lawrence Director, Supplier Strategies CCRA International, Inc.