|Nexion’s Friedman: Think of incentives as tokens of appreciation.|
Referrals are a highly effective marketing tool and for home-based travel agents in particular they are vital for business. Agents know they can tap into many creative incentives to both retain customers and secure referral business. But should they?
Many agents shy away from putting a referral incentive together because of the perceived cost involved, says Drew Daly, vice president of sales performance, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.. Jackie Friedman, president of Nexion, says that incentives can work, but they strongly recommend agents focus more on soft incentives versus any hard dollar spend.
“For instance, an agent’s quality of service is the foundation for why someone will refer business to him,” Daly notes. “A person genuinely wants his friends and family to have the same experience he had with the agent.”
He says the best referral incentive is recognition to the customer who referred the business. “So say ‘thank you’ and tell them you greatly appreciate their business and support.”
Daly suggests small travel gifts or logo items that reflect your agency brand—so as the customer uses his or her free gift, you reach even more potential customers.
Friedman says she likes to think of an incentive as simply a token of appreciation—such as a hand-written note or a small gift card: “The key is to convey just how much you appreciate them.”
Michelle Fee, president and CEO, Cruise Planners, advocates a couple of programs to generate referrals. One is to offer a reward (gift card) to those clients that refer potential cruisers.
Or, she says, if you have a few cabins booked on a particular ship/itinerary, let your customers know that they will receive additional amenities if they refer a friend. You can use the group amenities as well as the tour conductor berth to offset costs.
She also says that clients like immediate gratification, so Cruise Planners advises its franchisees to add incentives at the time of deposit. The philosophy, Fee says, is this: “If you were to advertise, there is a cost of doing business…it’s much cheaper to incentivize for a referral because you are only paying on ‘booked travel’. People are more apt to refer you if they are appreciated.”
It’s sad, our experts agree, but most businesses simply don’t express gratitude to their customers in a personal way. That can be the best gift of all—and help protect and maintain your relationship with the client.