Irrespective of industry, the most successful salespeople understand human nature. They understand what motivates people in general and their clients in particular. They understand the best ways of communicating, including what words to use, what tone of voice and how best to package their offer. In short, they understand psychology.
For travel agents this means understanding exactly what their clients are looking for in terms of their vacation and in how they are communicated with. A travel agent’s ability to customize their customers’ experiences, both the sales experiences and the resulting vacations, is critical.
According to Dr. Gregory Stebbins, author of "People Savvy for Sales Professionals" and a partner at People Savvy, a training and consulting company, there are three key psychological components a travel agent must understand to be effective: understanding what motivates the customer, what their behavior approach is and how they communicate effectively.
In this, the first of a two-part series, Travel Agent explores how agents can use psychology to get to the heart of what their clients are looking for in their vacations.
For Ensemble president and CEO Jack Mannix, understanding clients’ motivations are the root of what travel professionals do as retailers. “If you don’t truly understand what the customer is going to be getting out of their vacation, you might miss the mark in terms of what you recommend to them or what you’re marketing to them,” he tells Travel Agent.
There are four primary life motivators, says Dr. Stebbins: money, recognition, self-preservation and romantic idea. It is the last that is most important for travel agents to understand. Every client’s romantic ideal is different. For some it could be an intimate couple’s vacation, for others an active family vacation.
To determine what the primary motivator is travel professionals must ask tailored questions about what the client is looking for in, and what they’re seeking to get out of the vacation. If you listen carefully to the way the clients speak, they’ll tell you what’s motivating them.
A good listener may also pick up on a secondary motivator. For instance, two couples may be primarily motivated by the desire for a weekend getaway, but one is also motivated by recognition, while the other is motivated by money. For the first couple, a destination where they can parade themselves might be a good fit – such as a large beach resort, while for the second couple depending on if they’re looking to save or spend money, some other vacation experience may be the best fit.
They way a client speaks will also tell you what kind of person they are. Are they outgoing and socially focused? If so, someplace with a lot of people would be good. Are they reserved, with an intellectual bent? If yes, a vacation with an emphasis on culture might be a good bet.
Being able to determine these things is a skill most travel agents don’t spend enough time honing, Mannix says, adding that the abilities to listen and ask probing questions are part of that skill. “The ability to really feel and hear what’s going on is a key differentiator for the true travel professional,” he says.
And this can only be achieved by listening and questioning, not by immediately jumping into a canned description of a destination, resort or cruise, Mannix adds.
“I think an agent’s ability not to move to a solution right away is critical,” Dr. Stebbins says. “Agents really need to diagnose what kind of experience the client is after.”
Today, most people are smart enough to pick up on when an agent immediately jumps into pushing a top margin trip, Dr. Stebbins adds. And while, in the end, that trip may be the best choice for them, people are not likely to be loyal to someone who has not taken the time to get to know them. However, clients are much more appreciative of the work their travel agents do when it includes time spent on truly understanding who they are and what they want.
The end result is a business friendship, Mannix says. And friends are much more likely to return to book their next vacation.
Sometimes, the ability to hear what is preventing clients from traveling is also important. This was especially true this past year, when Mannix says for Ensemble agents felt a “customer emotional pushback.” Either because people had been laid off, were afraid of getting laid off or were feeling guilty because they hadn’t been laid off, emotions were getting in the way of travel planning.
Ensemble therefore aimed its marketing, specifically its Vacation Therapy campaign, at customers’ emotions, rather than the intellectual stimulus of added value or money off discounts. Agents were given tips on how to address their clients’ concerns, including ways to assuage any guilt or fear they might have been feeling.
According to Mannix, the Vacation Therapy concept was very successful, and in its recent second iteration Ensemble tweaked the campaign to reflect the changing emotional landscape of customers.
For instance, the guilt fact, particularly in the most affluent of customers, has subsided, so is now marginally addressed, Mannix says.