They say you cannot serve two masters, but in the old days, travel agents did.
Our transactional role as the “agent” between the supplier and customer saw many of us evolve as order takers – a role that had to change with the removal of supplier commissions and increasing demands from the end client who demanded a customer-centric approach.
A recent study by the Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) into what it takes to be a 21st century travel agent, revealed that customers still believe their needs and preferences play second fiddle to supplier incentives and commissions.
This supplier focus means the interests of a travel agent may not be aligned with providing the quality of service travellers desire.
With trust and credibility being the hallmarks of a strong relationship between travel agents and their customers, this perception could drive your customers to find and work with another platform they trust, threatening your very survival as a travel agent.
We talk about the evolution of the travel agent and how this role has evolved to meet the traveller’s priority needs and preferences. The value that travel agents provide has shifted from making a booking to assisting with the entire travel journey, from inspiration phase to post-travel. Our role has evolved to providing an end-to-end travel experience that is painless and pleasant, unforgettable and efficient.
The travel agent that spends time getting to know their traveller, builds trust and truly nurtures this relationship is the travel agent who can differentiate their service proposition and build a strong, sustainable relationship that transcends the booking event and results in repeat and referral business
It goes without saying that it is easier for an individual to build a long-term personal relationship based on listening, trust and a shared history, than it is for a company or a brand. In travel, however, it is essential that brands build that trust directly with customers to secure repeat and referral business beyond a specific consultant so that even if that consultant leaves, your customer stays.
So, how do you build this trust relationship with your customer?
In the past, companies would implement CRM systems hoping to create loyal and happy customers without making much effort to change the relationship culture within their organisation.
When this failed, they promptly declared CRM dead, without realising that CRM is, and always was, about managing the relationship not managing the customer.
The truth is that CRM isn’t dead at all. And in fact, used correctly, should be the key tool travel agencies use to help build a relationship of trust with their customers and secure their future survival.
To add real value, your CRM needs to integrate with what your travel company promises the end-customer. So, what you promise, you must deliver.
Travel agencies must use the information they glean when interacting with their customers to manage their relationship with customers, not manage their customers. Every time you deal with a customer, ask yourself: how will what I am doing improve my relationship of trust with this customer?
Then consider how you can refocus your CRM to nurture the relationship with your customer from pre-sales, through the sales process and then the delivery process so that they learn to trust you.
This entails developing a culture in your organisation of recording every interaction with your customer in your CRM. Use this information when you reach out to your customers through marketing, but also when you respond to customer queries and comments. Each engagement is an opportunity to nurture your relationship with your end customer.
There is no doubt that there has been a shift in the way that our customers engage with us – from face-to-face interaction in the past, to digital touch points today. The onus is on us to remain relevant and communicate our value proposition consistently across all communication channels throughout the travel process.
The best way to do this remains CRM, although perhaps it’s less about customer relationship management and more about customer relationship nurturing in the world of a 21st century travel agent.
An experienced and talented problem solver in the business and technical arena, Craig Byren is the MD of ViaData, which develops custom business systems to meet accurately defined business requirements and specialises in travel CRM.
Craig’s strengths are in systems design and data modelling, then turning abstract requirements into practical implementations. Passionate about creating systems that last forever, travel CRM and using technology to empower people servicing customers, Craig has extensive experience in gathering business requirements, both hands-on by reviewing existing systems and databases, as well as through facilitated workshops.
His qualifications in accounting, business science and information systems give him a strong, pragmatic understanding of business systems.