Who said everyone's memory is in a computer these days? Where is it
written that all database management involves high-tech systems?
Sure, computers are very handy memory aids, and e-tools are
essential to complex data sorting, but the simple, low-tech
approach has its place, too.
Just ask Adriane Greene, the owner/manager of Welcome Travel in
Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y. She describes her market as a place where
people have "low-tech ways," where customers stop in to bring
treats or show baby pictures, and while they're there, grab a piece
of the candy that is always on offer.
It also is a market where direct mail has produced "zero
response" and cruise
nights aren't very successful either.
But clients and friends of clients do drop by at the $1.5
million leisure agency to put their names and special travel
requests on "the Wall."
Greene said she and her staff had tried keeping tabs on pending
client requests in a common notebook. But that did not work very
"It was just pushed aside," she said. So, one day, in about
1985, the agents started plastering "stickies" on the wall next to
Those reminders "are in our faces every day," and the staff
essentially has every item memorized, Greene said.
were 20 stickies on the wall one recent day. Some stay there for
months. But, eventually, about 50% to 75% end in a purchase, Greene
said, and from her standpoint, the Wall is "super-effective."
She figures it accounts for $50,000 in annual sales. Also, she
believes it is another useful bond that keeps customers coming back
because it is visible evidence that "we are looking out for
-- Nadine Godwin
f you look at your business
from the customer's point of view, you will focus on helping those
customers more, said David Biltek, who owns Travelhandlers in Grand
If you help customers more, he told agents at the annual Giants
conference in Atlanta, you will keep your customers, they will
provide more referrals, and you will sell more travel. Staff will
be motivated, too.
In a workshop on retaining clients, Biltek emphasized the
importance of an electronic client list.
But the picture is not complete without "walking a mile in your
customers' shoes," he said.
Biltek was referring to the concept of "human marketing,"
developed by Toronto-based lecturer Donald Cooper.
At his agency, Biltek applied the techniques outlined in
Cooper's instructional videos and cassette tapes.
He said the heart of the program is identifying customer
stresses about travel. These include stresses that are produced by
the agency itself, such as its location. Biltek's agency, for
instance, is on the second floor, up a flight of stairs.
The more detailed an agency's answers to the program's questions
pertaining to customer stress, the more effectively the agency can
alleviate those stresses, he said.
At Travelhandlers, Biltek said, he organized a series of
full-staff meetings, with a facilitator, to flesh out a detailed
picture of client concerns and to develop solutions.
sent a survey to 300 top clients, asking them to identify causes of
travel-related stress and how the agency contributes to stress.
(The latter could be anything from too many rings before an
agent answers the phone to long waits in the office for
He said 60 to 75 replied, and 10% of those frequent travelers
said they were afraid to fly. So the agency conducted a
flying seminar last year that was well-attended, brought
referrals and yielded good press coverage.
The agency also prepares destination dossiers for each customer
that include relevant Weissmann Travel Reports and maps from the
Biltek said dossiers are sent to clients immediately because,
besides providing information, the missives enhance the chance of
Also, due to concerns about losing documents, Travelhandlers
designed a document holder for clients. That brings referrals, as
Biltek urged other agents to undertake similar projects to
understand clients' stresses.
Additionally, he advised: Hire a facilitator, spend extra time
with the facilitator, explain to the staff why you are doing this,
include all staff, devote extended chunks of time to the effort,
have rules of procedure and review the effectiveness of the effort
every few months.
Pay cuts: 'Deja vu all over again ...'
ommission-cutting didn't start
in 1995 with Delta's caps; it started in 1946 when the airlines
went from 7.5% to 5%.
And 2002 isn't the first year agents have been at zero. The
trade was not paid by suppliers in the industry's earliest days,
and some agents objected when ASTA in 1931 won agency commissions
from the ship lines. Those agents worried their clients would never
trust them again.
Nolan Burris, president of Vancouver-based Visionistics
Enterprises, recalled these and other tidbits from the past to help
agents at the ASTA Southern Regional Conference there put their
current situation into perspective.
He had two things to say about the overrides that remain:
• They are nice, "but run your business as if they didn't exist,
because someday they may not."
• If they influence your choice of supplier, don't claim your
service is unbiased. "Tell clients when you are biased and why.
That's OK. Be honest."
Burris said the trade missed the opportunity to charge fees in
the days before computers, when agents were the only source of
information. Instead, the trade did a fine job of convincing people
their services "weren't worth paying for."
Today, with viable fee structures, he said, there are agents
making profits of 15%, 17%, 22%. "The secret is making customers
To that end, Burris advised, "examine every decision at your
agency from the customer's standpoint. Ask: Are you a travel agent
or a travelers' agent?"
Success also depends on knowing your costs and charging
"You can get fees for anything," Burris said.
He offered a list of possible add-on services: negotiating
supplier deals; managing usage of frequent flyer points; consulting
with clients in their homes and offices; consulting on travel
policy creation ("the going rate is $5,000 for about 10 hours of
work"); making dinner reservations (at www.zagat.com); booking
seats at sports and cultural events (at www.ticketmaster.com); making referral arrangements
with pet-sitters; and packaging the results of product searches on