Outside thinking

ot sure if you need the services of an outside consultant? And if you do, would you know how to find the right one?

Geoffrey Day, president of the Consulting Exchange in Cambridge, Mass., offers free consultant referral services in a range of fields from banking and food services to marketing and travel.

One mistake business owners frequently make, Day said, is limiting their search for consultants to those within one's own industry.

"There's fabulous value in what I call cross-pollination [between industries]," Day said.

Day."A consultant can bring an agency up to reasonable standards very quickly without knowing about the travel industry if they know, for example, standard office operations instead," he said, adding that improvements in these areas can be integrated generically.

Examples of standard operations include marketing materials, customer service skills and technical infrastructure at the hardware or software level, Day said.

Another important area in which consultants can help is customer retention, he said.

"We follow the old adage that it's cheaper to develop a relationship with an existing customer than to find a new one," Day said.

To help agents determine their needs, Day has come up with a series of guidelines that can help them get started:

  • Start by defining your end point.
  • What results are you looking for when your consultant has finished the job? Consultants can help you define your goals, but don't let them redefine your problem in light of irrelevant solutions or specialized skills, or you might end up with greater problems than you started with.

  • Know if you need a consultant at all.
  • Sometimes a contractor or new staffer fits the bill better than a consultant. A consultant helps you identify your problem, devise a solution, then implement it. A contractor implements existing plans when you're perfectly clear about what the problem is.

  • Seek someone who listens.
  • To a carry out a useful analysis, your consultant must listen and be capable of understanding your organization and industry, your goals and what problem-solving methods you've already tried.

    The right consultant can point to examples of past clients who have traveled similar routes successfully.

  • Cut to the chase.
  • Short on time? Then consider using a referral service.

    The Consulting Exchange can be reached at (800) 824-4828, via e-mail at [email protected]or through its Web site at www.cx.com.

    -- Felicity Long

    Consulting tips

    tlanta-based Worldspan unveiled a 12-page Guide to Consulting that offers travel agents tips on how to improve their own skills as consultants.

    "Bookings will continue to be an important part of the business, but consulting and other special services have begun to comprise a larger piece of the revenue pie chart," said Cheryl Welcon, director of agency sales and marketing for Worldspan, in the introduction.

    The guide offers articles on such topics as identifying and sharpening each agency's skill sets, finding the right market niche, researching the marketplace, reaching out to prospects, opening and closing a sale and determining fees.

    Here are some tips on closing a sale from the guide:

  • Get to the point.
  • Be upbeat and friendly.
  • Intuit the person's mood and react accordingly.
  • Know something about the prospect's business or needs.
  • Give the client more than he or she expects and work to secure a face-to-face meeting.
  • Qualify the prospect as the decision-maker.
  • "Do not waste time on gatekeepers who can't commit to services."

  • Set a deadline.
  • "Note that every day that passes costs your prospect money because he or she isn't using your services."

  • Discuss the alternatives.
  • Demonstrate to the prospect what it would cost them not to use your services, and have sales figures and projections ready.

    As to determining an hourly rate for agents trying to set fees, the guide offers the following formula:

    "Calculate the total annual costs of the agency and divide that by the total number of employee hours. Investigate the consulting marketplace to determine whether the estimate is appropriate for the market."

    Copies of the guide are available by calling (800) 555-9185.

    Travel truisms

    very year, I travel more than 100,000 miles. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about travel. Every now and then some odd observation pops into my head -- something that I just can't explain. Maybe you can:

  • Why are the cabin crew members on a particular flight all in the same mood? If one flight attendant is upbeat and cheery, so are all the others. And if one treats passengers like babies who need discipline, so do the rest.
  • What prompted Las Vegas to replicate cities from around the world.

  • What deep significance lies behind the trend in Las Vegas to reproduce Egypt, Rome, Paris, Venice, New York and who-knows-where next?
  • How did the practice of Carnival stateroom stewards turning your bathroom towels into little animals start? And does Carnival have to stock five times more towels than usual to keep all those animals going?
  • Why are the fluorescent lights in car rental transfer vans weird colors? Does a certain rental company think that green lighting makes people loyal to them? And does another company think yellow repels bad customers, like bug lights?
  • Why do we tell everybody that careers in travel have no future, then bemoan the fact we can't find anyone to hire?
  • Why do all but one of the moving sidewalks at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas lead in, not out? (The one that does lead out is almost always broken.)
  • Actually, I think I know the answer to that one.

  • What do hotels have in mind when they buy alarm clock radios that require a degree in engineering to operate?
  • When did suites become one big room, instead of two?
  • Why do we tell survey-takers that training is critical, then say we don't have time for it?
  • Why is it that, as you wait at the airport curbside for a hotel shuttle, every brand comes by five times except the one you need?
  • Why are taxis in New York and Los Angeles usually 20-year-old, falling-apart vehicles (with a half-dozen warning lights illuminated on the dashboard), while cities in developing nations often have Mercedes cabs?
  • What are flight attendants doing when you hear them chopping ice, quite violently, in the plane's galley?
  • Why is it that every time you freeze-frame one of the Cruise Lines International Association or Iatan videos I'm in, I look stupid? (Try it. You'll see.)
  • Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles College.

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