Who's Doing What: Staff Assignments Are Key to Profitability

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Are all your agents handling all types of business?

Are all your clients and calls handled by whoever is available ... or by the agent "next in turn" for a call or client?

Do your agents return telephone calls on a "first come, first served" or "easiest request" basis?

Is your agency manager producing the highest levels of commissions in the office?

The Right Answer Is...
If your answer is yes to any of the above questions, your office is not organized for profit. The organization of work assignments in an agency can be a major contributor to its profit or potential profit. It is essential to have a plan and follow it.

Handling clients on a random basis or on the basis of which agent is "up next" gravely limits an agency's profit potential.

Organization of work in a travel agency requires looking at the types of requests that come in as well as at the capabilities and compensation levels of agents. The Golden Rule of Personnel Management states: "Whenever possible, have the lowest-paid person capable of doing a job be the one to do it."

In too many agencies, requests from clients who do not ask for a specific agent are handled by anyone available. Thus, a client requesting a simple domestic airline ticket could be served by a senior agent although a lower-paid trainee is available when the ticket request is received.

The above situation can be even worse. While the senior agent is working on the domestic air ticket, a request is received for a South Pacific cruise or an African safari --and the most capable agent is busy with a simple air ticket. Hopefully -- but you cannot count on it -- the client will wait.

Besides assigning work based on the complexity of the task and the capability of the agent, assign clients with specific interests to agents with compatible interests. The task of making reservations and issuing domestic airline tickets does not require the expertise of a senior agent. An agent two months out of travel school should be able to take care of most of these tasks effectively and efficiently.

Support Staff
It is also necessary to evaluate the other tasks performed by counselors. Their professional skills are needed for activities related to finding and recommending travel products that will meet clients' needs. But how much time do agents devote to putting tickets together and other clerical or support activities that could be handled by lower-paid support personnel?

If your office has a staff of four or more, you can increase its efficiency by concentrating sales efforts in your trained and developing sales agents and establishing one position to provide support services for the sales agents. Besides providing clerical support, the person in this position can be the agency's receptionist, ensuring that work flows to the right agents.

Travel agencies that have established these positions have seen sales agent productivity increases as high as 35%. Even with a conservative estimate of three minutes per transaction for assembling tickets and invoices for mail, pickup or delivery, much high-paid time can be saved.

In addition, relieving more experienced agents of repetitive processing will make their jobs more enjoyable and challenging. As an example of the benefit of this support position, no sales agent we know enjoys processing Airlines Reporting Corp. refund and exchange notices (RENs). Because of staff distaste for this function, RENs can be delayed or lost.

When several agents are processing RENs infrequently, they are processed slowly and often with mistakes. If all REN processing is assigned to one person, the paperwork will be completed faster and with fewer errors.

There is no need for the person assigned to this position to have a CRS terminal at his or her desk. As a result, sales agents will generate more segments per CRT. This position can be "communications central" within your agency. Your agents won't have to wonder who is going to answer the phone. Sales agent work flow will be smoother, with fewer interruptions.

General office responsibilities should be assigned to specific individuals. For example, if tasks such as unlocking the airline plates and ticket stock, setting the postage meter, taking out the mail, etc., are not assigned to specific people, there will be duplication of effort or failure to get the job done.

Prioritizing
No agency can be fully staffed at peak times. If it were, it would be seriously overstaffed during normal and soft sales periods. Agencies also have days when more agents than expected are out of the office. When call volume exceeds the ability to accept calls, priorities should be established for calling back.

Potential for profit should determine the order of returning calls. Repeat clients should be called first, followed by new inquiries for profitable products such as cruises and tours. Requests for low-cost air tickets should be returned only after potentially more profitable business is under control.

If your agency manager is the highest sales producer in your agency, your manager is not managing. The only exceptions to this are when the manager is selling very expensive, upscale cruises and tours or large groups and is supported by other staff members.

More sales should be delegated to the sales agents in the office so that the manager can concentrate on training and on planning for a profitable future.

Phil and Doris Davidoff, co-owners of Belair/Empress Travel in Bowie, Md., also operate Davidoff Associates, an industry education and consulting firm.

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