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.
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.
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.