Richard Turen
Richard Turen
This week I thought we would take a journey together. We're going to visit your agency, your home office, your world. And we're going to brainstorm the way your company conducts business to see if there are some ways of doing things that might help improve the services you offer your clients.


But this is a boot camp, and I'll be challenging some of your long-held assumptions. Don't be angry with me. Just consider if there might be a kernel of truth in what I am asserting.

I am going to ask you a series of questions. I hope these questions will lead to some internal discussions that might produce some new and more productive ways of doing things at your company. I want to make you better competitors at a time when the retail seller is being challenged on so many levels.

Perhaps you didn't sign up to be an innovator. But the times really are a-changin. It is now imperative that you have the ability and the courage to innovate in some exciting new ways that will appeal to a new class of educated travel consumers.

So let's start at the beginning:

1) Who answers the phones at your agency, and what do they say when they pick up?

My consulting clients almost always have a hard time with this one. The newest agent, the office secretary or the company intern answers the phone. They answer with the name of the agency and, if it's large enough, a "How may I direct your call?"

Wrong. Why isn't the most talented, most experienced person on your staff answering the phones? Don't you realize that you can make or break a relationship in the first 30 seconds on the phone? Why would you ever have a travel novice answering your calls? Oh, I get it. You want to show the caller just how average you really are.

And what do you say when you answer? This is critically important to differentiate you from every other agency that answers the phone in exactly the same way. Here's your goal: You want callers to say, "I love the way you answer the phone. No one has ever greeted me that way." Now, I want you to figure out what that greeting ought to be. Create it and own it.

2) Why have you chosen such a silly name for your business?

I mean, what does a bland, generic agency name communicate to the consumer? It says, "Hey look, I'm just one of about 20,000 same-old travel agencies and, while you might expect me to select a name that differentiates me from the travel agency masses, I'm not creative enough to do that, so let me creatively work on your itinerary."

Are you really stuck with your business identity and your meaningless name? You may think you are, but you're not. The changing of your name enables you to more accurately brand your company. It will enable you to play on your strengths. It will announce a "rebirth" and a rededication to some core principles. Your clients will appreciate your forward thinking and your new, modern look.

3) Why are you ignoring the most simple way to define who you are and what you do?

Every time your agency's name is used anywhere you are likely missing out on one of the essentials of Marketing 101. A great tagline can be even more valuable than your company name. Your tagline is what differentiates you from everyone else. It immediately confers an identity to what you do, the kind of travel you handle, in just a few words. But it has been my experience that the vast majority of agencies just leave a big blank space below their name, failing to take advantage of a free opportunity to tell the world who you are.

I understand why you are reluctant to use a tagline. It could pigeonhole you. It could be self-limiting. "Guam's Best Cruise Specialist" might not be broad enough. Taglines can become obsolete; you might want to add a bus-tour division and have that reflected in your tagline. But that's the beauty of a tagline. You can't be changing the name of your agency more than once, but a tagline can be updated every year or two. It can be freshened to perfectly indicate not only who you are but the kind of client you are trying to attract.

Every agency bemoans the unprofitable long-weekend, four-day-cruise or Vegas-weekend client. But unless you take care of them, will they ever come back for something more substantial that is profitable? Get over that fallacy. For something upscale, most consumers will turn to a firm that looks and sounds like it understands the upscale environment.

Saying simply "Jane's Agency" leaves the impression that you are a do-it-all travel agency. The lack of a tagline is an invitation to have time wasters call your number. The tagline says exactly what you want to communicate, such as "Complete Vacation Packages -- Escorted Tours & Cruises Exclusively." One agency launched a tag line that reads "For the Big Vacations in Your Life." This is a way to communicate to the public that your firm is dedicated to the really important, aka expensive, vacations they might consider. It implies that short-term bargain hunters should look elsewhere.

4) Tell me quickly: What products won't your agency sell because they are not good enough to stock on your shelves?

I would expect that your agency has had meetings to discuss which air, package, tour and cruise products meet your criteria. Those should be the only ones you will represent. The fact is that many of our clients should just put off their vacation until they can afford to do it with some level of confidence that it will be hassle-free and memorable. But too many agencies sell whatever garbage travel the client mentions because they saw an ad somewhere that promised a deal. And please don't tell me that you sell your consortium's products. Every consortium has to cater to a large percentage of "we sell virtually anything" travel agencies and outside sales agents. There is absolutely no ethical requirement that you must represent every product on your consortium's shelves.

Any physician can verbally justify why they have recommended a specific medicine. If you walk into a paint store, the clerk can identify why a specific brand is being suggested for the job you have in mind. But travel consultants seem willing to sell a wide variety of products in every category.

So this is what I want you to consider: Are your company standards in writing? Do you have product criteria that every employee understands and supports? Do your clients understand that you have these standards and that you rigidly enforce them?

Is your staff authorized to say, "We choose not to represent x because they do not meet our corporate quality criteria"?

Take this to the bank. Everyone brags about the products they sell and how well they are doing selling them. You win production awards and you have certificates to hang on the wall. And, every once in a while, you get to experience the product for free. That's all fine. But if I am consulting with you, I don't much care about any of that. What I want to know is what do you refuse to sell at your agency and why?

5) Who says we've discovered all the business models in existence?

There are two models, right? The traditional travel agent and the outside or home-based agent. But I'm not at all sure that is correct. Is our industry caught in a developmental rut where everyone uses the same terminology and imitates what someone else in town is already doing?

The internet is totally confusing to most travel searchers. Does your agency have a travel-search sherpa or researcher who distills searches into useful summaries for clients? Who says your staff should be selling at all? Booking a trip is easy; who does the one-on-one follow-up, the detail work, the pre/post and the air, the insurance, etc.? If it's the best salesperson on your staff, that is a major waste of sales talent. Why not invent follow-up specialists, give them a name and pay them well? Every time you have top salespeople doing anything but selling, you are making an important tactical business blunder.

Instead of outside sales agents, why not formalize a nonpaid position as a travel referral associate or something similar. Create an exciting new position that rewards those whose job involves no selling -- strictly referrals.

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