Agents encouraged to establish an identity

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FORT LAUDERDALE — For home-based travel agents who want a stronger identity in the marketplace, they should consider themselves a brand, said Steven Kaufman, president of TripAtlas.com.

"Use consistent colors, logo, a distinctive look and set of standards for dealing with clients," he said.

Kaufman, whose Toronto-based firm provides a travel database for consumers and lead-generation services to the trade, offered his advice during a session called "Business Solutions for the Home-Based Agency" at Travel Weekly's Home-Based Travel Agent Show and Conference.

When establishing an agency identity, "consistency is your best tool," Kaufman said.

"Ask the same questions of each client, answer the phone in a specific way. Set your bar very high. Deliver information when you say you will. Keep your promises."

Fellow panel member Greg Kott, CEO of Web services provider Passport Online, said, "Figure out what your identity is and don’t hide that." He said each agent’s website" should make clear what you do that is special."

Debbie Maier, president of MailPound, a provider of marketing support for agents, urged agents to "stay in touch with clients in all ways." That includes social media, which she said can be a good way to direct prospects to an agency website.

Kaufman added that an agent’s customer relationship management (CRM) database "ties in perfectly with social media. You can send ‘tweets to peeps’ with last-minute offers," he said — to a few chuckles.

Kott said Facebook fan pages are still in experimental stages at Passport Online, but he urged delegates to "get involved with social media even if you are unsure of its potential."

Making it unanimous, at least among the four-person panel, Chris Flores, the Verified Travel Consultant program manager at ARC, said, "Social media is an extension of the brand."

On the other hand, old tools aren’t dead. Kaufman said marketing is a "process" that includes radio interviews, newsletters, community events and so forth.

To make old or new media effective, Kaufman, as well as fellow panelists, said agents need CRM databases to store client demographics and even details of previous conversations.

"You can start with an Excel file," he said, "or even on paper."

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