Jamie Biesiada is on leave. This insight originally appeared in the Home-based Agent eNewsletter Oct. 22, 2018.
Customer loyalty is all-important to agents, but it's something that is earned through effort, not just a simple weekly email.
"I think the biggest challenge we have in our industry is because vacations are not everyday purchases, they're by and large once a year," said Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean International's senior vice president of sales, trade support and service. "People are not loyal to their travel agent."
I recently sat down with Freed aboard Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas to talk about the issue.
Royal asks people why they jump around and switch agencies. The top answer?
"'I didn't remember who my travel agent was,'" Freed said. "No. 2 was, 'I don't know, I just didn't feel a connection.' It is not about price. This goes for all suppliers: by and large, people shuffle around agencies.'"
It's not a matter of getting bad service, Freed said. Instead, it's because the consumer simply didn't feel a need to book with the same agent.
"The worst spot to be is in that indifference, they're in that middle ground so they leave their agency because they had no reason to stay," she said.
Knowing this, Freed often asks agents how they stay in touch with clients. The common response is an email once a week.
"That's great, but lots of people get lots of emails, so it's delete, delete," she said.
Instead, Freed urges agents to reach out and proactively call their clients, something many don't do today.
"They'll return a phone call, but it takes more these days," said Freed. "It takes a follow-up note to say, 'Thank you so much for booking your last vacation with me. I hope I've been able to create some incredible memories for you and your family.' And it also takes just calling them."
One of Freed's favorite "Vicki's Tips," a Monday-Friday newsletter containing a daily tip, came from an agent who calls each of his clients at the end of the year thanking them for booking with him.
"It's no other reason than to just stay in touch, just to connect — that's it," she said. "I'm not trying to sell you something, I'm simply trying to keep that connection going so when you're ready to book your next vacation, whatever kind of vacation that is, you're going to call me. ... It's just being proactive."
Freed practices what she preaches. When I met with her aboard the Harmony, I mentioned my wife and I were about to pick up a German shepherd puppy. Not a week later, I had a card in the mail from Freed with a German shepherd on the cover wishing us congratulations.