When a client wants to take a vacation, one of the most natural questions an agent might address first is the where the client wants to go.
But there are aspects of a trip that might be even more important, and Discover More, the travel-planning process developed by Brownell Travel in Birmingham, Ala., is designed to put the emphasis on more than just the "where" of travel.
Discover More is "how we engage with clients," said Haisley Smith, vice president of marketing and development at Brownell.
Five steps constitute the process: Discover, when agents learn more about why a client is taking a trip; Design, when agents and clients work together to create an itinerary; Connect, after reservations are made but the agent continues to keep in touch with clients about plans, potential upgrades and perks; Experience, the vacation itself; and Share, a post-trip interview.
The Discover More process last week won Virtuoso's Innovation Award for Best Client Experience, a new award this year. Smith talked about the process during Virtuoso Travel Week at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
According to Smith, the most important piece of the process is the Discover phase.
"Before any date, any destination, any logistic is ever discussed, two steps ahead we start with why," she said. "Why this trip? Why with these people? Why now?
"And that really does get down to the psychology of the trip, so you can really understand [the client's] goals and their dreams and their needs, even if they can't express them."
The entire process was designed around understanding and engaging the client, Smith said.
"The least control we have as travel adviser is when the clients are actually on the ground," she said. "But what we can control is how we work with them, how we get to know them, how we develop the relationship, how we pair them with the right suppliers and experiences."
Another key part of the Discover More experience is Share, the post-trip interview. Smith called it a "very intense debrief."
Agents ask their clients about the good and bad of their trip, and what the agent might have done differently. It's not always an easy conversation, but it's an important one.
"That can be challenging for advisers to open themselves up like that, but that's a critical piece of the pie," she said.
The Discover More process is featured on Brownell's website, and clients do call and ask to set up a Discover More call with a Brownell agent.
In developing the program, it became clear that clients want to be involved in the vacation-planning process.
"They don't want to just turn it over," Smith said. "They want to be involved, so that's central to the process."