Published on Monday, April 30, 2012

Travel agents' shocking service exposed

Agents were taken aback  when a 'mystery shopper' revealed she had visited four Advantage shops and was appalled by the way she was treated.

Without revealing the names of the agencies, brand guru Kate Hardcastle told Advantage agents at the annual conference in Malta that only one of the four provided decent customer service.

In one shop, Hardcastle, a partner at Insight With Passion, said she literally had to beg to get one of four members of staff to serve her.

Hardcastle said she visited the four agencies - all Advantage members - to inquire about a family holiday to Disneyland Paris. In three of them, she was handed brochures and was allowed to walk away.

When she returned to one shop, she said the sales consultant was so enthusiastic about Disney he tried to sell her a holiday to Florida when she had specifically asked to go to Paris, and he let her walk away without taking her name and number.

"In another shop, they just wanted to give me more brochures. They didn't want to connect with me at all."

However, Hardcastle spoke highly of one agency, a long-established local brand, where the brochures were all racked behind the counter and she was asked to make an appointment to speak to a sales consultant.

She said the biggest downfall of most businesses was a lack of communication. Agents need to find out what customers want, tell their staff, enhance the offer and build a brand that sends a clear message to the consumer, she said.

They need to target their market - not try to sell to everyone - and follow up on every lost sale to find out how they can do better. They also need to create a better in-store experience for customers to stimulate their senses.

"Sixty per cent of purchases are decided in-store. People are coming in to book a holiday. They haven't popped in by accident," she said.

"Turn the Steve Wright in the Afternoon quiz show off. They want to book a holiday they've saved up for. Don't spoil the experience."

At the same time, she urged agents not to sell solely on price. Surveys showed, she said, that only 20% of customers would refuse to pay more for a better service. Hardcastle said a quarter of lost business was due to poor customer care.

Ending her rapid-fire presentation, full details of which are available to members on the Advantage website, Hardcastle warned agents: "Eighty per cent of businesses that are struggling are struggling because they're not doing a good job."

She left the stage leaving the audience wondering which of their shops she had visited - and which was the one she rated.

By Linsey McNeill

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  • 3-2 to Jetwash so far

    jetwash needs another supporter to win 4-2, as GB mens hockey did against India last night at the Olympic stadium! (it was a great game and a terrific venue, but terrible coffee) Theresa I think you underestimate the intelligence of successful retail agents (and I'm not talking about the ones Hardcastle takes issue with, who obviously have little idea about good customer service.) Good agents tackle customer profiling through years of experience within their product range and environment. They do not necessarily have to have had formal training (Alan Sugar was an expert and had no formal training, just the intuition, or 'gut feelings' i referred to previously) Theresa we are ALL both purchasers and providers if we work in this industry, but how many years experience do you have as provider? and is it in running your own business or as an employee? You mention jokingly that as a dissatisfied travel agent with profiling skills that MI5 may be a better career option, but do they always get it right even with their training? and who said anything about being dissatisfied anyway? I admit MI5/MI6/FBI may all pay better, but who wants to end up 'the wrong side of a sports bag'? I firmly believe that bad agents have not solely lost the art of good customer service, but have also failed to learn the importance of customer profiling. You CANNOT afford to give everyone who comes through your door or calls your phone the same level of service, as if you do it will be to the detriment of real customers (defined as 'one who buys/pays for goods or services) I have long term customers whom i am very knowledgeable of, and i offer them a very high level of personal service, as i know they will spend many thousands with me every year. I cannot give that sort of time to someone whom i have never seen before who asks for an economy ticket to Lagos-even if there is 'a chance' they may book something substantially more profitable subsequently-because the odds are-they won't! It's the old adage that 'experience' is the invaluable asset. Oh and if you want a good example of poor customer service-we had to queue for over 1hour 10 mins just to get a cup of coffee at the olympic hockey stadium yesterday, missing the start of the game- maybe we should send Lord Coe to MI5 and see how he fares there.

    By derek small, Friday, May 4, 2012

  • Travel Agent or Potential FBI Agent?

    The wages of Staff are irrelevant in the case of receiving good service as staff are aware of the wages at the point of choosing to sign a contract. They are also aware of commission linked promotions and sales. As far as I am aware, there is no current, accurate, actuarial customer profiling training available directly to Travel Agents, there is to MI5 and FBI. Perhaps the dissatisfied travel Agents with seemingly good profiling skills should consider a career change and sign up for the intelligence service. My experience in the travel industry is both as a purchaser and provider. I do not attempt to second guess what a potential purchaser wants or if they are going to commit on the day. I endeavour to give them the information they require to make an informed decision and do so in a friendly professional manner. This is the service I expect. However, much to my dismay it is rarely the service I have receive or have observed other receiving. The attitude described and seemingly displayed by jetwash and supporters is likely to ensure and encourage potential purchasers to take their business elsewhere or book on line. I believe If you value your job, you should value your customers. Lose one and the other will follow. My support is with Paul on this occasion

    By Theresa Litchfield, Friday, May 4, 2012

  • Yvonne

    Quite right DS and Jetwash, the Agents are much more advanced today in weeding out people who are there to get information and leave. Especially when there are people writing about "Haggling with Agents" and then you have a Mystery Shopper come into the office who was not going to buy anything.

    By Yvonne Panaschuk, Monday, April 30, 2012

  • no such thing as 'time wasters'?

    sorry Paul but have to come back on your attack on 'jetwash'(even though it's a strange name for a travel agent?) Of COURSE there ARE such painful 'customers' around who are referred to as 'time wasters',and a good travel agent is one who can spot them a mile off and send them to another agency to waste their time instead. One of the points raised by Hardcastle was to target your market and not try to sell to everyone. The most successful agents i know have been 'weeding out time wasters ' for many years, generally learning to spot the ones who take up a lot of your research time only to then book the product directly on the web- sound familiar? If it doesn't, then i'm not sure you are actually a travel agent? Of course there is no excuse for poor service, but concentrating that highest level of service on the customers you know already (regulars)and those who have been recommended to you, and those who you, through experience and that 'gut feeling', for want of a better expression,may book if you spend some time on them, will bring the best results. With cost cutting essential these days, there simply isn't the time to spend on every caller or shopper. We, for example, do not bother quoting on certain destinations, and i know agents who rarely bother quoting to certain ethnic groups-which some may be appalled at, but i'm sure this is not at all for any racist/nationalist reason, but simply a reaction to their marketing analysis of 'who ultimately tends to result in a booking and who doesn't'. So concentrate attentions on those segments of your local population who historically have brought the best return on time spent. You cannot hope to always get it right of course, but if you do in a high percentage of cases it frees your time to spend on MARKETING-such as updating your web-pages, distributing leaflets, improving window displays etc etc-NOT rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic (by the way, interesting story about the Titanic II today, Australian financed and Chinese to build!) This business IS about people, but it needs to be a selective group of people nowadays, because ultimately its all down to Profit and Loss, and finding the right clients to improve that elusive 'bottom line'. We can't be getting it all wrong, as we've been trading since 1984, and several multiples have been and gone in this locality over the last two decades, perhaps partly because they never learn't who their best customers were.

    By derek small, Monday, April 30, 2012

  • Never, never take ANYTHING for granted!

    There is no such thing as a time waster there are people who book and people who may book at a later date. Besides what else would you be doing, playing games online, chatting, surfing the internet, Re-arrangingthe deck chairs on the Titanic? You are paid for your time and are expected to talk to people, so what else is there to do? You may as well talk. No one is qualified enough to judge who is a time waster and who isn't. I hate the expression time waster anyway. Business is not first and foremost about profit and loss, doing business is about people and people matter. They are all people who spend money at some time. Strikes me Jetwash you do not offer any suggestions, ideas, reasoning or solutions in your post. It is so negative in context. Which is indicative of being part of the overall problem.

    By Paul Davis, Monday, April 30, 2012

  • One Man's Meat ...

    Don't condone what happened but... poor pay rates, fight to get any commission, customers who waste consultants time and then book online, customers who want to "haggle", more time-wasters (again) ... "One man meat is another man's poison" ... I know lots of customers where the last thing they want is to be forced to make an appointment, have to beg for brochures... they just want to browse... So, not exactly a one sided issue, eh? In many cases, shops get to know their clients... who are real clients who will book and who the time wasters are ... or...errr.... mystery shoppers.

    By ** Jetwash **, Monday, April 30, 2012

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