Avoya HBTA Top LB Jan 2018

Streamlining Your Group Business With Easy Technology

Sandy Elson

Sandy Elson MCC
Your Cruise Concierge, LLC

These challenging times present us with a unique opportunity to reinvent our business processes so we can deliver more to our clients using fewer resources. The use of easy and accessible technology allows your business to provide a high level of service to distinguish you from the competition, increase your client base, and create customers for life.

I have created eight “WOW” factors that are low in cost and have a high success rate in enhancing your efficiency and profitability, while impressing your clients with an unexpected level of service. Many of these group techniques are easily adaptable to individual sales as well.

WOW factor #1: Hook potential clients with a speedy, impressive response.

When potential clients contact you by email or telephone, it is possible, even likely, that they are contacting other agencies at the same time. I have prepared a “canned” email response which contains a lot of information regarding my niches, family reunion cruises and luxury cruises. This stored response can be immediately copied and pasted into a new email, which is quickly and easily personalized. In my “canned” response, I thank the client for his/her interest, list the many things my agency does for its groups, answer some frequently asked questions, and provide all of my contact information. I personalize this response by using the client’s name, dates of travel, and type of group. With one click, my response is on the client’s screen.

I have my “canned” response stored on all my electronic devices. This allows me to respond quickly when I’m out of the office, or even out of town.

It is typical for the client to respond with “thank you for your quick reply.” I then set up a dialogue about the client’s specific needs, which gets the sales process started, usually long before any other agencies have responded.

WOW factor #2: Become a mind reader.

Anticipate the objections and fears your client is likely to express. For example, in my initial contact with potential group leaders, I always stress to them that they will never be put into the position of asking their family or group members for money. They are always very relieved to hear that I deal directly with each family within the group, when it comes to reminders about payment deadlines or late payments.

Anticipate other questions such as safety and security, air or sea sickness, or availability of payment plans. Having complete and detailed answers commited to memory or to email, or written down and kept handy, will go a long way in garnering trust and overcoming objections.

WOW factor #3: Set up a “private,” dedicated web site for your group.

It is far more efficient to set up a “private” web site for your group members, than repeating the same information over and over again by telephone or email. I use a content provider for my agency’s main web site that allows me to create many of my own pages. When you have hooked a group, copy and paste pages from previous groups to new pages, personalizing the new pages with the new group’s information. These pages include general information, prices, a booking form, passport information, shore excursion or tour information, insurance information, and the like. When the pages are created, buy a unique URL, or web address for that group. Discuss preferred and alternate web addresses with the group leader. Buying a URL is quite inexpensive, as little as $9 per year. Set the URL to point to the home page of the “private” site. Encourage the group leaders to email pictures of themselves and group members, which can be included on the new site. While an efficient means of disseminating information for the travel agent, it’s perceived as cutting edge personalization by clients. Creating a web site has high impact on the group while costing little in time and money.

WOW factor #4: Streamline billing.

Use a billing program that allows invoices and receipts to be emailed to clients. Most clients with email addresses will not object to receiving the information in email, which they can then print if they so choose. Emailing invoices and receipts allows for very timely turn-around once a check is received or credit card payment has been made. It saves on paper and postage, especially when multiple invoices are necessary because of payments received, price changes, or the addition of services.

Set your group’s final payment date at least two weeks before final payment is actually due to the supplier. Email final payment reminders to your clients at least two weeks prior to their final payment due date. The ability to email invoices is a real time and money saver.

Technology allows you to provide potential, new and existing clients with “high touch” with just a few clicks of the mouse. This is important to your clients, particularly in this era of globalization, when you may have clients across the country and not just in your particular geographic area. The groups themselves, even family groups, may be decentralized with group members living in various areas of the country.

WOW factor #5: Keep In Touch From Sale To Sail

The best way to merge high tech with high touch is to keep in touch with your clients from the time they give you a deposit, until they leave on the trip. Clients do not want to be “sold” and then forgotten until more money is needed, an error made by too many travel consultants. Streamline the communication process by creating a “group” in your email program’s address book, with the email of each group member. This means you can write one email and with one click, send it to the entire group. Please remember to have your own email address appear in the “To:” field, and have everyone else’s address in the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) field. This does two things: it eliminates the long list of addressees in the email that each group member will read. Also, it addresses privacy concerns of those group members who do not want their email address viewable by everyone else in the group.

Send out general information regarding the group’s trip in the early stages of the group process. This information can include a summary of the trip, including the general itinerary, clothing suggestions, passport information and where to go online to view passport renewal information, any information the Group Leader would like to provide, how much cash you anticipate each traveler will need to take along, etc. I send out monthly updates to each group member once we’re within six months of travel. Don’t be afraid to repeat important information in multiple updates. Some information, such as proof of citizenship requirements, bears repeating! When we are within three months of travel, I send more specific information in the updates, such as where and when the group meeting/cocktail party will take place, check-in procedures, group transfer information or suggestions, and the like. Your clients will appreciate this individualized level of contact, and your group email list makes keeping in touch with the whole group no more work than emailing one individual client.

WOW factor #6: Watch For Price Drops

We have all heard stories and have had the experience ourselves of finding out that the price of your clients’ trip has gone down since they sent in their deposit. This happens frequently with cruises, as price is often dictated by supply and demand. The cruise lines and tour companies will never tell the agent that the price has gone down. However, our clients are very “internet savvy” and may well be sniffing out these price reductions on their own. Be proactive and check the price of your clients’ trips once a month. Your clients will view you as their advocate if you tell them the price of their trip has gone down before final payment.

Many cruise lines will give the clients the lower price, either adjusting the price, upgrading their cabin category, or giving them the difference in the form of an onboard credit. Few cruise lines will do this right until sailing date, but several will reduce the price if it is before final payment date. Some cruise lines will not change the price. Be sure of the cruise line’s policy before contacting your clients. Remember that your clients are likely to find out about the price drop on their own, and you’ll make a great impression if you inform them of this reduction first.

Rehearse what you will tell your clients if they find out the price has dropped, but you know the cruise line will not make any adjustments to the group’s bookings. Price reductions are an opportunity for service. What you may lose in commission will be more than compensated in terms of client loyalty. This is one way to keep clients for life!

WOW factor #7: Enhance Your Pre-Trip Package

While some travel agents send out or email documents with little else, I like to send out an impressive package that includes the clients’ documents. This is yet another opportunity for service, and for impressing your clients by offering value-added items your clients would not receive if they had booked with another agency or directly with the supplier.

I have detailed, “canned” itineraries on my computer for many types of cruises and tours, along with the clothing suggestions and proof of citizenship information I have been emailing in my monthly updates. It takes a few seconds to bring up the itinerary, and just change the clients’ names and stateroom number to print out a personalized itinerary for each couple or group member. In addition, I have collected and stored on my computer several information sheets on such things as how to pack, staying safe and healthy while on vacation, and currency exchange information. I print each of these documents to include in my pre-trip package. I even include a small bottle of hand sanitizer and agency luggage tags. The clients perceive this package as very high touch information.

WOW factor #8: Follow up from sail to sale

Do not forget your clients as soon as they leave on their trip. Keeping in touch with group leaders and group members is easy, using your group email list. This keeps your name and agency in front of the client and establishes a relationship that extends beyond the sale.

Email or mail a “welcome home” letter to arrive a few days after your clients get home. Ask for feedback on the trip and on your agency’s service. Even if there are complaints, this opens a dialogue that allows you to address problems and continue your value-added service.

Keep track of special occasions in your Client Relationship Management (CRM) software or database. Email or mail a letter or card on these birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and other special occasions.

Suggest other trips for the future and encourage the group leaders to set up their next trip with you as soon as possible, so the group remains a unit and can share the excitement of planning the next trip. This also encourages spin-off groups, such as a group member deciding to be the Group Leader of his/her own family reunion. Encourage your group members to send referrals your way. Each group member has a circle of friends and relatives of his/her own, each of whom is a potential new client or group leader.

These eight “WOW factors” allow you to streamline your routine processes through technology, thereby allowing you to deliver extraordinary service to each client. When you deliver the unexpected “WOW,” your clients will be yours for life!

In future columns, I will discuss group contracts, service fees, how to get groups, and other topics related to selling group travel.