I talk to travel advisors every day. It’s important for me to keep my ear to the ground and understand their pain points so that I can deliver valuable content. Whether it’s through the agents I meet in industry Facebook groups or from the advisors who have become my clients, I get a lot of similar questions.
So this post is less about the sales and marketing needed to drive leads to a travel business but rather about the soft skills required once the leads come in.
How to respond when someone asks you if they can “pick your brain” (implying for free) about their upcoming travel plans.
Oh, the life of a travel advisor. So glam. If you think about it, what is the one universal conversation starter guaranteed to break the ice at any summer party?
“Have you travelled anywhere lately? or Do you have any travel plans on your horizon?”
Who doesn’t love to talk about travel, right? Except when you are a travel advisor, and it’s a Sunday, and you are on your 4th margarita.
Any travel advisor who has ever been cornered next to the nacho station at a family BBQ can tell you, the lines can sometimes become blurry between great customer service and personal space.
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
Yes, we love what we do. But just because we love all things travel, doesn’t necessarily mean we want to debate the pros and cons of airline frequent flyer programs or discuss visa requirements for Vietnam when we are waiting in line to limbo under the bamboo pole.
The point is, I would never go up to my bestie’s hubby who works on the floor at the TSX and ask him for insider stock tips. I just wouldn’t do it. Nor would I lean over to my good friend Miquel, who is a very talented stylist, and ask him to snip my ends while I’m lounging by the pool.
Am I right? Yes, working in the sphere of travel is a cool job but like everyone, I like to turn it off sometimes too. So what do I say…?
I know most people have good hearts. They don’t realize that it’s overstepping some imaginary boundary to talk biz – when it’s travel biz related. What I tend to do, is answer a few short questions and then change the topic. “Don’t you think it’s time for Sheila to consider getting a Brazilian wax?”
But for those who insist on pummelling me with questions, I’ll normally say…
”I can tell you are super excited about your trip. I’d be too. Here is my card. Why don’t you give me a call next week and we can set up an appointment. I’ll be happy to help you but right now, let me get you a drink from the bar.”
How to respond to a Facebook friend request from a client who isn’t technically a “friend.”
A lot of agents ask me how they can gracefully deny a friend request on Facebook from a client. It’s not that they don’t like their clients, but they prefer to keep their professional lives separate from their personal lives. Facebook has become a platform to share political views and post a pic of your new butt tattoo, things that you might not want Margerie and Floyd, your Uber lux clients to know about you.
But it’s understandable because, in order to do this job well, you need to know a lot about your client. A good travel agent knows everything about her clients. So it’s natural that they will feel extra close to you. And now it’s awkward when you get that Facebook notification that you have a new friend request. What to do…what to do…
Here’s what I would say…
“Thanks for reaching out, Margerie. I appreciate your friend request Why don’t we connect over on my Facebook business page (insert link) and on my LinkedIn page (insert link) instead? That way, we can stay in touch but I’ll save you all my drama, my quirky political views and my penchant for tasteless jokes.”
I think this is a nice way to decline a request without running the risk of offending a client.
Because after all, you are using the ever-popular….” it’s not YOU, it’s ME” approach.
How to respond to a client who contacts you on WhatsApp at 3 AM with non-urgent questions
We live in a time when we are all attached to our phones. And…people have come to expect instant answers, even if it’s 3 in the morning and they simply can’t sleep. But does that mean that you have to jump to the occasion?
This question comes up a lot with home-based travel advisors who don’t typically keep 9 to 5 hours. When can they shut down without pissing off their clients? What is a reasonable expectation?
The key here is in setting clear boundaries from the beginning. The whole area can be as grey and murky as a weekend in London.
If you are like me, you probably don’t mind answering questions outside your office hours if they are quick and easy. But when a client contacts you outside of office hours, while you are in the middle of watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and asks to do a seat selection….meh, I’m thinking it can wait.
What works best is to give clients an emergency phone number to use for…..well…..emergencies but otherwise, I recommend posting your office hours in your email signature and use an “out-of-office” response.
How to respond when your mother-in-law’s sister asks if she can get a good deal if her family books through you.
Ugh, the dreaded “Friends and family” discount. Everyone has a different opinion on this one.
And if you’ve ever booked friends and family, you know what I’m talking about. What is it about a common link of DNA that turns normal human beings into assholes? I dunno. 🤷♀️I’m seriously asking?
I know many agents who wouldn’t touch family and friends travel for an all-expense-paid private jet trip around the world. Oh Hell, no.
And I get it, I really do. But I feel a little differently.
Again, as long as you set clear ground rules early, there is nothing wrong with working with friends and family. But I will admit it took me a LONG time to figure out. I got burned so many times… I can’t even.
Here’s what I say now…
“I would love to work with you on your upcoming trip. And I so appreciate the referral from Uncle Bob. I want to be upfront and say that I don’t offer discounts but what I can promise is an exceptional level of service. I will work my tail off to get you the best possible trip that fits within your budget. I do charge a planning fee of $$$ upfront. If that sounds good to you, let’s set up an appointment later this week to discuss the details.”
It is possible that some relatives and friends might be slightly offended, that not only are you not giving them a discount but you are charging them a planning fee… but that’s their problem. It’s not yours. If they are unwilling to pay the initial fee, then I say you dodged a bullet. And it’s best to figure that out early.
I’m sure I’ve just scratched the surface on potential etiquette issues in the travel industry. If you have a sitch you’d like some help with, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below and I’ll address it in an upcoming post.