Connecting with your clients is the key to success - Business Works

Connecting with your clients is the key to success

Steve Byrne, MD Travel Counsellors

With the pressures of the current economic climate bearing down on many companies, when it comes to corporate travel it’s easy to assume that this will have a negative impact on the corporate travel agent. However I, truly believe there has never been a better time for travel management companies to distinguish themselves from on-line booking tools and call centres, providing a highly personalised and responsive service that these other travel services simply cannot match.

As budgets become tighter and the demand to reduce costs increases, corporations are looking to get better value for money. Now more than ever they need an expert who can take away some of that pressure and search for the most competitive fares and routes on their behalf. It is also crucial that an agent is flexible and available to make the last minute changes to budgets and schedules forced upon companies as they deal with the ramifications of the recession.

The initial reaction by many companies has been, and will continue to be, to reduce the travel budget. However, for those companies in the customer service game there really has never been a better or more pertinent time to go out and meet the customer face-to-face.

Travel Counsellors

At Travel Counsellors we have staff in seven offices across the globe, all linked via the latest webcam technology, which holds significant cost-saving benefits and reduces the need for having to physically meet in person. However, I still firmly believe that there is no replacement for face-to-face meetings to build solid relationships, rapport, trust and reassurance amongst colleagues and customers. It’s interesting to note that, following our spring conferences last month, in which our 1000-plus travel agents from around the globe came together to hear the latest company news and updates from senior management and staff, our sales have increased and moral is noticeably higher.

What effect could this type of positive interaction have between a corporation and their customer? It is certainly the foundation upon which our company is built and for many others that are successful because of the exceptional customer service they provide. Our agents build their businesses based purely on customer service, referral and recommendation. They are able to focus on their customers as we take all the back office work off them, underpinned by a support team of over 200 staff and award winning technology. Plus they are available to their clients 24/7 and can offer a full office service that is un-paralleled in the industry. They build up relationships with their clients – they understand their needs and tailor make itineraries to suit.

When this level of focus is given to customer service it is important to measure its success. We use the Net Promoter® Score system to do this, which is used globally by companies in order to find out what customers think of the service they receive. Since we started measuring our customers’ responses in 2007 we have consistently achieved a world-beating score of over 90%, putting us among just a handful of companies worldwide that are rated so highly by their customers. It is this type of special relationship between company and client that leads to success in today’s competitive market, and it is this type of relationship building that I believe can be achieved through positive meetings and interaction.

Travel Counsellors

Note the common management phrase - ‘management by walking about’. Survival in today’s marketplace is all about being visible to everyone, whether it be employees, clients or stakeholders. When communicating to your employees your aim is to ensure there is a strong sense of camaraderie, that they feel motivated and focused, that they trust you and are assured. If this is true of internal communications then does it not also apply to the relationship with your clients and customers? Getting out there, meeting and speaking with people is the key way to instilling reassurance and faith that you are the organisation they want to deal with. Therefore the need for corporate travel will always be an integral factor in a company’s ultimate success.

Obviously it’s folly to say companies shouldn’t be careful when spending their corporate travel budget. But rather than slashing budgets, is there not a stronger argument for being visible to customers, assuming that the banks don’t have a vice-like grip around you and you are able to spend your budget where you feel is most cost effective.

In today’s climate, every company needs to work harder than before – no-one can afford to stand still. If you simply maintain the status quo you will decline. But it’s about working harder on the areas that count. And one thing that a company can always improve on is the customer service game.

Travel Counsellors

We have certainly seen an upsurge in new business over the past month and are being approached on a weekly basis by potential new clients. When we ask these clients the reasons behind their need for change the most common responses are that they are no longer receiving value for money and are experiencing complacency from their current travel management company. What better time for customer-focused travel management companies to shine and show customers what it feels like to receive a fully comprehensive, highly personal travel service like no other? Likewise, what better time for all customer focused organisations to utilise a period when clients are becoming even more discerning, to stand out above the rest?

In today’s climate you really must stay one step ahead. Building the relationship and understanding the needs of your client is the key. Within our business, booking travel is just the basic foundation of what we do. Our agents have been known to take clients to airports and even order flowers and presents for their clients’ loved ones when they are too busy to do it themselves! It is this level of personal connection that ensures a long-standing, positive relationship.

There really has never been a better time for the message to be brought home that reducing corporate travel will have negative effects in the long-run. It’s about being savvy with your budget, finding an agent who will provide a 24/7 concierge service and get you the most competitive deals in the marketplace, and ultimately ensuring you sustain and forge relationships through personal contact and face-to-face interaction.

It’s so easy to get bogged down in the media hype of recession but life really is 10% fact and 90% attitude. Use this opportunity to your advantage and ensure you are one of the customer-savvy organisations that bucks the trend and withstands the doom and gloom of the recession.

What to expect from your travel management company

Your travel management company should provide 100% impartial advice and as wide a choice as possible for your travel arrangements, including access to all the leading airlines, hotel groups and car rental companies.

You should have an appointed and highly experienced account manager to oversee your account and cater personally to all your needs and requirements.

They should be available to you 24/7 and provide the highest levels of flexibility so that all last minute changes can be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

You should have regular review meetings with your corporate travel provider in order to monitor contract performance and make ensure a solid and trusted relationship is built between you both.

Your travel management company should regularly analyse management information to identify and maximise savings opportunities for your business.

They should have the latest booking technology and keep detailed records of your company’s information including you company travel policy, traveller profiles and negotiated rates.

Your travel management company should not simply just transact with you when it comes to servicing your corporate travel needs. They need to relate to you, understand you and your needs as a business and build a trusted relationship so that you have complete peace of mind that you will always receive the very best in all aspects of your corporate travel service.

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