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A travel advisor’s work is never done, including and, perhaps especially, after the client has returned home from the trip. This is when the all-important follow-up communication comes in, bringing with it the chance to learn what the client liked and didn’t like, rectify any experiences that were less than perfect, and ensure that the relationship is a lasting one.
In this era of social media, the importance of follow-up — the sooner, the better — is more crucial than ever, according to Steve Gillick, owner of the travel agency consultancy Talking Travel in Toronto. In some cases, he believes it can even be a way to head-off potential disaster.
“Sometimes people won’t complain about their trip to the travel advisor, but they will complain on social media and easily reach 50 or 100 people,” he said. “And people can be quick to judge without knowing the facts behind it. You could end up being victimized and in a place you don’t want to be.”
Even in cases where the trip came off without a hitch, follow-up is an opportunity to make a positive travel experience even more meaningful, said Stacy Luks, owner of Flourish Travel, in Richmond, Va.
“The best type of client relationships are not dissimilar to those with a good friend or family member,” she said. “The good feelings shared on a trip return solidify connection, create ongoing dialogue opportunities and deepen knowledge of the client’s likes and preferences.”
Mathew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, a network of travel agencies in the luxury sector, said consumer research has showed post-trip communication to be the single most important step in forging long-term relationships with clients.
“Every time you interact with a client post-trip in a way that they like, with the right kind of language, it creates a learning relationship and a cycle of understanding,” he said.
Medium for the Message?
What is the best way to communicate with the client after the trip? In most cases, a phone call is far better than e-mail or a text message, said Gillick.
“E-mail does not replace the telephone conversation because you really can’t ask the questions or get the responses you need,” he said. “What people say in a live conversation leads to other questions and creates a dialogue in a way that e-mail can’t. Also, you can miss the context and nuance of what’s being said.”
However, it’s also important to know what form of communication the client prefers, said Upchurch.
“You have to know their personality type and what medium they like to converse in,” he said. “A Millennial client may prefer a text message.”
When it comes to effective follow-up, asking the right questions is essential. Questions that drill down into the specifics of the trip are much more effective than ones that are general, Upchurch said.
“If you ask an open-ended questions like ‘how was your trip,’ you may not get the right answer,” he said. “It’s better to ask something like ‘if there is one thing you could have changed about the trip, what was it?’”
Luks agrees, making it a practice to get clients to open up about the nitty-gritty.
“I want to know if everything aligned with their expectations or not,” she said. “This includes every type of service experienced — the air, hotel, tours, tour guides, ground transportation, meals, overall sequence and time allocations, hotel location and the location of the room. No detail is too frivolous, depending on the client and what pushes their buttons.”
Also important is listening for unspoken clues during the conversation, Gillick said.
“If the client hesitates or is lukewarm when they say something was fine, maybe it really wasn’t,” he said. “It’s important to read the language behind the responses. It’s also important to acknowledge what they say, as it encourages them to talk more, and to take notes during the conversation.”
In some cases, the information gleaned during follow-up can help rectify a poor experience with a certain supplier, Gillick said.
“Depending on your relationship with the supplier, you can go to them and learn more about what went awry,” he said. “You may be able to resolve things for the client and also make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
A follow-up conversation can also be an opportunity for advisors to spark interest in future travel, Upchurch said.
“As you gain more knowledge of the client’s likes and dislikes, you can make suggestions,” he said. “You can say ‘If you enjoyed that, you might want to consider this.’ You can plant seeds that will germinate for years to come.”