Upscale clothing retailers like Tiffany and Brooks Brothers have built their reputations on excellent customer service. A Tiffany salesperson knows when a client's birthday is coming up and knows if a client might be interested in a new product. But just knowing isn't enough; the salesperson will act on this knowledge by communicating with the client — maybe a birthday card in the mail, or a phone call to alert the client to the new merchandise.
The secret to achieving such a high level of customer service is technology, specifically customer relationship management (CRM) software. And Travel Sciences, a travel industry software provider, thinks it's time for travel agents to get in on the action.
The company recently released its OpenTravel CRM platform to the travel agent community. The system is free to agents and provides a plethora of applications, including a customer profile database, integrated E-mail marketing with click-through response reporting, electronic and Web-based supplier connections, commission tracking and reporting and Web 2.0 functionality.
OpenTravel "gives the agent a much better handle on being able to communicate with the customer,” said Joe Mazzarella, president and CEO of Travel Sciences.
In addition, good customer data can help agents establish relationships with customers and maintain an ongoing dialogue.
Act on Information
"Collecting information is different from interacting with the customer and building relationships,” Mazzarella said. "While collecting information about what a customer might like is useful, you've got to act on that.” In order to compete with the big Web agencies, like Expedia and Travelocity, agents need to build relationships and loyalty with customers.
Jim Rider, owner of Exploring America & Beyond/Adventure Student Travel, echoes this sentiment. CRM "enables people to do a better job with their customer service. Customers like to be touched — and a touch might be a phone call, an E-mail or a card in the mail. They like those touches, and those touches keep those customers your customers.”
The key to building relationships is being able to manage the large numbers of clients, and potential clients, that agents deal with all the time.
"Anybody can handle a small number of clients,” Rider said, "but when it gets to a certain point it is so easy for people to fall through the cracks.” OpenTravel helps agents manage their client contacts; it enables automatic reminders and improves communications.
Two of the unique communication applications offered in OpenTravel are integrated instant messaging and Skype, both Web 2.0 technologies. As agents make connections with potential clients and get the clients' IM information, they can see when clients are online and can either IM or call them to follow up.
"Having a valuable social presence and building relationships by being available and communicating is essential,” Mazzarella said.
Another Web 2.0 technology offered that can aid in drawing in new clients is integrated blogging. Each agency is given its own blog and agents can write and post travel-related blog entries directly through the OpenTravel interface. The blogs appear on the agents' Web sites, as well as in various RSS feeds throughout the Internet.
Create Online Pressence
These new Web technologies "extend the presence of the agent into the online community,” added Mazzarella. Today, people feel much more comfortable going online and engaging in online communities. "Putting yourself into that trend is going to be very helpful and a key to success.”
Rider believes one of the most valuable applications offered is the integrated E-mail functionality. "You definitely want to be able to integrate your E-mail with any kind of CRM that you have,” he said.
The application integrates the agency's E-mail with a campaign management tool and the customer profile database. Agents can search the database on specific criteria in order to set up a tailored marketing message for only a segment of their client base. The management tool then tracks click-through rates so agents can determine the success of the campaign.
In addition, a record of which campaigns each customer receives is put in the customer's profile, so "if someone calls in about an offer, the agent knows all about the offer that was made,” Mazzarella said.
Though Rider is still exploring the capabilities of OpenTravel, he already recognizes the value such a system offers. "This is an easy way for businesses to get a good grasp of their work flow and stay in touch with their customers," he said. "That makes your work efficiency so much better."
For more information, visit www.opentravelcrm.com and enter a user ID and password. An account will be created and agents can immediately start trying the system.