Bob Morrell, managing director of Reality Training sets out how firms can increase repeat business

Reading the news in Travel Weekly it’s been a roller coaster of success and failure for the major travel brands as they announce their results. When you drill down into some of the data, you start to form key questions about how these brands prioritise.

I always wonder, what are the conversion rates, and customer retention figures that underpin these results? If you’re able to retain more customers every year, then you don’t need to sell to quite so many new ones (which cost you more to get). We’ve also been training some smaller travel brands who are having very successful times – considerably better than some of their larger rivals, and key points of differentiation have emerged.

Travel is a relationship business – you only need to attend one travel conference to realise that – and firstly, smaller travel brands, because they don’t have the scale of larger ones, have to forge strong relationships with their customers. What this means is that either formally, or informally, they engage in proactive customer retention strategies so that when they win a new customer, they are skilled at persuading them to come back again and again, keeping them out of the clutches of the larger groups.

Also, homeworkers who manage their own client base are especially good at retention – they have sold the customer on the fact that their advice and expertise is worth more to them than the few pounds they may save by going elsewhere. So those relationships are very valuable and need to be managed before, through and beyond each booking to maintain the commitment. Homeworkers also achieve high referrals as part of their retention strategies, so they absolutely get the power of good service to get a high NPS (Net Promoter Score).

Secondly, if your sole focus is on generating revenue, then retention becomes a secondary concern – achieving the booking is what you care about and you will perform to target using any and all means to achieve them. Some of these means will not help you retain customers because they are not strategies that promote retention (heavy discounting, over promising, under delivering etc) If retention is ignored, then the sales and service behaviours required to begin and manage retention are not attempted and so a customer may book a holiday with you, but feel no compulsion to repeat the experience and will gladly migrate to the next interesting brand or offer that comes their way. Retention that is ‘hoped for’ in the current world is a pipe dream – effective retention strategies are building new travel brands right now.

Thirdly, larger brands rarely target for retention. So a sales manager can’t manage their team to work on it. Which means customers are left to move away from their previous holiday experience without even an attempt to keep them. Targeting affects human behaviour more than anything else, so we’ll sell mostly what we need to.

Lastly, the concept of selling a holiday to someone, a few times a year, for 10 years, is beyond the grasp of new entrants to this market. Inexperience and a lack of training people to understand why this is important and how to do it effectively, is a big missing from many Sales Leaders and their L&D departments.

Here’s a retention analogy that applies to everyone. Why do I go to the same takeaway every Friday? Is it the free calendar at Christmas? Is it the free poppadum’s? No, it’s because the quality is high, the service always excellent and the price is good value – plus Achmed would think I was ill if I didn’t roll up on a Friday! ‘Mr Bob Morrell!’ We have a relationship. He’s my local curry house and he retains my loyalty through this perfect mix. There’s no reason that large travel brands shouldn’t have more happy regulars, who would help underpin their businesses in these uncertain times.

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