Know what makes your customers tick and become a key resource, says Thompson Travel owner Sharon Thompson

It is often said you should not strive to make your presence noticed but instead make your absence felt.

I’ve been wondering if this could be applied to your business.

How many of us would like to know that our absence is felt? Not because you didn’t turn up for the usual meeting or day in the office, but because you made such an impact when you were in the office that it was noticed when you weren’t there.

How many of you have ever gone on holiday and wondered what has been done when you were away, or pondered who had your back or if you were remotely missed? Or, once that door closed behind you and you were off on your holidays, did you even care?

We were not present for an event recently. We won [lifestyle and society magazine] Ulster Tatler’s Northern Ireland independent travel agency 2019 award – but no one from our agency was there! Talk about having your absence noticed…in a good way, at least.

We all strive to give our businesses presence and be noticed, but imagine your customers actually wondering what has happened if you weren’t there and they didn’t hear from you. Would they move on to another agency? Or would they go looking for you?

If you get to the stage where your absence is felt, then that’s an indicator of pretty good marketing and business. Be careful, though: if you stop making your presence felt, your absence may not be noticed.

If we always use that quote to think of the impact we would make if we were not around, then our marketing strategy would be superb.

Marketing strategy

In case there are times when you may not be there, it’s important, especially as a smaller business, to have plans to make sure your clients know your business exists in your absence.

Give your customers a steady flow of information, so they will have a constant reminder that you are there.

Here are my tips:

1. Keep defining your audience. Markets and needs change.

2. Care about what your customers care about. Don’t just sell to people; take the time to understand their needs and what your competitors don’t offer. This will set you apart.

3. Be their resource and provide them with the top information. You want your customers to come to you for anything regarding travel. Don’t just sell – be their resource.

4. Get reviews – people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

5. Make your information accessible, especially online.

6. We are all in competition with each other, and we pretty much have the same products, so make sure you stand out!

In my agency, we’ve been working on this a lot recently. With the help of social media marketing experts, we now have the tools to sell and know how to get our business noticed – whether you’re there or not.

Thomas Cook Airlines

Cook collapse: Keep calm

I’m sure you know the phrase ‘keep calm and carry on’. I feel this should be the philosophy for independent agents in light of Thomas Cook’s collapse. The cost to the industry is huge, but no one has died. We quickly sorted out all our customers who had bookings with Cook and were out in resort, and the Civil Aviation Authority did an excellent job handling the repatriation.

There was a bit of work to do on forward bookings, but in our experience customers from Northern Ireland on the whole don’t get too flustered about these sorts of bumps in the road. They have all been very understanding and are happy it didn’t happen in peak season when lots more families with kids would have been travelling.