Gemma Antrobus, chairman, Aito Specialist Travel Agents.

OK, hands up, how many of you travel company owners, managing directors or chief executives know how to book one of your own holidays or products? How many times do you make decisions about implementing systems, or adapting policies to which your team needs  to adhere, without a real understanding of the  day-to-day requirements of their roles?

And frontline employees, are you handed down instructions that just don’t align with the way you work? And, while you understand the reasoning behind them, often cost or time saving, do you find they’re just not realistic or won’t work in practice?

Back to the floor

I recently had the opportunity to send my entire sales force on a skills training day. Naturally, any time away from the office and selling holidays had to be weighed up but, with valuable skills to be learnt, I didn’t hesitate – I knew it would be time well spent for the team.

What it left me with, however, was a day when I was the only person in the business with any sales experience – thus handling face-to-face engagement with clients, plus phone calls, on my own. I do still work with a handful of clients, so I’m not entirely alien to our processes, and I started my career in sales, so I was keen to get the day under way.

What a day it was! The phone didn’t stop ringing, of course. I spent a good part of the day answering questions for clients who had already booked and the remainder discussing new bookings and getting quotes. I had clients visit the shop to book there and then, and the same on the phone. It was an exhausting day, but very fulfilling.

Learning curve

What did I learn? First, that when all members of staff, both front and back office, use our systems correctly, it makes their colleagues’ lives so much easier in their absence. You don’t need an expensive, fancy system – just one that everyone can easily use. I also learnt how to use the PDQ [card] machine in record time – when a client wants to book and pay, your lack of skills can’t get in the way!

I was reminded just how challenging, yet exciting, it is to talk with a client face-to-face about a destination you haven’t yet visited but may know a little about. How grateful I was to be talking with some of our top Aito tour operator partners that day. I see them very much as an extension of our team – after all, the better a tour operator makes an agent look, the more likely they will close the sale.

Valuable experience

The experience reminded me that, when speaking face-to-face with clients, while you need no less information than on the phone, you don’t have that buffer – the phone – to hide behind. Your face and body language must convey the same confidence and knowledge as your words.

One key element I took away from that day, above all else, was that getting back to the floor and selling holidays reminded me what I love about this industry, which can sometimes be forgotten among all the spreadsheets and reports. I would highly recommend it to any senior manager – try swapping roles with your frontline staff for a day.