Agent Diary: ‘We try to win over people who look online as customers for life’

People who look online don’t always book online, and we try to win them as a customer for life, says Colin Burns, branch manager of Hays Travel in Washington, Tyne & Wear.

As travel retailers we all dread those awful words: “I’ve been on the web and found this…”

Thoughts of your commission being stolen might rush through your head. But does it really have to be that way? Remember, that customer is in your agency! They may have looked, but they have not booked online. Why not? Is the “bargain” they have found really the right holiday for them?

Price isn’t always right

Our Julia had a customer recently who usually goes to Magaluf in Majorca but fancied a change and had found a great deal online for Nerja, Andalusia. Julia spotted the difference straight away and asked him what he liked about this holiday. He said: “The price.”

But through some tactful questioning and using her first‑hand knowledge, Julia was able to tell him that, although Nerja was a wonderful place, it probably wasn’t the best place for his ideal holiday, and she went on to look for an alternative. Although this particular customer’s visit to us was to see if we could better the deal he had found, Julia sourced a far more suitable holiday, which ended up slightly more expensive – and the customer booked it. No discount, no “web match”.

“Some customers might have found themselves the perfect holiday online, so finding an alternative is not an option.”

We do this regularly and not only has this tactic helped to protect margins it has also reduced complaints. If the customer does complain, telling them the holiday they went on was all their idea won’t help you retain that customer.

Of course, some customers might have found themselves the perfect holiday online, so finding an alternative is not an option. But they are still in your branch and they still haven’t booked it online.

The first thing my team will think is ‘can I find this with an alternative supplier?’. They will call suppliers to ask for their help and you might be surprised how often they are able to.

And yes, there will be times you have to give away some of your hard-earned profit. That frustrates me every bit as much as anyone else. And we do get times when the customer walks away without booking, but we always do our best.

Beating the internet

During our very busy peaks period, my team have had their fair share of internet prices to contend with. They use the one thing they have that the web cannot offer the customer –  their personality. We have some great banter with our customers, and we are downright cheeky with some.

Our interaction isn’t just face-to-face, though: we have great interaction online too. We use Facebook to shout about deals we’ve found. And we use our own branch profiles on our website to shout about our expertise and knowledge, and to share community activities we’ve taken part in.

“I’ll continue to tell my team they should never underestimate the power of their personality.”

Two-thirds of our retail customers will have done some web research, and many have not set foot inside a Hays Travel store before. We welcome them, and their web quote, with open arms and take the opportunity to try to win them as a customer for life.

I’ll continue to tell my team they should never underestimate the power of their personality. I know many customers would much rather buy from them than a 10-inch touchscreen any day.


By playing prints charming, I won a client over

Last year, a customer came to me for help with a booking he had made online. He had to check in online or face fees at the airport for his family of nine – but he did not have a printer
or a smartphone. I said: “Well, that was a daft thing to do! I bet you feel like a right numpty now!” Then I checked him in – free of charge.

Last weekend, he was back in the branch to book his family of nine a holiday he had found on a supplier’s website. And this time, he was happy to pay a bit more for me to do it for him.

Customer for life? Only time will tell, but I’m feeling confident.

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