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Comment: Hybrid agency support is here to stay

Suppliers should choose the most appropriate method for the situation, says APT head of sales Jessica Shelton-Agar

Our industry tends to attract a certain sort of person – and that can be particularly true when it comes to travel agents and sales teams.

Most travel businesses are all about people. We love nothing more than getting together, face-to-face, as we do the work we love. For us ‘people people’, the lifting of restrictions has been an absolute joy. Like so many, we have been desperate to get back on the road and out into agencies. Being a trade-focused operator, APT has forged strong relationships with our partners and count many of them as friends, and we’ve all been eager to reunite.

But of course the world has shifted, so we’ve spent a great deal of time considering the best ways to serve agents moving forward. And with winter approaching, this needs to be balanced with keeping agents, customers and colleagues safe, ensuring we can all stay open and keep trading.

While there is no substitute for face-to-face connections – which are particularly helpful when forging new working relationships – companies have invested heavily in digital infrastructures that allow us to keep seamlessly connected wherever we are based.

It makes good businesses sense to continue to utilise these platforms, especially now they have been so universally accepted. They give a degree of freedom and flexibility over how we conduct our sales meetings that didn’t really exist pre-pandemic.

A hybrid model for providing sales support seems here to stay, and future check-ins between operators and frontline agents are likely to be a blend of face-to-face and virtual.

Support options

It’s important to choose the most appropriate method for the situation, and remember to explore individual agents’ and, at the corporate level, agencies’ preferences in term of how they do business.

This may vary depending on workloads, agents’ health and vaccination status, company policy and how comfortable everyone involved feels.

There’s also an environmental benefit to shifting a proportion of agent contact to a more permanently virtual model. Travelling throughout a sales region comes with a carbon impact. Scaling back the time brands spend on the road will positively affect their emissions contributions.

In a world where every one of us needs to tread more lightly, this is a massive advantage. There is also a cost saving brands can reapportion to the development of supportive sales tools and assets. And conducting a percentage of meetings virtually will allow all parties to work at heightened efficiency by eliminating time spent getting from A to B.

Flexible choices

For stretched agents, virtual training that is flexible and can be done at a time to suit – be that from the comfort of their own homes, quieter periods of the working day or during a commute – is important.

While I particularly love to train our partners about the latest APT and Travelmarvel brand developments in person, I understand scheduling a fixed session isn’t always convenient for the agent, who will often be juggling customers in stores and busy phone lines.

Brands need to take an omni-channel approach, adding portal-based support, training and repositories of sales and marketing materials to the mix, and offer agents a choice of mediums and communication channels.

Many brands, APT and Travelmarvel included, have used the past 18 months or so to improve, upgrade and relaunch these systems, and ensure we’re in the best possible place to help agents as we approach 2022 peaks.

It seems obvious, but it’s easy to get overexcited about reuniting in precious face-to-face moments, so do be mindful. It’s important to ask before shaking hands or hugging. Wear a mask whenever appropriate. Remember that by protecting yourself, colleagues and partners, you’re enabling one another to keep working together safely, which is such an important factor in getting our industry back up and running to its full potential.

So, to agents out there, if you have thoughts about how you would like us to keep in touch, I would love to hear from you. Either way, whether virtually or in person, we can’t wait to see you soon.

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