Travel agencies have relied upon word of mouth to increase business for decades. As with practically any other form of business, travel agents find that by offering a superior level of service to their clients, they are able to attract more referrals based solely on the fact that said clients recommend the services that they offer to a friend.
Regardless of the way that the customer books their travel, be it through an online agency, brick and mortar company or travel comparison website, the recommendations gained due to providing a high quality of service are exceptionally important. Even in the face of other marketing techniques, such as search engine optimization and brand building, word of mouth is still an exceptionally effective tool.
However, it is traditional travel agencies that stand to benefit more from offering a great service than online booking agencies. This is borne out by the figures, with a recent survey stating that 37% of those who used a travel agent did so base on a recommendation from a friend who had enjoyed exceptional travel booking experiences. By contrast, online channels and direct booking figures show that approximately 10% made their decisions based on a friend’s recommendations.
In short, referrals for travel agents are as important as ever for a number of reasons.
Marketing costs are something that every business is going to have to face in some form or another. Online travel agencies must consider the cost of optimizing their websites, ensuring that they can be accessed by the widest possible audience. Other techniques, such as leaflets, email campaigns and many others, are used by more traditional travel agencies. The link between all of them is that they cost money.
Word of mouth is different. Instead of paying for increased exposure, word of mouth marketing is the result of offering a service that is so good that customers want to tell everybody about it. This is how many modern travel agencies drum up more business and, best if all, there is no direct cost. As long as the service provided is of a high standard, referrals for travel agents will come.
Of course, the flipside is that poor service results in an equivalent level of word of mouth. Failure to provide travel booking experiences that make things as easy as possible for your customers’ results in them making use of various channels to recommend people stay away from your company. With the increasing level of exposure, people can find for their opinions thanks to blogs, forums, and social media, this makes it more important than ever for travel agents to provide the level of service that their clients expect.
Social media sites have made word of mouth more effective than ever before. Previously, a bad customer opinion would only be exposed to people who were close to that customer. It is undesirable, of course, but it was a situation that could be managed to some extent and would often not have an enormous effect on the referrals the travel agency was capable of bringing in, assuming their quality of service was maintained in most other cases.
However, social media has created a brand new platform that customers can use to express their opinions. Not only will these opinions now reach a larger group of friends, but the potential for a statement about a company to go viral could mean disaster for a travel agency in the worst case scenarios.
This issue is compounded by the fact that statistics show that only about 20% of all customer feedback that is sent to companies from the consumer is answered directly. This creates a situation where all companies, not just travel agents, must dedicate even more resources to customer service in order to maintain their reputations online, even if they offer a traditional, predominantly offline service.
Of course, the best way to avoid this issue is to provide high-quality service and to handle customer inquiries as quickly as they are received. Much like in the older days, good service creates good word of mouth and those compliments can be seen by just as wide an audience as the negative. As such, it is the same process, just on a larger scale. Offer a great service and show dedication to resolving customer issues, and you will find that the “word of mouth” that is offered by social media channels has as much chance of improving your business, bringing in more referrals for travel agents for example, as it does for damaging it.
So what conclusions can we reach from this information? Word of mouth still stands as perhaps the most effective marketing tool that a travel agent can employ.
However, much like it always has, the word of mouth you generate is dependent entirely on the quality of service that you provide. However, said word of mouth can reach a much larger audience in a shorter span of time than was ever possible before the advent of the social networking age.
All of this means that it is even more important for traditional travel agencies to offer a service that is not only satisfactory to users but goes above and beyond to offer them what they are looking for. Increased competition from comparison sites and online travel agencies has already diluted the potential market share that a traditional travel agent can enjoy, which has made word of mouth more important than ever.
The positives to come from this is that great service results in repeat customers. As well as recommending you to friends, 41% of people who are happy with the service offered by their travel agent return to them for future trips without having checked any alternatives. Couple that with the recommendations that they provide for their friends and it is clear that word of mouth is the way forward for traditional travel agents looking to compete in an increasingly digital world.