Many busy travel agencies have come up with the idea of taking one consultant off the sales desk and placing them in the role of a dedicated concierge. This member of the team can be invaluable for dealing with everything from hotel requests and flight check-ins to freeing up consultants’ time to focus on selling.
Here we look at the advantages of a concierge, with examples from different agencies that have implemented the role.
Peakes Travel Elite – named the UK and Ireland’s No1 Travel Agency in the TTG Top 50 Travel Agencies 2019 – says its concierge service started organically.
Claire Moore, managing director at Peakes Travel Elite in Shropshire, says: “There was a period where one of the team was on maternity leave, so one of my friends, Vicky, came in for a couple of hours a week to help with special requests.”
Five years later and Vicky is heading up a team of four people dedicated to concierge service.
“They act as a post-sales team,” explains Moore. “The services they provide include checking confirmations, booking seats, [helping with] visas and hotel requests, special assistance at the airport for customers with a disability and anything around tickets and check-in – we will provide anything the customer wants.”
Having recruited a strong sales team, Moore felt it was unnecessary for them to spend too much time focusing on administrative tasks.
“We wanted to give time back to the sales team to reduce the need for an additional sales person,” she says.
“A sales person isn’t necessarily the best admin person, so it’s about using people to their strengths.”
Having a concierge frees up time and encourages relationship building, according to Moore. “There are customers who only want to deal with me, for example. The concierge will do the legwork but I then deliver that information to the customer, which saves me time.”
Other agencies have always had the service in place. “We’ve had the concierge service since we started out, which is now almost 10 years ago,” says Carolyn Park, director of C the World, a TTG Top 50 Travel Agency. “I did it myself when I started.”
The store has two concierges, Nicola Woodland and Catherine Smith. The role has no selling element to it at all, explains Park. “They will do all sorts of things like checking customers in and helping them fill in their Estas. People get nervous, so it’s a peace-of-mind service.”
Park believes having a concierge service can become a USP for your agency, reassuring clients and keeping them coming back for repeat bookings. “We thought about why people should book with us when there are plenty of agents and operators out there. If we’re there holding the client’s hand, we build trust. Keeping clients you’ve got is easier than finding new ones,” she says.
“We thrive on repeat business and we grow by word of mouth. I call our service the ‘bat phone’ as, like Batman, we are on call 24 hours a day, and if the phone rings we drop everything to sort out the issue.”
One argument for a concierge is client retention due to the tailored service. Park gives an example of a concierge who thought outside the box to make sure clients didn’t miss part of their holiday.
“While clients were in the air flying to Hawaii, we had a notification that their tour pick-up time had changed. We couldn’t get hold of them so the concierge booked them a 6.30am alarm call the day after they landed. The clients thanked us, even though they were jet-lagged, because it meant they didn’t miss their tour.”
Tony Mann, director at Idle Travel, prefers to have all members of staff mucking in with any additional requests, as opposed to having a dedicated concierge service. He outlines his reasons:
Working together: “By sharing the concierge tasks, the whole team gets to know customers. Having a dedicated role takes away the personal bit.”
Informal approach: “If we’re all sectioned into boxes, we lose the personal touch. As an independent, knowing customers by name and all about them makes us stand out. A concierge service is too corporate; doing things this way adds a more relaxed feeling.”
No change yet: “I’ve considered it, because if we had one person focusing on the concierge service everything would get done straight away. I always re-evaluate what could be an advantage for the customer, but at this moment in time I’m happy with how things are.”
For some agencies, the concierge role is relatively new. “About a year ago we felt we needed a concierge service, so we’ve had someone fulfilling that role since then,” says Richard Dixon, director of Holidaysplease. “We don’t advertise the service or shout about it. In our view, if we provide it, the customer will book again.”
The agency found that by contacting suppliers in advance, it could ward off potential issues before they happen. This also cemented relationships, which has led to upgrades and special treatment of valued clients.
“We’ve had lots of success with customers getting stuff from a hotel that they wouldn’t usually have done if we hadn’t been in touch,” says Dixon.
“An example is one of our clients who made a Christmas booking and received a lot of money off the price. She looked at the website afterwards and discovered that lots of things the hotel normally offers weren’t applicable because of the special offer. Our concierge, Cait, spoke to the hotel so the customer got everything included, like a romantic meal on the beach and spa treatments.”
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