Guest Post: Why basic training can help agents stay ahead in the digital age

Amadeus has recently started offering pure sales training as part of its training portfolio using a specialist sales consultant who coaches agents face-to-face. In addition to sales skills, the travel technology giant has also begun offering travel agents classes in day-to-day computer programmes like Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Michael Short, operations director at Amadeus UK explains the thinking behind this move.

In the past, the travel agent role was undoubtedly different to the role they play today. Travellers, whether travelling for business or leisure, would actively source agents to research and book their trips.

The traveller relied on agents’ knowledge and expertise, suggesting destinations and methods of travel. Agents made this look deceptively straightforward and more often than not, would wait for the incoming queries.

But the unrelenting rise of online travel information and booking technology has meant that consumers now have the ability to search for and book various aspects of travel on their own. Automated tools and search engines can do the most basic jobs of a reactive travel agent and, as a result, it is no longer enough for agents to simply sit back and wait for the potential traveller to request a booking.

Increasingly, we are seeing a shift toward travel agents becoming more proactive in demonstrating their expertise and giving travellers more reasons to use them. Agents will progressively become expert sales consultants, demonstrating breadth of knowledge and insight within the travel industry.

It’s this expertise and tailored approach which many paying customers value over a simple online search, and it will be a key area of focus over the next few years as travel sellers succeed in differentiating their offering in a competitive market.

The “human factor” means travel agents can work with customers to consider their preferences in ways technology may not be able to fathom on its own. For many agents, genuine sales consultancy and showing how they can fulfil this role is a departure from yesterday’s approach, and this is where training comes to the fore.

Training and development is crucial to all businesses, especially those that require an element of sales consultancy. For example, which questions should be asked to draw the customer out? How do you identify the real buyer needs and ensure you address each one in turn? What techniques are needed to close the sale in a way that creates a satisfied customer as well as a profitable business?

Travel professionals are no longer agents for travel providers such as airlines – they are agents of their customers, the travellers. As such, they need to ensure they are at the top of their game and are able to go beyond their customer’s expectations in terms of what they’re delivering.

It’s particularly important that travel agents feel confident they are supported, providing them with the foundation to be able to flourish within their expanded roles.

That support comes both from having the right technology (highly efficient and automated booking platforms that present relevant and context-sensitive information) at their disposal, but also having the chance to improve their core sales skills.

There is often the belief that sales skills cannot be learnt, or that they come naturally as part of the person’s charisma, but we find that to be an oversimplification; sales skills can definitely be taught, (and learnt), and good training will have a positive impact on sales figures.

Having someone personally work on improving your selling skills is very different to attempting to learn the theory from a book or trying to make an off-the-shelf training course fit your particular needs. At a time when agents are working within an increasingly complex and competitive market, having that additional training can make all the difference.

Agents also need to be comfortable in both using the technology and promoting themselves as experts. Being adept at core IT programmes is increasingly a requirement. While there is a requirement for an element of introduction to the technology for those who need it is vital to tailor the training to ensure its relevance to the travel industry.

Travel agents have a lot of opportunity for growth within both the leisure and managed business areas and, by receiving comprehensive training, they can move past the increasingly outmoded reactive booking service and break into new markets where added value is highly sought after. With the right support, travel agents will meet changing expectations from customers and maintain their relevance in an increasingly complex market.

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