Fri, 28 Nov 2003

Never let 'customer satisfaction' remain a mere slogan

Mahendra Gautama, Contributor, Jakarta

It is generally agreed that a holiday that includes a pleasant traveling experience produces a positive effect. Such a holiday becomes an invigorating experience that is worlds apart from the daily hectic and boring routines of most people.

For businesspeople, such a holiday enhances their performance at work. Today, many companies reward their employees who have performed well with a holiday.

Many people will also concur that planning ahead for anything, holidays and traveling included, is vital to avoid headaches. Going to never-before-visited destinations can create problems. Hence, some people rely on reputable travel agencies to take care of their holiday and travel needs, from tickets, accommodation as well as all other details, even the seemingly simple ones.

Linda, one of Avia Tour's branch managers, said that basically travel agencies offer three types of travel planning.

The first type is usually called "Series", which includes travel packages to one or several destinations. These packages incorporate every customer's needs, such as transportation, accommodation, guides and so on.

The second type is the "Incentive", which is usually preferred by companies for the holiday and travel needs of their executives and employees. Here the travel agency also acts as a consultant for their customers.

The third type caters to "Individuals", which also includes small groups of vacationers. The individual or the small group is also served by the travel agency to match their specific requirements and often special packages are created for them.

"Even during the high season, like during school holidays or long public holidays like Idul Fitri and Christmas, although our business is brisk we never let our customers down by giving them average service. Customer satisfaction is always on our mind whether business is slow or booming. We also keep our rates reasonable," Linda said.

Managers of other reputable travel agencies besides Avia Tour agreed with Linda. They also added some other tactics or methods to lure customers.

The first tactic is the oldest and the most basic as it is price related. In today's competitive environment, travel agencies have to resort to discounts or cutting their rates. Further reductions occur when a customers pays in advance or as a wholesale discount, like when a group of travellers purchase a large number of tickets. Sometimes the price reduction is in the form of gifts, like cellular phones, digital cameras and so forth. Many travel agencies bear the sales tax rather than including the tax in the price of tickets.

The second tactic is enriching the itinerary. More sub- destinations are added, such as those with historic values or places famous for souvenirs and other exotic items. Customers are also given a "full board" service as it is commonly known in the travel industry. It comprises excellent food for all three meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Specialty foods, snacks and a smaller fourth meal is sometimes included.

The third tactic concerns the quality of the guides and tour leaders, whose professionalism, competence and friendly attitude are a must. Next to their profound knowledge of the destinations, they have to deliver their services with warmth, rather than robot-like salesmanship. Humor is often helpful in their profession.

The last tactic -- more a corporate strategy, in fact -- is a kind of business expansion. Next to serving customers for their business or holiday purposes, today, a number of travel agencies have also put medical check-ups on their menu. Even destinations that offer alternative medicine or healing are now on offer.

Another creative step by travel agencies is offering new pilgrimage or religious destinations. New and seldom visited sites associated with religions or spirituality are heavily advertised.

Of course, huge sporting events, like Formula One races or the World Cup, are offered to clients.

Just like in any business, especially for service providers like travel agencies, customer satisfaction must be lived up to. Pampered customers are happy customers.