Over the last few months, I found myself turning to travel agents of all kinds in search of service. It started when I tried getting my visa done on my own, spent hours on the website till I hit a roadblock, and then I went in search of expert help. And help they did.
I have been booking my personal air tickets online for ages now. This time, however, for my son’s travel to the US, I decided I would be better off in the safe hands of a travel company in case I needed to make last minute changes, and I did not have the time or bandwidth to juggle this really important task myself. I am happy with my decision.
I tried booking a train ticket online and found myself thinking it may be simpler to outsource this. Which is what I finally did. It cost a bit extra, but was well worth it.
What’s going on here? I asked myself. I had stopped using a travel agent and had gone solo for all my personal travel needs a few years ago. Why this sudden change of heart? I think the answer is simple. The number of things that I now need to do myself has gone up considerably. There were a host of service providers that I used to find myself surrounded by pre pandemic, that I no longer feel safe using. Anything that requires physical contact that I can do myself, I prefer to do myself. So my task list has expanded, leaving me looking for help to lighten the load. For this I am willing to pay. It’s also about making sure I get it right the first time. I want the expertise of a travel company that knows the tricks of the trade. That can guide me towards the best solution having understood my context. This is why I find myself happy to entrust my travel needs into the hands of a person I know and trust.
What does this mean for the service industry at large? Good things I would think. The key to success is trust – I am willing to pay a premium for service that I can count on. For service that is personalised. So it’s not only about being the biggest or the best. It’s a lot to do with a relationship that I know I can count on, where the size of my billing is not the only thing that defines the quality of the service.
When I link this to the public relations industry, the thought that springs to mind is – the important of relationships is going to be a huge factor in this business for some time to come. So putting real effort into the ‘relations’ part of public relations is going to be really important. We are racing towards a digital world, one where technology, size, speed and scale were becoming the key to success. While these remain important, I now feel strongly that creativity, human relationships, and personalisation of service, are going to become absolutely central to the business.
I want to deal with somebody that is willing to pick up my call after office hours. Someone who will take the trouble to get me that train ticket even though it’s a very low ticket item in their basket of service, knowing that tomorrow I will come to them for a much bigger assignment. Someone that will patiently advise me about the new travel insurance guidelines and help me decide which policy to buy instead of sending me an email and telling me I need to worry about reading the fine print.
This is the fine line between super fine service and a finite scope of work based offer. “This is what you get and no more” is no more going to be the norm. The extras are going to matter. Going the extra mile is going to be the investment that will pay rich dividend in the future. Clients will remember and reward those service providers that demonstrate this behaviour of trying their best to help.
Now is the time to serve. To be of service. It will define the winners from the losers as we move forward. Getting every team member to understand this and live every day by this work ethic is the responsibility of the leader’s. Creating a culture that is enabling of this orientation is going to be one of the biggest differentiators. Everything else can be bought. But behaviour is mirrored. Leadership will set the tone.
Enjoy the journey, I remind myself, as things are looking up for the good old travel agent. May we all find the ability to serve with a smile.
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