Michelle Froese is a Vancouver-based writer, editor, and adventurer. She's an advocate for clean energy and eco-tourism, and has spent nearly 15 years as an editor for renewable trade publications and more than 20 years as a technical writer. Michelle serves as an editorial judge and marketing manager for TABPI (Trade, Association and Business Publications International), which sponsors the Tabbies b2b magazine editorial and design awards.
Innovation, efficiency and experience are the three key takeaways that Transat Distribution Canada (TDC) hopes attendees will benefit from during its three regional conferences in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver this fall.
“Our theme this year is mission possible, not impossible,” Kimberley Wood, TDC’s national director, franchisees & affiliates, told PAX during the west coast event last weekend. “That means our message focuses on possibilities and customer experiences. And we hope attendees leave each of the conferences feeling re-energized and excited for the fall and winter selling season, with some new tools to support them.”
The annual west coast TDC conference hosted more than 200 of its travel professionals and more than 40 preferred partners at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel. (Montreal’s conference took place a couple of weeks ago and Toronto’s will take place on Sept. 28 and 29). The weekend included workshops, networking, a trade show and masquerade dinner.
One way that TDC is pushing innovation is through a simple, yet valuable tool — creating the “wow effect” for customers.
“It’s not enough just to satisfy customers with a travel itinerary,” explained Wood. “To instill loyalty, it’s important to make them raving fans so they’ll return and tell their family and friends about you. So, one of our goals is to train travel professionals on how to create that wow effect.”
To this end, conference delegates had the opportunity to attend the “Storytelling in the Age of Attention War” workshop, which featured the S.U.C.C.E.S.S. (Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories) approach to persuasion and retention.
“We’re now often time-deprived in keeping a person’s attention, so it’s important to make an impact and articulate a vivid story that’s going to excite clients about their travel options,” said Wood.
The crunch for time also means efficiency is critical in customer interactions. A second workshop option at the conference was on personal efficiency for busy professionals. “Efficiency is another way to provide that wow experience for clients,” she said.
“All of this is about building a real experience for customers that differentiates our services and leads to success for travel agents,” added Louise Fecteau, general manager for TDC.
Examples of TDC's innovation
Here are a few other ways TDC is innovating the customer experience:
eX par Voyages Transat: “eX —and you can label that how you like…experience, expertise, extreme— is a new lab agency in Montreal,” said Fecteau. The goal: an immersive in-store experience offering full travel agency services and innovative experiences, including virtual reality.
“Here we are testing a lot of things for the customer,” she said. “For example, the lab is fully paperless, and everything is done electronically including business cards. We’ve also introduced a VR experience that showcases the interior of one of our planes and a few destinations that customers can ‘visit.’”
Fecteau added that virtual hotel tours are also in the works.
Mystery shopping: TDC recently partnered with Lanla, experts in measuring customer experiences, to secretly shop at 150 agencies across the TDC network in Canada. The aim is to use the results to develop a greater customer service experience.
“We learned a couple of interesting takeaways, including that customers will pay more for superior service and that consistency across agencies is essential,” shared Wood.
Customer survey program: “This year, we’re launching a customer survey about the service at all of our agencies across the country,” said Fecteau. TDC has 400 franchises and 63 corporately-owned agencies in Canada. “This isn’t about product knowledge but only about the customer experience.”
“The power of customer service cannot be underscored enough here,” added Wood. “We have a huge opportunity to differentiate ourselves through our service. And that’s in line with our mission possible theme.”
What TDC's agents are saying
For many of the agents at the Vancouver conference, new possibilities were also gained through good old-fashioned networking. “So much of this event is about connecting with other agents to learn what they’re doing and to keep up with what’s new,” Sara Crowhurst, a travel consultant with The Travel Place in Campbell River, BC, told PAX.
Consultant Lynn Hipwell, who works in the same office, agreed. “It’s also about connecting with suppliers at the trade show here. At least for us on Vancouver Island, we don’t always get the reps visiting, so this is the one time a year where we can put a face to a name and learn about new products or ask questions.”
Crowhurst added: “We’ve been coming to this event for six years and we learn something new every year.”
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