Personal sales in a depersonalizing economy: introducing online consultative sales

Economies are continuously changing; tourism is no exception. In order to maintain a competitive position, travel agencies are required to rethink the role of sales agents within the company. With the emergence of online sales and booking platforms the physical offices and face-to-face sales changed drastically. Nowadays, consumers book their trips through online travel agents. Information is easier accessible and travel agents less relevant. Therefore, the focus should be on online consultative sales.

According to Beltman and Peelen (2013), personal sales can be divided into two categories: transactional sales and complex sales. Complex sales, consultative sales in particular, have become much harder to employ due to recent developments. Travel agencies had to hand over purchasing and decision making authority to prospective customers (Young, 2011). Therefore, the sales person should now present himself as a consultant. Eventually, the aim is to add value by providing the customer with the information he is looking for (Beltman et al., 2013). Eventually, both complex sales and transactional sales have to be combined due to the expensive and time consuming nature of complex sales (Beltman et al., 2013).

personalsales

Social Networking Sites provide sales agents with valuable information regarding the interests and opinions of prospective customers. According to Colleen Francis, “Facebook is the best arena for business to consumer sales” (Smith, 2013). Facebook is the most valuable platform for B2C sales due to its personal nature. Customers perceive the platform as their save haven on which they can freely share their opinions and ask their friends and relatives for advice. However, according to Sprout Social, 90 percent of surveyed consumers have used social media to get in contact with a brand. Additionally, more than 34.5% claimed to prefer social media over traditional channels such as phones or email (Sprout Social, 2016). Exercising consultative sales through ones Facebook page or other forms of social media can result in increased revenue (Bedgood, 2015). The sales force is recommended to engage with social followers and provide customer service through Social Networking Sites.

TUI provides an excellent example on the implementation of personal sales in the online environment. On their Facebook page, TUI provides (prospective) customers to ask questions, express their opinion and to engage in their social activities. When customers complain or ask questions, TUI sales agents will respond to these public messages and request further details to be sent to their private inbox. This method allows TUI to show their customer involvement and engagement and to provide suitable assistance to the particular customer. In one specific case, TUI provided discount of over 800 Euros to a customer after she pointed out flaws in the system.

Online consultative sales are a very good method to replace physical sales with. Exposing the company on SNS and being able to answer – often critical – questions of customers may result in increased sales and higher customer satisfaction. Facebook may be the preferred source for business to customer sales and provides the biggest reach. Even in our current depersonalizing economies, personal sales can be achieved by introducing online consultative sales.

References
Bedgood, L. (2015, May 27). 4 Ways to Increase Revenue with Social Media. Retrieved 9 October 2017, from http://www.business2community.com/social-media/4-ways-increase-revenue-social-media-01236612#JWfPE6OtPQ1ZPUBV.97

Beltman, R. & Peelen, E. (2013) Customer Relationship Management. pp. 278 – 282. Harlow, United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited.

BMS. (2013, July 1). Personal Selling in Tourism industry. Retrieved 9 October 2017, from http://www.bms.co.in/personal-selling-in-tourism-industry/

Smith, J. (2013, October 1). How To Use Social Media to Make Sales. Retrieved 9 October 2017, from forbes.com

Sprout Social (2016). Shunning Your Customers on Social? Retrieved 9 October 2017, from https://sproutsocial.com/insights/data/q2-2016/

Tabita, J. (2012, January 29). Transavtional vs. Consultative Selling: Knowing the Difference Makes all the Difference. Retrieved 9 October 2017, from https://www.sitepoint.com/transactional-vs-consultative-selling-knowing-the-difference-makes-all-the-difference/

Young, T. (2011, February 3). A Selling Revolution: How the Internet Changed Personal Selling (Part 1). Retrieved 9 October 2017, from https://www.vistage.com/research-center/marketing/a-selling-revolution-how-the-internet-changed-personal-selling/

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Customer Knowledge Management: the key to increased competitiveness

The tourism industry is an extremely competitive environment in which travel agencies continuously seek ways to increase their competitive advantage. Customer knowledge (CK) provides the opportunity for travel agents to gain competitive advantage, given that the new customer knowledge is produced continuously and managed effectively (Chua & Banerjee, 2013). Customer knowledge management (CKM) helps managing customer knowledge gathered through interactions between the travel agent and the customer.

Data has to be gathered continuously and regular quality checks should be done for CKM to be effective. Hiring customer knowledge managers is recommended due to constant changes in customer characteristics and behaviors. Eventually, the goal is to develop an intense relationship with each individual customer. CKM helps doing this by forming an image of the person not only as a buyer, but also as a person.

CKM has proven to be extremely costly, but international corporations such as Quicken, Amazon and Starbucks illustrate its worthiness and effectiveness. According to Chua et al. (2013), social networking services (SNS) provide new opportunities for customer data collection. Due to the relatively low costs as well as the higher levels of efficiency, Chua et al. (2013) argue that organizations incapable of utilizing these SNS are at a strategic disadvantage. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allow customers to publicly share their opinions regarding certain products, organizations or situations. As an organization, this information can be utilized in order to understand their needs and wants. Simultaneously, customers will be able to understand the organization, their products and services better.

Within the tourism industry, CKM enables travel agents to recognize customer needs before the customer even recognizes these needs himself. Personalized packages may be offered directly to the customer in order to show them you understand them and recognize their needs. Doubtlessly, it is impossible to implement CKM on an individual basis. Therefore, it is advisable to segment ones’ customers into multiple clusters. Based on these clusters marketing strategies can be created and implemented. More information on customer segmentation can be found in Therese Perschel her blog on customer segmentation and personas.

Starbucks provides an excellent example of how CKM can influence customer engagement and strengthen the bilateral relationship between them and the company. Chua et al. (2013) have conducted a case study on Starbucks and found that they manage to adapt their products and their branding through SNS. Starbucks combines micro blogging sites (MBS), SNS, location-aware mobile services (LMSs) and corporate discussion forum services (CDS) in order to connect with its customers. Simultaneously, customers freely express their emotions, feelings and thoughts on Starbucks, its products and its design. By analyzing this data, Starbucks is now able to accurately accustom its products to its customers wishes. An example of this location-based customization is a Starbucks in Singapore. Through Foursquare, Starbucks found that customers appreciated their new store design. Without this CKM they would have not been aware of the impact these changes have on their customers.

In conclusion, customer knowledge management can significantly increase the competitiveness of travel agencies. Through CKM and SNS, you become more aware of your customers, their travel related wishes and when they are in need of travel. Customers recognize your intentions and appreciate the efforts your travel agency makes. Therefore, they are more likely to return and thereby increase the competitiveness of your company.

Bibliography
Chua, A.Y.K. & Banerjee, S. (2013) Customer knowledge management via social media: the case of Starbucks. Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 17(2), pp.237-249, https://doi.org/10.1108/13673271311315196

Dehghani, M., Mehdibeigi, N. & Yaghoubi, N.M. (2016, May 2). Customer Knowledge Management and Organization’s Effectiveness: explaining the mediator role of Organizational Agility. Procedia – Social And Behavioral Sciences, 230(3rd International Conference on New Challenges in Management and Business: Organization and Leadership, 2 May 2016, Dubai, UAE), 94-103. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.09.012

Gibbert, M., Leibold, M. & Probst, G. (2002, October). Five Styles of Customer Knowledge Management, and How Smart Companies Use Them To Create Value. European Management Journal, vol. 20 (5), pp. 459-469, 2002. doi:10.1016/S0263-2373(02)00101-9

Knowledge Management Software (n.d.). Knowledge Management within the Travel and Tourism Industry. Retrieved 29 September 2017, from https://www.kpsol.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Whitepaper-Knowledge-Management-in-Travel-and-Tourism.pdf

Peelen, E. & Beltman, R. (2013) Customer Relationship Management. p94-107. Harlow, United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited.

Moments of truth: when is the right time to connect with (prospect) customers?

In today’s rapidly developing online world, customer engagement became highly important for both companies and the customer. Traditional word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing was once the most important source of information. However, due to the rapidly advancing information and communication technologies (ITC), electronic word-of-mouth (e-WOM) has now become the most widely used source of information. According to Moran, Muzellec and Nolan (2014), e-WOM influences consumers when they are most vulnerable, the so-called Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT).

In their article, Moran et al. (2014) discuss the four moments of truth during each phase of the customer decision-making journey. The First Moment of Truth (FMOT) is the moment when a customer decides to purchase a product or service. The Second MOT (SMOT) happens when the customer starts to actually make use of the product. The Third MOT (TMOT) takes place when the customer decides to share their experience online or offline. Charoensuksai and Wolny (2014) argue that “consumers seek different benefits at the pre-purchase stage than during or after the purchase”. Therefore, as a travel agency, it is important to know when to reach out to the customer and in which way in order to increase customer engagement.å

An example of a travel agent that has understood the MOT’s extremely well is the Dutch-based srprs.me. Srprs.me started in 2014 and currently is one of the fastest growing travel agencies in The Netherlands. They understand the MOT’s during the customer decision-making journey extremely well. The company allows popular video loggers (vloggers) and bloggers to go on all-paid vacations in exchange for a promotional video or blog in order to raise the interest of prospect customers during the ZMOT. When the purchase is made, the company provides the opportunity to share your adventure with friends on Facebook through a personalized countdown clock that can be reached through a link to their website. As part of the FMOT, srprs.me will send a scratch card to the customers’ address which reveals the destination. During the SMOT there is not much interaction between the company and the travellers. However, customers are asked to share their experience through a review on the company website in order for other customers to become inspired.Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 18.43.22

Source: Moran, Muzellec and Nolan (2014).

When looking at the Consumer Decision-Making Journey in a Digital World figure by Moran et al. (2014), it can be concluded that the TMOT heavily influences the ZMOT. Therefore, it can be argued that the ZMOT and the TMOT are the most important MOT’s for travel agencies. In order to successfully connect and interact with prospect customers, adequate reviews and inspiring videos should be available. This is because consumers trust unbiased customer reviews more than inspiring stories written by companies themselves (Moran et al., 2014). Hernández-Méndez, Muñoz-Leiva and Sánchez-Fernández (2013) argue that customers are more likely to recommend a product to others when they had a positive experience. Therefore, travel agents should make sure that customers remain positive throughout the whole process.

Bibliography
Charoensuksai, N. & Wolny, J. (2014, April 18). Mapping customer journeys in multichannel decision-making. Journal of Direct, Data and Digital Marketing Practice (15), 317-326. doi:10.1057/dddmp.2014.24

Hernández-Méndez, J., Muñoz-Leiva, F. & Sánchez-Fernández, J. (2013, May 1). The influence of e-word-of-mouth on travel decision-making: consumer profiles. Current Issues in Tourism. Vol. 18, No. 11, 1001-1021, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13683500.2013.802764

Moran, G., Muzellec, L. & Nolan, E. (2016, June). Consumer Moments of Truth in the Digital Context: How “Search” and “E-Word of Mouth” Can Fuel Consumer Decision-Making. Journal of Advertising Research, 54 (2): 200-204. http://hdl.handle.net/10197/5666

Srprs.me (2017). Hoe het precies werkt… Retrieved 25 September 2017, from https://srprs.me/nl/hoe-werkt-het

The relevance of customer intimacy strategies for travel agents

Implementing the right customer engagement management strategy into ones’ organization has become increasingly important in today’s world. Peelen and Beltman (2013) discern three strategies that distinct organizations within their markets, namely operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy; the former ones being offensive, whereas the latter one is defensive. The customer intimacy strategy might be the most valuable strategy for travel agents, due to significant perceived importance of travel and the benefits it brings along (Chen & Petrick, 2014).

According to Treacy and Wiersema (1993), organizations that follow the customer intimacy strategy are continuously “tailoring and shaping products and services” and thereby hope to build customer loyalty for the long term. Developing the desired customer base requires a significant amount of resources and investments, but eventually provide serious increases in revenue due to an increase in purchases, reduced operation costs, referrals to other customers and price premiums (Bügel, M.S., Verhoef, P.C. & Buunk, A.P., 2010; Peelen & Beltman, 2013). Building the right customer base helps distinguish customers from each other based on the level of service required and the total revenue they generate (Treacy & Wiersema, 1993).

The importance of travel agencies seems to be constantly decreasing with the rise of online booking possibilities. Physical stores are disappearing, making travel agencies less recognizable. However, after years of declining usage, the American Society of Travel Agents in 2016 reported the highest number of bookings in three years (Lam, 2016). Customer motivations have shifted. Nowadays, travel agencies are expected to provide more than flights, transfers and hotels. They are expected to provide authentic experiences that are tailored to the wishes and demands of the customer.

Better Places is an excellent example of a travel agency that implements a customer intimacy strategy. This Netherlands-based travel agency offers trips to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. After providing them with ones’ preferences their information will be forwarded to a local travel expert. These travel experts will compose a perfectly tailored trip and support customers before, during and after their holiday. On their website travel suggestions are given for over a dozen destinations in order to inspire customers. Additionally, reviews are placed on their website per destination in order to make finding relevant reviews easier. By asking customers to provide their preferences and preferred route a form of co-creation takes place. This makes that, even though a travel agency is used, the customer feels a sense of responsibility for their trip.

Implementing a customer intimacy strategy is extremely relevant for travel agencies. With the increasing competition in the online market, travel agencies should distinguish themselves in the service provided. Customers become life time partners – and eventually even ambassadors – due to the personalized and customized products offered. Building personal relationships through co-creation and by building trust supports the creation of lifelong commitment between the travel agency and customer. Consequently, higher profits can be gained through the created customer base. Travel agencies should implement the customer intimacy strategy in order to maintain a relevant customer base and increase revenues in an ever increasing market place.

Bibliography

Bügel, M.S., Verhoef, P.C. & Buunk, A.P. (2010 December 8) Customer intimacy and commitment to relationships with firms in five different sectors: Preliminary evidence. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, vol. 18, 247-258. DOI: 10.1016/j.jretconser.2010.11.005

Chen, C. & Petrick J.F. (2014). The Roles of Perceived Travel Benefits, Importance, and Constraints in Predicting Travel Behavior. Journal of Travel Research, vol. 55(4), 509-522. DOI: 10.1177/0047287514563986

Lam, B. (2016, June 22). Who Uses a Travel Agent in This Day and Age? Retrieved 14 September 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/06/travel-agent/488282/

Peelen, E. & Beltman, R. (2013) Customer Relationship Management. Harlow, United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited.

Treacy, M. & Wiersema, F. (1993). Customer intimacy and other value disciplines. Harvard Business Review, January-February, 84-93.