Travel agent Norm Payne is a spirited ACTA member with a stellar reputation for solving impossible problems, an effective advocate for clients and industry. An advisor to Canada Global Affairs with more than 18 years' experience as a travel professor, he is a participant in several industry initiatives.
Before commission cuts and eTickets, professional fees were unknown.
Appreciative clients brought gifts saying, ‘’you don’t charge anything for this kind of service’?”
We handled everything – from the supersonic Concorde to clickity-clack Via Rail with profits equally disparate.
In the 80s, I worked at Marlin Travel. One day I approached our manager suggesting we introduce professional fees. Mystified she was.
Shortly after, a couple swept in with an intractable problem and tickets purchased from an airline which was not represented at our agency. Said airline wanted $1,400. A professional fee of $100 each was requested if the problem was solved. With a couple of calls on speakerphone, the problem disappeared, no charge.
I proffered my manager the cash and she had a heart attack! With other than subjective reasoning, she could not justify charging that professional fee.
Over the years I pontificated, preached and evangelized professional fees. Service fees are for banks; these fees were for professionalism.
You would be amazed how frequently the client, either anticipating or receiving exceptional service has already committed to paying for it. People like to buy from those who revel in selling and provide exceptional service – which deserves to be paid for.
The biggest obstacle to charging professional fees is not the client, it’s the travel agent – the travel agent who somehow doubts that their effort is not quite as valuable. After all, the client is paying $3,500 for a one-way ticket – why should you charge another $150?
There is no point differentiating to the client or justifying to yourself that just because you make $5.50 on a Cheapjet ticket that you will not charge a professional fee, yet charge $150 on a $3,500 ticket with no commission. Now that would baffle any client.
Most travel agents work miracles and you hear wondrous stories of service excellence when we congregate. Retell those stories to yourself and know you are worth a professional fee – I guarantee your clients will willingly pay. Have confidence in yourself so that your clients can have confidence in you.
"Win them on service"
For the rare client who balks, tell them about miracles worked, show them your awards and testimonials, and as one fellow travel agent says – “if you win them on price, you will lose them on price.”
To that I would add, “if you win them on service, you will retain them on service.” It is actually easier to give outstanding service than to provide mediocre service.
No, you can’t sell to everyone, so why try? Even Walmart can’t. But remember - professional fees are all about professionalism and not about fees.