Customer service: travel agents vs. tour guides

The other day I was in a clothing store, whose name I will keep anonymous (hint: named after Monica Geller’s brother). I needed to pick up some socks, of all things and was in a little bit of a hurry. I stood in line for over ten minutes behind ONE other person as the clerk carried on a gossip discussion with the manager. Yep, the manager. Keep in mind, I saw three other blue vested employees drop by and chime in on the conversation to add their two cents but only one register open.

The experience left a bad taste in my mouth. Needless to say, no recommendations will be made to my sphere of influence endorsing that proprietor. “Where did it all go wrong?”, I asked myself. The company does not intend to fail miserably in creating a negative experience. The company surely doesn’t mean to miss the mark in regards to customer acquisition and retention.

We all know customer service is an integral part to a companies success and should be a priority marketing function. Why then does it provide some of the lowest-paying wages and usually attract applicants that do not reflect the audience the business is trying to reach? To fix this, business leaders need to hire and develop “tour guides” not “travel agents”.

Earlier in the year when we were in Swaziland, our family went on Safari. I remember the process of booking the safari at the adventure travel place. The agent was pleasant but had never been to this park nor had any stories of the game she saw there. She had a brochure and a rate sheet. Sensing we were less than impressed, the marketing manager in the office piped up from the office next door. Mike came to the rescue. He was dressed in guide attire down to the boots and brown socks. He had been to the game reserve, slept in the huts, and traveled with each of the guides on various drives. Mike knew what we were getting into and transferred the joy of his experience to us.

A “travel agent” is a person who has read the brochure. They may have knowledge of where you are going but have rarely been there themselves. The “travel agent” can only tell you what they think you want to hear. Most companies hire “travel agents” believing they are meeting the expectations of their patrons. Wrong. We want more than a two-dimensional image and fact sheet.

A “tour guide” is an expert. They have a story to tell and an experience to share. They are fans. Apple stores employ tour guides. They are almost all mac owners and can take the customer on a personal journey. They care about the environment they create because they are customers too.

Happy customers make great “tour guides” too. Does your company have “travel agents” or “tour guides?

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