This is not an article about time management. But it’s worth your time to read it.
I am inclined to agree with leadership expert John C. Maxwell’s thought that “Time management is an oxymoron.” We cannot manage or control time, it will tick on no matter what we do.
But still there are countless articles, lists and advice columns that lead us to believe that we can, in fact, manage time itself.
Do any of these suggestions look familiar?
. ‘Cut off distractions’
. ‘Multitasking does more harm than good’
. ‘Make goals’
. ‘Delegate tasks’
. ‘Create a structured schedule to stick to’
. ‘Prioritize what is important and manage your priorities’
These are all good ideas in their own right, but try actually living them as a travel agent, running your own successful small business, in Canada, in January!
Many of us are headed into our busiest time of year and any day we start off with a schedule can easily go off the rails the moment a price changes, availability drops or a mistake on a booking is discovered.
We can all agree that we should focus on one task at a time, and one task only, as it will be done more thoroughly and with greater accuracy. But we need to do something while we are waiting on hold, don’t we? Those enquiries that are starting to pile up can easily book elsewhere.
We can also make priorities as much as we like, but what happens when you have 10 things to do and they are all equally important? You are only one person but 10 clients need you NOW. Where do you turn?
This is where we all need to rely on the closest thing to Time Management that we can come to: our processes.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PROCESS
I mentioned in the first part of this series the importance of putting together a process for dealing with change.
Simply put, your processes are your go-to strategies for dealing with just about anything that comes up in your busy day as a travel advisor. You know your processes, and they work.
Your processes are your safety net, and taking the time to put together clearly defined processes for the most common aspects of your work will help keep you organized during even the most overwhelming days.
The time you lose in trying to stay organized and on top of everything you have on the go can be time gained and invested back into your clients if you have processes that are:
a) clearly defined
b) easily explained and broken down into steps
c) documented and accessible
WHAT ARE THE KEY PROCESSES YOU SHOULD DEFINE?
You should be able to easily identify the steps for at least these key processes when you are selling travel as an Independent agent:
. Your enquiry process
. Your booking process
. Your payment and invoicing process
. Your after-sales process
. Your commission tracking process
. Your repeat-clientele marketing process
There are easily a half dozen others, like having a process for working through a client complaint, or issuing a refund to a client.
Having a distinct step-by-step approach in at least these key areas though helps ensure you have the bulk of what you do in your sales role covered.
BREAK YOUR PROCESS DOWN INTO STEPS
Your processes are your own but when was the last time you made the time to review them and look for efficiencies?
For example, in your enquiry process, what qualifying questions do you ask your clients every time? What qualifying questions do you add for a cruise client, or someone looking for an all-inclusive?
Breaking down your enquiry process gives you the ability to put these questions down into templates that you can easily cut and paste from as needed.
When you book a client, are there steps you follow every time, like taking down the locator or booking number, supplier and expected commission amount, that can help you in your commission tracking process?
And after the e-tickets are handed off and the booking is done and dusted, is it a part of your process to review the entire file one more time for any errors or do you just move onto the next booking?
In that last example, I’m not suggesting you have the time right then and there to review the booking – there are likely other clients to tend to and other calls to make – but if you make this a part of your process (and I’d recommend you do), the booking is essentially unfinished until that step is completed.
Every booking and situation is unique, but you should be able to pin down major steps under each process.
Write them down. Put them in a Word document. Finesse them until you’ve made them as efficient as they could be.
Now it’s time to use them.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR PROCESSES ACCESSIBLE
First of all, put away that booking spreadsheet. That trusty old spreadsheet had its time and place, but it has been replaced with fantastic new online tools that do all of the sorting, colour-coding and tracking for you, and many of them have free versions that will completely satisfy your needs.
There is one I’ve recently discovered that has made my process management for projects I’m working on so easy, accessible and visually appealing that I wished I’d had something like it when I was an agent.
I’m not here to be a spokesperson for any one tool; a quick Google search for ‘Online Process Tracker’ will bring up a number of viable options.
These tools will help bring what you’ve put down in your Word document to life.
The discipline to enter each enquiry or client is yours to maintain; no one is saying this is easy. What I am saying is that having a process to begin with is important and making it easy to access and follow even more so.
A well-defined process is a roadmap that should, in an instant, tell you exactly what needs to happen next on any given file in any given situation.
Aside from giving you a safety net to fall back on when things get hectic, a process-driven approach to your business will bring a consistent customer experience to your clients.
It is important for clients to know what to expect from you. If your processes hit the right notes every single time, trust is formed and your clients become repeat clients and, eventually, advocates for you and your business.
We’ll talk more next time on how to get your clients to that advocacy level, but it all begins here, with the service you provide and the processes you have in place to keep that service consistent. Even when you’re selling travel in Canada, in January.
Lee Zanello has been helping agents build safety nets into their business for over 15 years, with the last five focused on Independent agents who partner with Independent by Flight Centre in Canada. He knows how difficult it can be for an Independent Agent to manage all of the aspects of their business that they need to and how important it is to provide and automate as many processes as possible from the host agency side of the business. This is the second piece in a series of Independent Insights based off of experience and learnings from agents within the Independent community. Read the first column in the Independent Insights series here.