Travel insights from Sarah Kneisler, senior manager of operations and marketing at VAX VacationAccess

Why Leadership Matters When You Work Independently

Every industry event you attend, virtually or in person, probably has a session or some content for you based on leadership. Some of you may even say, “I’m independent so that doesn’t apply to me” – I know this because I’ve heard it said so often. I’ve also heard some attendees say that their boss will attend that session, so it’s not for them. For a while, I may have nodded along and agreed. If you don’t have anyone else on your team or working under you, why not focus on one of the other important topics?

How Do You Treat People?

Recently, I’ve had a change of heart. Throughout my career I’ve been through more leadership and development courses, programs and seminars than I can count. Some have been valuable, some have been in complete conflict with others I’ve taken but all of them are filled with action items you can implement. In a recent program my perspective was changed. A statement was made during the course debunking what my mother always told me: Treat people the way you want to be treated. Rather than that, this course recommended that you treat people the way they want to be treated. That perspective was a game changer.

Relationships are Where It's At

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times (and maybe even roll your eyes): The travel industry is a relationship business. It’s true for our industry because it’s true for just about every industry. Life itself is a relationship business! It all came together for me then – leadership is built on strong relationships. I looked back on many of the various leadership programs I’ve been through and realized this is a constant theme throughout them all which is exactly why it doesn’t matter if you work alone or if you are in an office with no direct reports; leadership, or relationships, will always matter.

You know better than anyone that your best customers are the ones you feel you have a close, strong relationship with. You’ve made a personal connection with them, developed their trust and hopefully planned a few of their amazing travel experiences. Leadership is about asking and listening, which is what every travel agent does with every customer. If you don’t ask and listen, you won’t really deliver their dream vacation. Focusing on honing or improving these leadership skills will also help you keep your customers coming back to you.

Be a Leader to Your Customer

Many of these leadership courses also tell you how to help your team be successful, whether it’s giving tips on how to onboard new team members or empowering your team to make business decisions, these also relate to navigating the relationship with your customer. If you’ve ever on boarded a new employee, you’ll know that you spend a lot of time teaching them, about your company, their role, their responsibilities and your expectations. As you do this, you likely adjust as you go based on social cues you gather as they learn and ask questions. This is similar to the process you go through with your customer.  You teach them about destinations, resorts, experiences that might be of interest to them. You share with them the responsibility they have to you in order for you to provide them this experience by setting the expectations of when payments are due, what details you need from them and what happens if they end up off track on meeting those expectations.

Your approach to these steps may adjust based on the customer. Some want it all via email, others want it over the phone and some with all the fine print while others want the high-level bullets. Adjusting your approach to each of your unique travelers is you actively building a relationship with them by treating them the way they want to be treated. You’re providing leadership to your customer with every interaction you have.

No matter what type of agent you are or what your office environment might be, I would encourage you not to blow off the next leadership course you’re offered. You’ve likely been through them before, but with each session you may gain a new tip or a new perspective that will help you be a greater leader for your customer.

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