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Chapter 4 Time management for the online agent.

Chapter Outline

Introduction

The Entrepreneurial Online Agent

The New Agent's Basic Tool Kit

Planning, Goal Setting, and Prioritizing

Time Is Money--Use It Efficiently

Objectives

After completing this chapter, you should be able to:

* Discuss the need for added value other than convenience

* Understand that the new environment requires a new work model

* Set schedules, goals, and priorities

* Recognize the need for continuing education

Introduction

In previous chapters it has been suggested that CRS-based distribution of services via travel agencies may lose dominance as the prime conduit of travel services between vendors and customers. Agents have become just one of many distribution systems for travel services. There were two major reasons for this development:

1. Internet technology offered vendors attractive new distribution channels. Airlines, gravely aware of the almost 20 percent of gross income they had been spending on distribution, began to reduce this expense by dealing directly with frequent flyers and Fortune 500 corporations, by further cutting or eliminating travel agent commissions, and by promoting ticketless travel. Big hotel chains, car rental companies, and tour operators gladly switched from using expensive CRSs to using lower-cost Internet channels to distribute services. Convention and visitor bureaus, tourist offices, and smaller vendors also embraced the Internet because it offered them, for the first time, a cost-effective alternative to distribution via expensive mail, fax, and phone channels.

2. Internet technology offered travelers direct access to vast information databases, some of which were once the exclusive domain of travel agents (see Figure 4-1). Not only are vast sites such as Microsoft Expedia and Travelocity full of information and ever-smarter booking engines, but they are also open around the clock. Suddenly, even convenience is not a travel agency exclusive any more.

These trends made it vital for travel agents to add value to the services they sold other than geographic convenience. To compete successfully in the online environment, they also needed to step up their sales activities. The imperatives of innovation and increased sales and marketing at the agency and agent levels shaped the schedules, goals, and priorities of most agents. Formerly, 75 percent of an agent's time might have been spent on the phone with clients and vendors, processing reservations; much of this work has become automated, with clients either using their online services or using the phone to connect with voice-recognition reservation centers. Inevitably, agents will have time on their hands either to develop new, high-yield business, or to improve their solitaire-playing skills. Switching from "travel reservation taker" to "travel marketing and sales specialist" requires behavioral changes.

[FIGURE 4-1 OMITTED]

The Entrepreneurial Online Agent

Before you consider such a change, you need to find out what you're best at, and how you can apply your set of skills in this new environment. Take a good look at yourself and find out whether you want to face the challenge of fundamental change. If you're perfectly happy handling reservations whenever the phone happens to ring, you may want to stop reading this text right now--but start worrying about job security in a line of work that is increasingly automated.

If you think you can learn new skills, though, go out and convince clients that you and your company can create and arrange travel services better than they can. If you think you can create new services, read on.

The New Agent's Basic Tool Kit

The successful agent will work in an active, entrepreneurial, and creative arena, rather than in a reactive (waiting for the phone to ring) employee mode. Entrepreneurial agents will emphasize working smarter, rather than working harder. Using software to your advantage is an important part of smart work, and your schedule must consistently allow time for continuous learning. Technology changes quickly and the simple truth that "he who rests, rusts" has never been more true than today. The basic skills for the entrepreneurial online travel agent include the ability to handle:

* Computer reservation systems

* Travel products and destinations

* Marketing and sales

* Word processing

* Spreadsheets

* Database management

* Desktop publishing

* Presentation tools

* Time management

* E-mail

* Web searching

* Web site authoring and/or editing

Agents selling to corporate customers also need to be familiar with their CRS's capability to provide services via an intranet.

You will use these skills in a multitasking environment. Only the last five skills in the preceding list, and their specific applications for the retail travel industry, are covered in this text. Inexpensive classes covering computer literacy are available at many community colleges, both as traditional classes and as online courses.

It is important to recognize that the planning process goes hand in hand with skills development. Obviously, you cannot schedule sales calls to corporations before you know how to pitch intranet travel solutions. Rather than creating a grandiose plan, begin by budgeting time on a daily plan, with the goal of getting you more in front of sympathetic customers likely to buy high-yield products.

Planning, Goal Setting, and Prioritizing

Once you are used to creating and following a daily plan, you may want to advance to a weekly schedule, and later to a monthly or even semi-annual procedure. However, it is strongly recommended that you start simply, with daily plans and goals--you have to learn to walk before you can run.

At the Close of the Day

Take 10 or 15 minutes to plan and organize the next day. Establish a schedule and set some goals, such as contacting at least 10 important clients and finding a class to acquire a missing skill. This way, tomorrow you can hit the ground running, rather than scratching your head in the morning wondering what the day will bring. Prioritize daily goals by creating an "A" list of people you must contact no matter what, a "B" list of people you ought to be in touch with, and a "C" list of people who should hear from you. A good schedule that allocates two hours for a Chamber of Commerce mixer tells you right away that you're not going to have a chance to contact C-list people individually--but maybe you can reach them with a broadcast message.

Your "A" folder may include several categories of "must be in touch with today" companies and people. For instance: (1) calls to clients about urgently pending matters (including crises and emergencies); (2) calls to clients with good prospects for higher-yield orders; and (3) calls to vendors and information providers with whom you may be developing new products.

Your "B" folder may list the people to whom you'd like to talk because you think they have potential business. It could also contain an item: "need to look up online courses about presentation tools."

On your "C" list are contacts who need attention, but not necessarily today. Your C folder may also contain ideas that help you cobble together brief but frequent newsletters or sales announcements.

When this text uses the term calls, it doesn't necessarily mean telephone calls. A call can be a personal visit, a phone call, an e-mail message, a fax, or a memo via snail mail. The contact medium depends on customer preference, time available, and the type of message and information you are dealing with.

Although it is important to realize than not everything can be accomplished as planned, this realization is no excuse for forgoing planning. You must produce a prioritized outline of tomorrow's activities and goals and a schedule, and stick to them.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Your workday starts at home, where you listen to your phone messages and fire up your PC to review critical passenger name records (PNRs), read your e-mail, absorb general and travel-related news, and create messages for your clients. This is your first chance of the day to let online technology and multitasking empower you to work smarter. Use your hi-tech tools to access, absorb, sort, prioritize, and prepare information to quicken your clients' decision cycles. Put another way, use online technology to shorten time to market. For many people, this early-morning approach is very productive, because their energy level is high; their focus is sharp; their minds are as yet uncluttered by all the matters that will occur throughout the day; and their time is uninterrupted, due to the merciful absence of phone calls and office chit-chat. Use the early part of the day to fill your A, B, and C folders.

1. Sort incoming phone messages, e-mail, Web downloads, and news in appropriate folders. In the same folders, file the information (such as forthcoming birthdays and anniversaries) that you glean continually from your client database. At this time, don't make phone calls; stay focused on getting organized. Simply add all urgent information and messages to your A folder. Inability to complete this step without making phone calls or responding to e-mail messages may suggest that you are subconsciously unwilling to get organized.

2. Connect collected information with the clients on your A, B, and C lists, and reorganize folder contents accordingly. Your database may tell you that a client on your B list will be celebrating his 40th birthday soon, so you should send a card today. Therefore, the action of getting and mailing a card advances to the A folder, to assure that this will be done today.

3. Compose your actual messages (phone calls, e-mail, faxes, and memos via regular mail).

4. From folder A, which includes crisis and emergency management, send out your first messages via e-mail and fax. Time permitting, service folders B and C similarly, otherwise, get to B and C later.

Scrap Time

Now that you have probably accomplished two hours' worth of work in less than one hour, relax, have breakfast, take a walk, or go to the gym. When you later commute to the agency, think of how you could make better use of "scrap" time. You probably waste bits of it every day when you are:

* Waiting (for a client, for a meeting, for the phone to ring, for a doctor's appointment)

* Driving (stuck in traffic, commuting)

* Doing non-thought-intensive activities (jogging, riding your exercycle, sorting brochures)

Rebecca L. Morgan suggests that you make use of this scrap time by:

* Planning your next sales call

* Reviewing what you think your client needs

* Critiquing your last sales call

* Visualizing your next sales call

* Listening to a motivational or informational presentation

* Writing a quick note to a client or someone you just met

* Catching up on reading

* Updating and refining your daily schedule and goals

* Mining your client database

Putting scrap time to good use takes some forethought and planning. Obviously, you'll have to have reading and listening materials available during scrap time if you are to make use of them. Likewise, you'll want to have client lists, your schedule, and goals with you to work on some of the other items. Last but not least, never be caught without a notebook and a pencil. (1)

Office Pressures

Upon arrival at the office, you will have to update your schedule, as well as your folders, as you receive more messages. Now that the business day has really started, answering the phone becomes a top priority--most clients hate to leave messages. Talk to your clients and handle their business. But the moment you're off the phone, go back to your A folder and take care of its contents, one by one, according to the way you prioritized them. Try to make phone calls early, and send e-mails and faxes out before you and your clients get too frazzled.

Time Is Money--Use It Efficiently

* Use e-mail to arrange personal and phone appointments. Your client will be ready and focused.

* Just say no when colleagues distract you with idle talk; say, "Sorry, I'm busy selling."

* Address groups of clients in the form of mailing lists, parties, seminars, or training sessions.

As the hours vanish one by one, you'll realize that you cannot reach all the goals you set unless you really kick up your speed a few notches. Don't! Your time is spent much more productively if you stay fully focused on your current task and trust your previous prioritizing, as opposed to worrying over what you need to get done by the end of the day. In fact, reserve your last half-hour for reviewing your day. Think about how long you were in front of clients, and how long in front of the water cooler or the solitaire screen. How can you get more client time? By delegating certain tasks to support staff? By becoming a more efficient computer user through training? By shifting from phone messages to e-mail? Having reviewed the day, you can adjust tomorrow's schedule and goals to a more manageable level, and you can begin to add long-term projects such as training and new product development.

Summary

Online technology changed the role of the agency in the distribution of travel services. To prosper, you must adapt. Take charge of your time by developing schedules and priorities. They help you to make a successful transition from traditional order taker to New-Economy entrepreneur.

End Notes

(1) Rebecca L. Morgan, "Salvaging Sales Scrap Time," American Salesman 41, no. 10 (October 1966): 8.
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Article Details
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Author:Maurer, Ed
Publication:Internet for the Retail Travel Industry
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:2185
Previous Article:Chapter 3 Getting onto the Internet.
Next Article:Chapter 5 Gathering information.
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