Your travel company is as vulnerable as it’s rudest consumer facing staff member.

Despite the hundreds/thousands/tens of thousands/hundreds of thousands/millions you spend on advertising, your company is as vulnerable as the first person I speak with. That $8.00 an hour, or $12.00 an hour, or $6.00 individual is who I talk to when I call up, what I’ll tweet about in good times and in bad, and what will largely determine whether I use your travel agency again. Day to day customer satisfaction is tied to your people, not your brand. That’s a mentality and a practice that we need to embrace.

The same theory applies to the first person I see when I visit your office. Is she nice? Is she happy to see me? Is she juggling 5 phone calls, irritated, stressed and ready to bite my head off? Guess what, now she’s not the only irritated one. My bank spends millions a year on TV advertising but it’s the teller, the branch manager and the person greeting me that gives me the “I’m not just my account number” feel inside (yes I said something nice about my bank..)

I was watching a documentary on Zappos.com the other day and realized more travel companies need to mimic what they do. They can help train your company (for a fee) if you’re interested.

A large part of the happiness Zappos customers feel is directly tied to the happiness of their telephone agents. Agents who are empowered to take care of problems and not run to a manager for every little approval. Their agents don’t follow scripts — that’s too much for my comfort level but if I still ran my agency I would give it a try at least. Agents who want to be there and buy into the culture of “WOWing” the customer.

Customers get upgraded shipping so they are expecting it in 3 to 5 days but they get it in 2 days. We used to do that at my travel agency and people loved it. Nowadays everything is e-ticketed so I may be showing my age a bit.

Don’t quote me directly on this, but Zappos agents don’t have call timers; that’s something I advocated and implemented when I ran a call center. It simply didn’t make economic sense for my company to rush through phone calls so the customers problem wasn’t solved and they are angrier than ever and calling back — to then receive yet another agent looking to get his bonus for staying under 3 minutes on a call.

Is there an opportunity to give your line agents and consumer facing staff more credit and more incentive? To reduce their load so the quality of their work is better? To recognize those staff members that get positive feedback from customers?

When’s the last time you called your key customers and thanked them? When’s the last time you upgraded their shipping or sent them a personalized free gift? When’s the last time you remembered their birthday, their anniversary date or something unique about them that showed you actually cared?

If you don’t have time to do all your customers, then make the time for your key customers at least (the 80/20 rule).

I’m not saying you should implement what Zappos did lock stock and barrel — I argue that some of the things just can’t be done by a smaller company but that’s for another post — but I am recommending to tackle the low hanging fruit.

If you don’t, there are travel companies that will.

BTW, if you’re interested in the Delivering Happiness book, http://goo.gl/phtyk.