“The Internet is going to disintermediate REALTORS just like it did travel agents.” Such a comparison is easy to make, especially given the fact that the man who shook up the travel industry with Travelocity.com also started a site you might have heard of– Zillow.com.
I am now of the opinion, however, that REALTORS should try to be more like travel agents, well the successful travel agents, anyway.
An eye-opening look into the travel industry
So the other night, Kari and I were watching the Bravo channel (when we watch TV, we almost never watch network television). We came across a marthon of one of their shows, “First Class All the Way.” The show is a reality show that follows the business of Sara Ryan-Duffy, and her company, SRD International. Sara is, guess what? A travel agent. She’s not just any travel agent, she’s an extremely successful travel agent, she’s a luxury travel agent.
As I watched episode after episode of the show, I started thinking about how many travel agencies went under after the popularity of sites like Travelocity grew, and I started thinking to myself, “how does Sara do it? How come she is able to not only survive, but thrive?” The cynic will answer “Her clients are millionaires. Duh.”
I think there is more to it than that.
Throughout the show, it is obvious that Sara emphasizes one thing above all else– service to her clients. Her entire business is dependent upon satisfying the needs of her clients. She spends extensive time interviewing them about their vacation plans, she tries not just satisfy the needs that they express, but she uses her expertise and experience to plan for the needs and desires that go unmentioned. It’s quite impressive.
The sale is secondary
The one thing that Sara isn’t, at least not overtly, is a salesperson. Again, some will argue that what she is doing is sales. Fine, whatever. I still maintain that while she is making sales, it is not the focus of her business. The fous of her business is SERVICE. She recognizes that she is in a service industry, not a sales industry.
This got me to thinking about other successful travel agents. I went to Travel and Leisure Magazine’s 2008 Travel Agent A-List. I plugged-in the website of the first name on the list, Lisa Linblad. Now take a look at Travelocity.com. Notice anything different? Of course you do.
One site emphasizes the experience, the other emphasizes the transaction.
One site emphasizes the value, the other emphasizes the price.
One site emphasizes the culture, the other emphasizes the schedule.
One site emphasizes the journey, the other emphasizes the trip.
I know what you’re thinking
You’re thinking, but these travel agents are working with rich people, people who can afford such luxury trips. Doesn’t matter. The successful philosophy doesn’t need to change just because of the customer’s bank account balance. The reason that many travel agencies went out of business is because they placed the emphasis in the wrong place. They tried to sell trips, not plan journeys. They asked you what your dates were, and how much you wanted to spend, and where you might like to go, and they plugged it into a computer. Anyone can do that. Now, anyone does do that.
How can REALTORS learn from travel agents?
The most successful travel agents are now more valuable because these agents are able to deliver value to their clients and customers that can’t be replicated by a computer. They put the needs of their clients first, and focus intently on meeting those needs. Because of this, their services are more valuable, and people will pay more for them.
The travel industry was all about sales for a long time. It was all about putting as many people as possible on the boat, or on the plane or in the hotel. It commodified travel to the point that it turned itself into the middle man, and therefore made itself obsolete. That is why the most successful remaining travel agents are so successful. They are not a part of that commodification. They understand the value that they can deliver to a person seeking to plan a journey, and they deliver on it. Sure, they like to make sales, but they focus first on the needs of their clients and recognize that what they do is provide service, sales are the pleasant by-product of that service.
Seems to me that REALTORS could learn an awful lot from travel agents.
photo courtesy of CreativeSam via Flickr CreativeCommons