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Sun 24 Feb 2008 12:00 AM

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Who’s to blame for product knowledge void?

It's not just travel agencies that need to make an effort, but sales reps too, says Gemma Greenwood.

Each month ATN runs a ‘Going Nowhere' section whereby our mystery shoppers call one of the region's travel agencies to test their product knowledge.

More often than not, the travel agent does not meet their expectations however, we can't help but admire the agents' honesty.

"No madam, I can't help you - check out our rival's website" - or words to that effect - are common responses.

We have discovered that on the whole, product knowledge is not up to scratch and customer service skills are non-existent.

Surely if you don't know an answer to the customer's question there and then, you make a pledge to find out and contact them as soon as you can? After all, there are ways and means of dealing with customers who you cannot help on the spot.

You can keep their custom by sourcing information to make their holiday or corporate request happen.

Travel suppliers - airlines, tour operators, car rental companies, tourism boards etc - have been quick to attack travel agents for their poor product knowledge and many enjoy reading our ‘Going Nowhere' section.

But the question is, ‘what are they doing to improve travel agents' knowledge?'

It has been brought to my attention that travel suppliers are quick to mock agents for their knowledge deficiencies, but often they haven't taken the time to visit travel agencies and provide the necessary training and support.

It's time that agency managers and suppliers worked more closely to work out the most efficient and effective training methods.

ATN is a publication that is designed to help educate the agent and with this in mind, is currently looking at ways to establish an accredited travel training academy.

There are many travel suppliers that have shown a keen interest in this idea, but there are plenty more who are apathetic.

Travel agencies - particularly in this region - will remain relevant to the majority of travel suppliers for many years to come and are an important distribution channel.

They should not be overlooked.

It is therefore imperative that suppliers stop passing the buck and blaming the travel agent for not knowing enough about their product.

The time is ripe to invest in training and development of the region's travel trade.

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