11 November 2010

Are Agents working for the Customer or the Supplier? (UPDATED)

I have always felt that the agent community was challenged by the fundamental battle of who they worked for. The customer or the Supplier. After all they are called Agents and in the historical context they were paid by the supplier. However in today’s environment that relationship has changed and the agent is really the agent of the customer. Or so he/she should be. Too often the case is that the agent still thinks they are not acting for the customer. They choose easy solutions – but mostly they choose safe solutions.

And this today is where the agents of today are frequently failing their customers.

I have a colleague from Asia who recently wanted to define a trip to Europe. There were some intra-European segments in the itinerary. The agent using the conventional tools found the conventional answers. Yet every agent should know that there is ALWAYS another answer called a low cost one. If the differences are minor no problem. But when they are hundreds of dollars/euros – then if nothing else then the user must be made aware of these options. Sadly in the case of my friend the agent didn’t do that.

In the dialogue conducted - as most are today between agent and customer - the parameters were established. The relationship has been a long standing one between the customer and the agency. The actual agent has been handling the reservations for the past few years. Not a huge amount - much of the travel is booked direct, but a long relationship with history for sure.

My friend described the dialogue... "I asked for a Sin-Berlin-Paris-Sin, and she knows I am a KrisFlyer Gold, so she usually books SQ economy for me and she booked me via Frankfurt. I then asked her if it'd be possible to transfer via Zurich (hate Frankfurt) and she came back with the Swiss (LX) option, which was so expensive.
I then asked her to give me options via other airports – she then sends me those airfares. (500 euros+ for a one way leg intra europe)." And the interesting questions followed: "Seems to me she is limited by her access to information or is it common sense?" But perhaps the most fundamental question which every agent should shudder if their customer has to ask was ....

“…. this agent only does what you tell them to do. they don't propose or recommend.
Am I the bad customer or are they the bad agent? “

And this my friends is the question that when asked with the wrong answer probably destroyed the conventional agent model. The failure to evolve. So yes there are still good agents out there who evolved. And darn it I think there is a fighting chance for them and I would like to see them survive indeed thrive. However for the others who either don’t get it or refuse to evolve. They do deserve to go to the great eCommerce scrap heap.


Phot courtesy of AOL Job site. Not quite sure this is what a real agent looks like these days....

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