Helping Customers To Help Each Other

The interesting thing about the supermarket, is that although there are dozens and dozens of other people in there with you at the same time, your interaction with them is practically zero. You walk by each other, you may occasionally say hello to each other, but that’s about it.

Imagine how much time, effort and money you could save if you could tap into the collective “supermarket wisdom” of your fellow shoppers.

Think about it. Some people are produce experts and know how to choose a ripe cantaloupe. Other people are price fanatics and know which generic products are exactly the same as their name brand counterparts, and which sizes offer the best value. Other people study the cashiers, and have figured out who moves his or her line the fastest and with the fewest mistakes.

The point is, there’s a lot of knowledge in the heads of all those people, if only you could find a way to capture it.

Frank Anthony, President and CEO of Saga Holidays –“The leading provider of travel services to the mature market”– has done just that. Not in the supermarket, but on his web site at The Saga web site contains an electronic “bulletin board” section called “Trip Talk,” in which customers are invited to share information with each other on travel related topics.

(If you’re not familiar with electronic bulletin boards, just think “bathroom graffiti.” I make a comment, you write something below it, I come back and respond to your comment, somebody else jumps in, etc. Crude, but a simple and effective way for a bunch of people who don’t know each other to carry on a discussion on a particular topic over an extended period of time. Electronic bulletin boards simply enable this process on a given web site.)

We worked with Saga last year, to help them reconfigure and improve their web site. I got together with Frank recently to check back in on how the new site was working out, and in particular, how the bulletin boards were faring. Here’s what they’ve found. . .

• Customer Benefits. Customers answer questions and make recommendations to each other regarding specific locales and Saga tours they’ve enjoyed. They provide unbiased, detailed information to each other which enhances their travel experiences (remember the supermarket!), and in doing so, adds an additional layer of service on top of the information that Saga formally provides.

• Company Benefits. The typical tour client does not travel exclusively with one touring service. Customers switch around as they search for better deals and more interesting trips, and Saga works hard to differentiate itself from its competition (Saga owns its own cruise ship for example). The bulletin boards create a “Saga Exclusive Community” that leverages the friendships and camaraderie that clients experience on the tours themselves.

Other company benefits include free market research(customers talk about what they like and don’t like);reduced phone traffic(questions posed to the company are quickly answered online by a Saga representative); and early detection of problems(small annoyances are surfaced and corrected quickly).

Wait a minute! Isn’t Saga concerned about customers publicly complaining to each other about bad experiences?!

Good question, I was hoping you’d ask that. Well, how about it Frank??

“We had some concerns before we set up the boards, but have found that it rarely happens. Most of the comments are not about us specifically, they’re about travel and trips. And when they are about us, they are overwhelmingly positive.

“Besides, it’s better to know about a problem and fix it, than have an unhappy customer out in the world talking about us. The boards give us the opportunity to listen to the discussion, and then step in and correct any problem that may come up.”

Bottom Line: Saga Holidays has found a way to make the customer experience even better, by helping clients to help each other. In the process, Saga has realized some benefits of its own.

See you in two weeks. Until then, you can find me at the supermarket trying to differentiate between the cantaloupes!

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