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Agent or customer?

Apr 18, 2013
The agent-to-agent relationship is fundamental to international relocations. But who’s the customer and who’s the supplier? Can you tell the difference?

By Ryan Keintz, President, GRIP Inc.

“The shipment is our agent’s booking.”  The preceding statement is based on an illogical syntax which is common in our industry, and I dare say it is potentially harmful to your business.  Most simply, if the shipment is the “agent’s” booking, then by definition they are not acting as your agent.  Rather, you are acting as their agent.  Admittedly this is a linguistic pet peeve of mine, but is it pointless semantics?  Not in my opinion.

Allow me to illustrate from personal experience.  I came into the international relocation business straight out of university, starting at the US headquarters of one of the largest brands in the industry.  I was in a coordination team for “US-booked” corporate account business.  We of course relied on a global network of agents to service our clients.  The relationship was clear:  as the “booker” of the business, we were the agent’s customer, and had a rightful expectation to be treated as such.

Now let me tell you that just down the hall were the questionably-named “foreign-booked” team, where our office served as provider of US origin/destination services on bookings from our global partner network.  In other words the customer-supplier relationship was reversed on opposite ends of the hall …in theory at least.  In reality, the coordinators in the foreign-booked team (many with previous US-booked team experience) seemed to retain a paradigm in which the overseas booker was still regarded as their agent, existing to serve them, rather than treating that booker properly as the customer.

This was evident not only through behavior, but also through the usage of the term “agent” as per the opening statement.  Through the rest of my career elsewhere in the US and Europe, I’ve noticed this phenomenon is widespread.  No doubt this is due in large part to our industry’s reciprocal trading nature which blurs the buyer-supplier paradigm.  We are perpetually exchanging hats of booker vs. agent in terms of role, but often neglecting to properly shift labels and recognition accordingly.

I suggest that our reciprocal relationships may at times become too familiar and taken-for-granted.  It is completely understandable, I don’t condemn it.  However, my opening point is not for mere semantics.  The ubiquitous and sometimes backwards use of the term “agent” can contribute to our industry’s lack of recognising each other as valued customers.  More importantly, proper terminology can be a useful teaching point for internal customer service discipline.

Where the mind goes, the body (or actions) will follow.  If your coordination staff uses the label “agent” in place of the more appropriate terms “booker, client, or customer”, it is very likely their regard for that party will follow suit.  This mindset on the frontlines is disconnected from the sincere gratitude and sense of partnership which is shared at the management level and seen at annual conventions.  Your valued reciprocal partnerships are jeopardised when your customer (the booker) is not wowed or at least satisfied by the treatment from your coordination staff who regard them possessively as “our agent”.

This is not to focus blame on coordination staff.  This is ultimately a matter of leadership, carried out in the form of promoting proper terminology within your organisation.  The opening statement is better said “The shipment is our customer’s booking”.  More than mere semantics, I can think of no more important verbal distinction which highlights the central reciprocal dynamic of our industry, and can help perpetually instill the appropriate mindset among your staff.

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