Travel agents getting leads from Tripology increasingly are seeing eye-to-eye with their clients.
That's because, as part of a social media push, Tripology introduced messaging which enables prospective clients to Skype travel agents for information.
Tripology, a unit of Rand McNally, matches consumers looking for expert help on planning their vacations with travel-agent specialists.
Starting a couple of weeks ago, Tripology began including travel agents' Skype users names and links when emailing consumers about travel specialists who can help them and all the ways in which travelers can contact these agents.
And, travel agents can include similar information when they email the prospective clients, as well.
So, if the travel agent is logged into Skype, then the client can IM or conduct a video call with the agent.
"It's not like a monstrous integration -- they just click through and they're done," says John Peters, Rand McNally's general manager of digital strategy and travel.
Communicating on Skype can give both travelers and travel agents a better feel for who they are dealing with and this can assist picking the right agent, travel planning and closing deals.
Peters notes it's impossible to read consumers' facial expressions in an email, and face-to face meetings was the traditional way travel agents closed deals with clients.
Skype can help establish trust between agent and client -- and also lets either party or both parties know if they are aren't suited to working together.
Using Skype, Peters says, also "removes every barrier as far as geography is concerned."
For example, a few weeks ago a Tripologist traveling in South America continued to use the Tripology lead-generation service and communicated with clients through Skype, he says.
Peters says Tripology opted to incorporate Skype as a tool after ruling out using live chat between travel agents and prospective clients on Tripology.com. The company didn't view live chat as viable because the matching process between clients and agents sometimes can take a few hours and the parties might not be online simultaneously, he says.
Besides, Peters points out, referring to live chat, "almost anything online can be very flat."
In other social media tweaks beyond Skype, Tripology enhanced agents' profiles by enabling them to include their blog, Twitter and Facebook information.
Peters says Tripology had considered implementing the Skype option prior to Tripology's acquisition by Rand McNally in March, but didn't have the resources to consider factors such as how the enhancement fit into Tripology's overall product mix and when in the matching process would be appropriate for agents and prospective clients to communicate directly.
Other enhancements, possibly including new business models, which leverage the parent company are on the way, Peters says.
For example, beginning in January travel agents who are Tripology members will be able to market themselves to a wider audience by becoming Rand McNally travel experts, Peters says.
"They'll now be connected to one of the biggest travel brands in the world," Peters says.