Travel agents. I’m looking at you and then at sites like Orbitz, Kayak, Expedia, Priceline and Tripit and wondering about the viability of your profession. Is there still room in this world for your career and if so, how must it morph to continue? Remember back in the day it used to require proficiency with the SABRE booking system? Your travel agent would call you and say “I can save you $20 if you’re willing to go an hour earlier and do a stop in Newark.” How times have changed… Today your average 12-yr-old child armed with a web browser can deliver a better travel service.
How about arial photography? It used to cost big bucks to pay a pilot to in a cessna to fly over a site with a high-quality camera and snap a few photos. Now you stitch a few screen grabs together from Google Earth and you have a higher res image in five minutes time without leaving your computer.
What about realtors? I realize this one might draw criticism from those who have invested the time to get a real estate license but seriously. It made sense as a profession before we had sites like Zillow and Realtor.com with the whole MLS exposed via the Web but how is this still a viable profession?
Car salesmen? You can go to cars.com and have a window into the Reynolds & Reynolds inventory systems of every dealership within a 50mi radius of your zipcode, sortable by make, model, year and color. You can grab the VIN’s of your top 5 prospects and five minutes later have CARFAX reports on each vehicle. Go to LendingTree.com and have 5 offers for financing. Sell your vehicle via eBay in 3 days and walk onto the dealership knowing exactly what price you’re going to pay for the car you found. The car salesman’s duties are reduced to essentially a greeter. And yet somehow there’s still guys in ties drinking coffee and shooting the breeze out there waiting to pounce when you drive into a dealership…
So let’s not dis on all these professions- they were viable and noble at one point. What do we need to do to morph each of these roles to make them important, indeed essential again? What traits will never go out of style?
- Travel Agent: get to know me, go find and research non-mainstream, undiscovered travel destinations and play matchmaker. Monitor deal anomalies for hotel and travel fares to these places and drop me a thoughtful note with a travel recommendation. In fact, monitor any one of my various social media channels to know when I need to take a vacation and then suggest it ;-)
- Arial photographer: This one’s tough because this service truly has been obviated for all but niche needs like photographing classified areas or getting super hi-res images. Pilot: provided you still want to fly, consider partnering up with other pilots and make a business like Dayjet whereby you pair up strangers looking to travel short distances and deliver affordable, ad hoc charter flights. (okay that’s a bit of a stretch- what else could former arial photographers do?)
- Realtor: Get intimate knowledge of neighborhoods, school systems, pricing trends. Don’t recommend specific houses- send me Zillow searches referenced in Google Docs and complete with your notes. Listen to my goals, know my budget constraints and advise me on home purchasing heuristics I should be thinking about. Make sure I’m not making a mistake in neighborhood selection given foreclosure trends.
- Car salesman: Forget all “4-square” negotiating tactics because the price is no longer negotiable. Rather than be an expert on every car of a certain make, limit yourself to a class of vehicle and know all makes and models within that class. Make yourself a recommendation expert across makes- an advocate for the buyer. Learn my needs, constraints, etc and help me pick the right vehicle. I’ll pay you to plug and chug on eBay, Cars.com, Craigslist and Carfax to get me the best deal. Advise me on vehicle selection and then do the legwork of actual acquisition so I don’t have to.
*BONUS Profession: Personal Internet Sherpa – there’s still a portion of the population that either refuses to use the Internet, or more likely, doesn’t know all the tricks. How about marketing yourself the person who can avail yourself weekly to understand their imminent challenges and put your knowledge of the various services to work helping them save money. Take a commission on the money you save them.
The takeaways here:
Some things will always be valued: personal treatment, understanding customer needs more thoroughly, having mastery over a problem domain and being able to match their unique likes more closely with the available options. Save me time and money, substantiate it and I’ll pay you commission on that savings.
Disrupted professions don’t evaporate, they morph to continue to yield value in the changed environment. People cling to what was once familiar but the real answer is to think from the perspective of the customers, deliver value and charge for a proportionate amount of the value delivered.
Can you think of other lessons here? What are some other jobs I missed that have become antiquated and are in need of fundamental rethinking?