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Pat Blassie: The Power of Relationship

Guest Pat Blassie, Altair Travel & Cruises President | June 05, 2019

Summary and Full Episode

Why hire a travel agent when you can do everything yourself online? The answer: perspective, guidance, empathy and trust. These are the human elements that technology can never replace. In this episode, Pat Blassie, President of Altair Travel and Cruises, joins Bill Coppel – Managing Director and Chief Client Growth Officer at First Clearing – to discuss the power of relationships for her travel business’s success, and how financial advisors can leverage this same power.

Transcript

Host
Bill Coppel, Managing Director and Chief Client Growth Officer at First Clearing
Guest(s)
Pat Blassie, Altair Travel & Cruises President

BILL COPPEL: Hi. This is Bill Coppel and welcome to The Next Frontier. Not so long ago planning a vacation involved visiting your local book store to gather travel guides or sending off for information, and then finally making an appointment to visit a travel agent. Now, not only can you book your own flights and hotels online, you can even stay in a stranger’s house, and you don’t have to worry about those pesky transfers because you can summon a ride from the airport to your destination instantly, and you can do all of this from the convenience of your Smartphone. Sound a bit familiar? Well, I would argue that the same is happening to the wealth management business. Today, as an investor, I have direct access to more research, information, tools, and financial solutions than in any other time in history, and, in fact, I can do this often at a significantly lower cost than using or working with a financial professional. So the question becomes why would I bother going to a financial adviser when I can do it myself on my own time and my own terms? Well, I believe it really comes down to the relationship. You see, technology can make tasks easier, faster, and often better, but it will never fully replace the human element – perspective, insight, guidance, and empathy – that only a person, and in our case an adviser, can provide. So the question is how do you compete today when relationship becomes a centerpiece of your value? And that’s the question our guest will endeavor to answer for us today. Pat Blassie is the owner and president of Altair Travel and Cruises. She has been able to build a business and extract value from her simple understanding of the power of relationships and evolve her business to a success despite the impact of digital destruction on the travel industry. Her travel business started over 40 years ago as a four-person basement office, and now features more than 50 agents in an expanding modern office space. She is a frequent guest on St. Louis Radio and contributes to a travel column in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I had the pleasure of interviewing Pat in her offices where she told me her story about how she is successfully competing in The Next Frontier. Pat, welcome to The Next Frontier.

PAT BLASSIE: I’m delighted to be here. I’m excited.

BILL COPPEL: Well, thank you. Thank you. We talk a lot today about disruption here at The Next Frontier, and then we enjoy talking to experts from other industries who’ve experienced this reality. I don’t think I’m going too far by saying that what your industry, the travel industry, has experienced multiple waves of disruption borne about by ongoing technological advancement. I’m interested in understanding your journey and, as I’ve said before, your rebirth in this highly-networked digital world when it comes to doing what you do. Prior to the onset of Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, and other do-it-yourself travel web sites, travel agents were the keeper of information, considered subject matter experts on destination, hotels, modes of transportation, and seen as the best path to booking your travel experience. It was an industry based on value creation versus competing on price. Today technology advances have completely changed this delivery model and put all the information and control directly in the hands of the purchaser with the primary benefit of being lower costs. The reason you’ve been successful for 40 years, I believe, is that you found a way to position your business as value-driven not price-driven. So with that as a backdrop, let me start by simply saying how is the role of the travel adviser still relevant today?

PAT BLASSIE: Well, Bill, in my mind, and I’ve been doing this a long time, it’s still the same. It started out as a service business, and it still is a service business. And, yes, I mean, price is a consideration, and I think any travel agency, travel company that’s worth their salt recognizes that, that you have to be conscious of what people are spending and make sure that they’re being treated fairly, but the end result, I feel, is that people want to be served, that they– there’s a need. The Travelocity, the Expedia– I mean, the 800 numbers you never talk to a person, rarely. Rarely if you can get that secret code to get to that service desk, and I think what started out I think when they became popular it was like, “Oh, gosh, I can do this. I can do it myself.” But then people recognized doing it yourself isn’t a lot of fun because there’s problems that result in many times, many cases.

BILL COPPEL: That’s quite the point. One of the things, and we’ve all, I’m sure, dabbled if you will on the Orbitz and the Travelocitys–

PAT BLASSIE: I mean, I dabble. I still dabble. I mean, when I’m at home when I’m just thinking myself about a trip or something, I’ll– I mean, I use the online information sources, but then you have to know how to connect those dabblings, connect those dots.

Intro: Welcome to The Next Frontier where we examine what the role of the financial adviser will be in a world that’s being disrupted by artificial intelligence and algorithms. Our mission is to spark new conversations that create stronger connections and build greater client confidence. Join us as we look at our industry and others through a new lens and explore the opportunities emerging at the intersection of high tech and high touch. It’s time for a new conversation. Are you ready?

BILL COPPEL: Hi. This is Bill Coppel and welcome to The Next Frontier. Not so long ago planning a vacation involved visiting your local book store to gather travel guides or sending off for information, and then finally making an appointment to visit a travel agent. Now, not only can you book your own flights and hotels online, you can even stay in a stranger’s house, and you don’t have to worry about those pesky transfers because you can summon a ride from the airport to your destination instantly, and you can do all of this from the convenience of your Smartphone. Sound a bit familiar? Well, I would argue that the same is happening to the wealth management business. Today, as an investor, I have direct access to more research, information, tools, and financial solutions than in any other time in history, and, in fact, I can do this often at a significantly lower cost than using or working with a financial professional. So the question becomes why would I bother going to a financial adviser when I can do it myself on my own time and my own terms? Well, I believe it really comes down to the relationship. You see, technology can make tasks easier, faster, and often better, but it will never fully replace the human element – perspective, insight, guidance, and empathy – that only a person, and in our case an adviser, can provide. So the question is how do you compete today when relationship becomes a centerpiece of your value? And that’s the question our guest will endeavor to answer for us today. Pat Blassie is the owner and president of Altair Travel and Cruises. She has been able to build a business and extract value from her simple understanding of the power of relationships and evolve her business to a success despite the impact of digital destruction on the travel industry. Her travel business started over 40 years ago as a four-person basement office, and now features more than 50 agents in an expanding modern office space. She is a frequent guest on St. Louis Radio and contributes to a travel column in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. I had the pleasure of interviewing Pat in her offices where she told me her story about how she is successfully competing in The Next Frontier. Pat, welcome to The Next Frontier.

PAT BLASSIE: I’m delighted to be here. I’m excited.

BILL COPPEL: Well, thank you. Thank you. We talk a lot today about disruption here at The Next Frontier, and then we enjoy talking to experts from other industries who’ve experienced this reality. I don’t think I’m going too far by saying that what your industry, the travel industry, has experienced multiple waves of disruption borne about by ongoing technological advancement. I’m interested in understanding your journey and, as I’ve said before, your rebirth in this highly-networked digital world when it comes to doing what you do. Prior to the onset of Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, and other do-it-yourself travel web sites, travel agents were the keeper of information, considered subject matter experts on destination, hotels, modes of transportation, and seen as the best path to booking your travel experience. It was an industry based on value creation versus competing on price. Today technology advances have completely changed this delivery model and put all the information and control directly in the hands of the purchaser with the primary benefit of being lower costs. The reason you’ve been successful for 40 years, I believe, is that you found a way to position your business as value-driven not price-driven. So with that as a backdrop, let me start by simply saying how is the role of the travel adviser still relevant today?

PAT BLASSIE: Well, Bill, in my mind, and I’ve been doing this a long time, it’s still the same. It started out as a service business, and it still is a service business. And, yes, I mean, price is a consideration, and I think any travel agency, travel company that’s worth their salt recognizes that, that you have to be conscious of what people are spending and make sure that they’re being treated fairly, but the end result, I feel, is that people want to be served, that they– there’s a need. The Travelocity, the Expedia– I mean, the 800 numbers you never talk to a person, rarely. Rarely if you can get that secret code to get to that service desk, and I think what started out I think when they became popular it was like, “Oh, gosh, I can do this. I can do it myself.” But then people recognized doing it yourself isn’t a lot of fun because there’s problems that result in many times, many cases.

BILL COPPEL: That’s quite the point. One of the things, and we’ve all, I’m sure, dabbled if you will on the Orbitz and the Travelocitys–

PAT BLASSIE: I mean, I dabble. I still dabble. I mean, when I’m at home when I’m just thinking myself about a trip or something, I’ll– I mean, I use the online information sources, but then you have to know how to connect those dabblings, connect those dots.

BILL COPPEL: Well, that’s just it, and maybe when you think about it that experience you have on Orbitz and all of a sudden there’s all these unknowns, and you may have gotten what you think is a good price, or at least they tell you it’s a good price. How do you think that’s affected or altered and in some ways actually bolstered your position in the market? Because people’s expectations are changing dramatically because of this digital tsunami we’re experiencing.

PAT BLASSIE: Well, and you were right. I mean, we’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs going back to years ago the airlines paid commissions, and then we lost that. So then you had to go to a fee basis to actually sell a ticket to someone. Well, many people don’t want to pay a fee. They feel that they’re buying the ticket so that should be good enough. Well, so that had to be addressed, and so we had to prove our self to the client why we should be paid that fee and what we did for them to earn that fee. So then it gets into knowing your client, and we do this year probably $28 million in sales, but we’re a local St Louis office, and I have a staff of probably 42 people, and I have to say, not that we know personally every person, but a big part of our business is being able to pick up the phones and say, “Hey, Jim, did you hear about– you love Silver Seas Cruise Line. There’s a great deal out there.” Or, “Oh, I remember you said you wanted to go to Istanbul. Well, I saw a great fare.” Those are the things that people want. They want to be identified and recognized.

BILL COPPEL: So, in other words, you’re actually– it’s less about travel and almost about experiences you are able to create and cultivate and curate.

PAT BLASSIE: Well, I mean, basically, our commodity is travel. I mean, it is travel. That’s what we’re selling. I mean, I have to say we’re not selling widgets. We’re selling travel, but it’s how we are packaging that travel. It isn’t just a point and click of a ticket from St. Louis to New York. It’s a ticket to St. Louis to New York tied to a hotel stay and the newest hotel and where it’s located and do you want to do theater or do you want names of good restaurants? I mean, it’s all wrapped up. Now, on the business side of it, we do a lot of corporate travel, and even that which, basically, is more air ticket, car rental. Even those things have to be bundled today. You have to make sure that you have that client’s– have all of his information, that he gets credit for his air mileage. And how can he use that air mileage? And then we help them do that. Everything grows from one thing to the other. I mean, there’s a lot of information that an agent needs to know or at least needs to know where to go to get the information.

BILL COPPEL: When you think about your experience and the experience of your agents, how often do you find people walking into the office probably in search of something, obviously travel, but aren’t sure what they want to do, or how many times do you see them come in with, “I’m going to do this,” and walk out doing something different?

PAT BLASSIE: Yes. I mean, that happens– I mean, it’s very common. And getting back to your financial– we were talking earlier about all the tech information that’s out there that can tell someone what to invest and how to invest. But that tech whatever it is doesn’t know what’s going on in that man’s life or that family’s life. They don’t know that maybe they’ve got a couple of kids going to college next year or what’s happening in his company, that there’s a downturn and he may have to shift gears. That machine isn’t going to– it’s going to be flat out numbers, and so how do you decide for that? How is an individual supposed to decide for that? So he needs an expert to help him do that, and that’s what your business does, and that’s what we do. We help. Cruises, okay, we sell lots of cruises. Now, if someone just came in and said, “I want to go on a cruise.” Well, my goodness, there’s 20, 30 cruise lines out there and within each cruise line there’s maybe 10 or 15 ships and within those ships then there’s maybe 20, 30 itineraries, some in the Caribbean, some around the world. Well, how do you– how do you get through the nitty gritty? I mean, I have to say immediately, when I’m talking to someone and they say, “Oh, I want to go on a cruise.” Within five minutes of the right questions, I know the right ship for them.

BILL COPPEL: So talk to me about that. So what is that magic that you have really kind of cultivated over time? What are the kinds of questions that get you to know that person so well that you’re able to paint a picture for them as to what the future might be?

PAT BLASSIE: Well, I think first of all– now, I’m going back to the matter of trust. Many people will walk into any place, but normally people aren’t so eager just to open up and talk about themselves. So you have to – as a travel adviser, as a financial adviser, or whatever you’re advising on – you have to first make that person totally comfortable with you. And that can be done– you start that really by how you approach them when they come in, how your staff approaches them, how your surroundings– they see your surroundings, and they don’t have to be elaborate. I’m not suggesting that at all, but they have to convey a trust and a confidence level that somebody can look around and say, “Well, I think the company looks like they kind of know what they’re doing.” So then you go from there, and I like to– I’m a big talker, and they tease me here at the office that I talk a lot, and I like to ask people questions. And I’ll start out, and I try to convey more of this to my staff, but it’s hard and it’s taken me a long time to do it. Maybe somebody will come in with a logo on their shirt. That gives me an opening to get to know who this person is. “Oh, did you golf there,” or, “Did you go to school there? Are your children going to school there?” You just–

BILL COPPEL: You find a way into a conversation.

PAT BLASSIE: You do. You converse. You don’t ask. You don’t probe. You converse. So then you get them to tell you about themselves and what brought them to you.

BILL COPPEL: Well, what you’re really getting– you’re getting at two things. You talk about trust, and as a sort of factor that is really related to relationship. And for you to get that relationship, you have to establish that level of trust which is interesting. I want you to reflect on something for a minute. I remember as a child my parents always taught me never get in a car with a stranger. God forbid you’d go to someone’s house you didn’t know and enter that house and go up the stairs and sleep in a bedroom that was not your bedroom, and you don’t even know the people. Today, one of the new elements of travel that still astonishes me is this whole issue of Airbnb and VRBO. The idea of staying in a complete strangers’ home is something I still can’t get used to. Basically, I see this as a broad transformation in trust. How often do you run up against this or get questions around this, and how do you deal with that?

PAT BLASSIE: Well, I mean, first of all, I should address it. We don’t sell, and we don’t package those kinds of trips because I can’t put my name on it. I don’t know this house or this apartment. I don’t know. The hotels and the resorts that we know and that we sell, they’re recognized and they’re vetted, and, yes, I mean, I get–

BILL COPPEL: I mean, that’s a very interesting point that you’re making, and I think that part of this trust factor is, obviously, your clients see value far beyond price. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be coming to you, and this is what’s so incredibly amazing about how successful you’ve been over the last 40 years. In a digital environment today where, quite frankly, you can get everything that you’re selling or offering in a variety of different places and perhaps at a lower cost. But what you don’t get is that personal relationship that you have managed to cultivate exceptionally well. One of the questions I had for you is around the client profile. The travel agent and the idea of a travel agency is really of my generation, of a boomer type of generation, and I remember as a young man that whatever I ever did revolving around travel, whether it was for business or for pleasure, always involved my travel agent. She is a very competent professional. We became very good friends over time. And I always knew that nothing– things would go wrong, but I knew if Ann was there, she would fix it for me.

PAT BLASSIE: It was going to get fixed.

BILL COPPEL: I don’t get the same experience today when I do something online.

PAT BLASSIE: Of course, you don’t. Who’s going to do it for you then, that person that’s– no, not a person, that machine that’s handling those problems.

BILL COPPEL: And try to find a number to call, and then go through a phone tree and everything else that goes along with it. But my question to you is do all your clients– are all your clients older or do you– what is the typical client profile look like today? Are you appealing to the younger part of our population, or is it still–?

PAT BLASSIE: I don’t want to say it’s just seniors or that it’s just the boomers. I mean, we do honeymoons. We do wedding destinations. We do family vacations. Those are young people. We do high school senior spring breaks. Those people aren’t going online and just booking it.

BILL COPPEL: Right. So the very tech savvy are still coming to you saying, “Hey, I need help.”

PAT BLASSIE: Absolutely because they know what can happen if it’s not right. It could be horrific. It could be a mess. You can not only lose money, but it just could be a disaster. I’m very fortunate. I’m in the travel business so I travel more than the norm, the normal person.

BILL COPPEL: So in some respects, you are your own client?

PAT BLASSIE: I am, yeah.

BILL COPPEL: You travel to these places. You know them.

PAT BLASSIE: But my point is the other people that are traveling don’t get to do what I get to do. So when they travel, whether it’s for a week or a weekend, two weeks, that’s very precious time to them, and they want it to be perfect. They don’t want to have to deal with things that were supposed to be there and aren’t there. They want it to work. They don’t want to spend a day calling someone on the phone or they are trying to track someone down to fix a problem. It gets back to the– our reputation, that we do a good job. We follow through. We’re knowledgeable. It’s really kind of all comes together in that way. But back to your question about who are the travelers? They’re everyone. I mean, they really are everyone.

BILL COPPEL: That’s incredible. And as we’re having this conversation, I see a family departing who is all ages and they’re just got smiles on their faces and apparently, you’ve done something to change their life.

PAT BLASSIE: Yeah. Well, it’s great when families come in. And we just did a really wonderful trip and I’ll share with you. A woman’s mother was from Norway and knew her grandparents grew up in some little village in Norway. And she wanted to take her children and her mother and some other family people, they were going to Ireland, but then they wanted to go to Norway and find this village, and it’s incredible what we were able to put together. And they left here, the mother left here, almost in tears that she was going to go back to this place that she was– as a child, that’s all the memories that she had of it. So, yeah, but that took some digging and it took– it was a difficult thing to– how do you get them there because it was kind of off the beaten path in Norway. But if you work hard at it, there’s a will, there’s a way. And that’s where we get– we don’t get our joy just in making money off our trips. We get our joy in seeing people create memories. When they come back and they, “Oh, wait until I tell you about this, and oh, my God, this happened, and I’ll never forget it.”

BILL COPPEL: It’s interesting when I step back from the practical aspect of the business of travel and what you do every day, I think about it from the context of helping people in many ways chart a path for themselves to experiencing things that they’ve identified as being very important. Now, it’s not always coming in, as I said earlier, they know exactly what they want. I mean, I’m sure when–

PAT BLASSIE: Oh, yeah. No. Some people do, but some people don’t. Exactly.

BILL COPPEL: Yeah. And–

BILL COPPEL: Because how can they know? How can they know everything that’s out there? They can’t. It’s not their world.

BILL COPPEL: Or if they’re trying to discover something like the story you told about the daughter with her mother and her children and helping her mother recapture a part of her life. I mean, that’s an enormously important aspect of anyone’s happiness. So am I going out on a limb here and saying you’re in the happiness business?

PAT BLASSIE: Oh, we like to say that. Oh, yeah.

BILL COPPEL: Let’s talk more about that.

PAT BLASSIE: Oh, yeah. No. That’s what we do. I mean, whether it’s– and a happiness could be a golf trip. It could be a fishing trip for a grandfather and his grandchildren. It could be a trip to the Lake of the Ozark to Branson down to a playground down there. Yeah. Or it could be an around the world cruise. I mean, it could be a trip to Africa. It could be something that somebody has dreamed about their entire life. We make it happen. Because many people think that so many things are out of reach. They don’t know how to do it. They don’t know how to get there. They don’t even have an idea of maybe what something would cost. And it’s not so unobtainable if it can be– if it’s done in the right way.

BILL COPPEL: In your experience over the years, I’m sure you’ve gone on trips with clients.

PAT BLASSIE: Oh, I do all the time. I do groups.

BILL COPPEL: And one of the things I think would be interesting for our listeners to understand is what that experience is like because you start by meeting them, and you go through your process of getting to know them, establishing the rapport which leads to the trust and deepens the relationship. Now, when you’re out on the road with them and you’re traveling with them, I’m sure there’s dimensions that you discover about those relationships that never would have come out necessarily in a conversation across the table.

PAT BLASSIE: Oh, never.

BILL COPPEL: Talk about that kind of an experience.

PAT BLASSIE: No. Well, actually, when we do groups, I mean, it isn’t just– okay. We market the trip, whatever kind of trip it is. Maybe it’s, okay, say last year we did a Venice to Rome on a beautiful ship and stopped in Croatia and Sicily. So you start out with the itinerary, but then you have to market. I guess before I address that, let’s back up a little bit. I don’t want anyone to think that travel is just all fluff and we just go poof and things happen. It’s a business like any other business, and you have to really know your Ps and Qs on pricing and marketing and sometimes people just don’t appear at your door. They have to know about you maybe through reputation, but– so I have to market. I have to advertise, but we have to do it in a way that they become, “Oh, I want to get to know these people. I want to find out more about them.” So then people book a trip. What we do, we not only book the trip but then before we go on the trip, we have a get together of everybody that’s going because most of our people are from the St. Louis area or the surrounding Illinois areas. I have learned that most people are so shy and introverted. When you get to know them, they’re not, but they’re just not– they’re just not equipped to be able to just walk into a room with strangers and just start conversing. I mean, it’s just not in them. They don’t know how to do it. They would love for people to come up to them. And so what we’ve done, we do this whole introduction, and people start meeting each other before we even go on the trip. And so then you go on the trip and you’ve seen a face, you remember a name. I mean, I’ve been doing this with a radio station here in St. Louis. I guess this is now our ninth year, and we do a trip, sometimes two a year, and I– sometimes we have the same people come every year because they have friends who they’ve met. And so they get together, but then they make new friends, and then, oh, maybe this time, “Oh, well, we don’t want to go there, but we’re going to wait for the next trip.” I mean, it becomes– it’s a comfort level. They know that they can go on that trip and they don’t have to worry. They don’t have to think about it. They don’t have to worry about a thing that–

BILL COPPEL: Let me change gears for a minute because what our listeners can’t see if what I see, and we are actually having this conversation in your offices here in St. Louis. And if I’m not mistaken, we’re sitting in the living room as you coined it which is a gathering area that’s beautifully appointed and this notion of creating experience after experience or an experience to create an experience of gathering folks together. So this is the room where you actually have your sort of pre-trip party, if you will, where people get to know each other. You get to know more about them, and I imagine that that leads to even a deeper sense of trust. So you put a lot of thought into this process of relationship building in terms of how you go about it.

PAT BLASSIE: Oh, absolutely. This is why I did this room actually. Our living room here, some space opened up next to our main office and it was a law firm and it was all little cubicles so. One day I was coming in and they were all boxing up, and so I got this idea, and I went in and told my staff. Well, they thought I was nuts. I said, “I want to take that space.” And they say, “Oh, you’re going to put more offices.” “No. We’re just going to leave it open, and we’re going to have people in. We’re going to call it the living room. We want them to come in and talk to us and have coffee and have cookies, and we want them to relax. We want them to have a glass of wine. We’ll have a refrigerator there filled with whatever we need to help that person relax.” And they love coming here. I mean, I’ve had clients say, “Well, I just feel like I’ve come home when I come here. Everybody knows me now,” even the agents that don’t work with that person. I mean, basically, there’s many companies out there today that have that knack, that do the training, that people recognize and people say hello and blah, blah, blah. But in a small scale, I mean, we’re a small scale compared to the Marriotts in the world, but that’s what we attempt to do.

BILL COPPEL: Well, my guess is that you may be smaller size wise that the Marriotts of the world, but that personal connection you make is more corporate.

PAT BLASSIE: Well, thank you. Thank you.

BILL COPPEL: And I have to share with our listeners that when I first met Pat a couple of weeks ago, I had just actually put together– or my wife put together a trip for spring break, and after spending 10 or 15 minutes with you on the phone, I felt guilty. I hadn’t called you because the challenge–

PAT BLASSIE: Well, you should feel guilty.

BILL COPPEL: Well, I do. So the next time I will. But what’s interesting is that the things that you’ve pointed out, I’ve experienced, and I’m sure many of our listeners have experience where it sounded like a good idea to do something. And you start to explore it because we’ve got this thing called the internet which has everything in the world you need or potentially that you need. You get on there, and you can read for hours and hours and hours. We assume it’s all correct and accurate. We assume it will happen, and simple story would be getting a transfer. Remember transfers? We used to call them transfers in the old days, getting from your airport perhaps to your hotel or your resort.

PAT BLASSIE: Oh, we still call them transfers. Okay.

BILL COPPEL: Right. Well, now everybody’s quick to pick up their phone and pick Uber or Lyft and try to figure it out.

PAT BLASSIE: Okay. Yeah. Got it.

BILL COPPEL: And while that’s a wonderful– the gig economy is a wonderful thing in some respects. I hope they know where they’re going. I hope they know the shortest distance to get there, but we are looking at transfers from the trip we were doing from the airport to the hotel, and it’s a foreign country. And so we’re trying to pick just a simple thing like who do we pick to be there?

PAT BLASSIE: Yeah. Who am I going to trust?

BILL COPPEL: That’s right. And we both looked at each other and said, “Well, spend the dice because we don’t know so.”

PAT BLASSIE: And then you go and you just are crossing your fingers when you get off the airplane and hoping that they’re going to be there.

BILL COPPEL: And I think that the point you’re making with the way you’ve set up your offices, the experiences you create, begin to build this level of trust. I keep going back to that word because that is woven into every business that’s dependent on an intermediary, whether you’re a doctor or you’re a lawyer, whether you’re a financial adviser, whether you run a travel business.

PAT BLASSIE: And you know what? Whether you’re running an airline today, I mean, look at what the airline– the airlines are coming– they’re flipping. They’re trying to come back and maybe they’re not always practicing what they’re preaching, but they recognize that people do want service. I mean, it’s a human need, I believe.

BILL COPPEL: And that may be the essence of the way in which we continue to create value. Right? And so when you think about the fact that, yes, people have access to information. I’m sure you’ve directed people to websites to learn more about things–

PAT BLASSIE: Oh, no doubt.

BILL COPPEL: –and other apps that they have available, but you’re there, standing side by side with them with your kind of– your proverbial hand on their shoulder saying, “You don’t have to worry because I’ve done it. I’ve checked it. I’m going to be with you the whole way.” What I really want to hear is when you create these experiences, you mentioned it earlier, these people come back. It’s almost like you’ve built this network of families that continue to be a part of your family here at your agency. How often are you seeing that repeat business today?

PAT BLASSIE: Very often. I know I market to get new clients, but if I didn’t have the repeat factor, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are today.

BILL COPPEL: Does your business come from referrals?

PAT BLASSIE: Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely, and people coming back and coming back and coming back.

BILL COPPEL: Right. Well, that’s an exciting aspect of–

PAT BLASSIE: Yeah, absolutely.

BILL COPPEL: So in this big digital world where I can go on and get the best air, the alleged lowest cost airfare, right, once you get through all the layers, you still see your business growing and [crosstalk].

PAT BLASSIE: And even if someone is dealing, they know– many people really know what they want to do and maybe they’ll know the best vendor, whether cruise line, tour company out there that they want to deal with, but they still– they still want an advocate. They want to know that if something goes a little awry who’s going to be there to handle that issue for them, and that’s where we are. And I would think absolutely in your business, financial business, that is even so much stronger of an aid.

BILL COPPEL: Well, I think you’re right. I think that one of the struggles of the financial service industry as it’s experienced its own disruption is re-defining value, and you have successfully done that in your business. You’ve defined value in a way that has allowed you to continue to grow, and you’re on a growth curve, continue to attract new clients even when you know that that capability exists online and people can do it for a lot less money in some cases, but they can’t get the kind of peace of mind that is important.

PAT BLASSIE: But it isn’t always the case that they can do it for less money.

BILL COPPEL: Ah, interesting.

PAT BLASSIE: That’s what many people don’t really recognize.

BILL COPPEL: So let me wrap it up with a final question that I ask all of our guests. As you look at your business and you look at all of the challenges you’ve been able to overcome as it relates to the changing in the marketplace, the changing regulatory environment around travel and around airlines, the advent of all of these technologies, all these apps that are out there that allow people to do it for themselves, what’s the one thing you’d love our listeners to remember about why it’s so important never to lose touch with the value that human intervention really makes?

PAT BLASSIE: All I know is that I just think it’s a human quality that people want to feel connected. They want to feel recognized. They want to feel known. Everybody wants to be known. Everyone wants to be liked. It’s just a human thing that we all have, and I don’t think it’s playing on a weakness of a client. I think it’s just recognizing a need that– I have it. You have it. I know I like when I go shopping and actually in today’s world, I’m probably one of the worst shopper out there because I recognize immediately when things aren’t working right in a business. I mean, from the minute I walk in to whether it’s a little grocery store or whatever, I can see these people got it. They got the message, or these people don’t have it.

BILL COPPEL: Well, what’s interesting to me, and I thank you for that, because what I hear you saying to me is that you’re both a professional and you’re a client. You understand what good service means. You understand and appreciate the value that a human being can provide you well beyond simply the ticket or the reservation, and that’s very similar to the financial services business. Any of us can invest money on behalf of someone else or buy an insurance policy or find that, but that notion of helping people ask themselves better questions, helping people discover what really matters, and my guess is you do that every day here.

PAT BLASSIE: And I would think probably that in the financial world too people– they’re fearful. How do I get to this point? And you can tell them. You have the education. You have the knowledge. And that’s what we do. Well, you can do this. But ours is it’s just a lot of smiles and.

BILL COPPEL: I suspect, Pat, that there’s more than smiles and fun times involved here. There’s a lot of heavy lifting that goes on behind the scenes and I think that the [crosstalk].

PAT BLASSIE: Well, there is. There is. I mean, it’s been a– it’s been a, I don’t want to say a tough business. It’s been a fun business. I love it. I don’t see myself retiring anytime soon because what would I do?

BILL COPPEL: This is who you are.

PAT BLASSIE: Yeah. This is who I am. I love people, and I want to get to know them. That’s what it’s all about. I want to get to know them.

BILL COPPEL: That’s fantastic. Thank you very, very much.

PAT BLASSIE: Thank you, my pleasure to be here, and this is a great service you’re providing.

BILL COPPEL: Well, again, Pat, thanks for sharing your insights with our listeners today. I’m sure that we’ll all take away valuable information to help us prepare for what’s ahead in The Next Frontier. To our listeners, please check out additional episodes we have out there that’ll help you think differently about the business you’re in. We hope you enjoy this content and please subscribe and rate the podcast. That’ll help others find us. In this way, together we can all change the conversation. Thanks for listening, and until next time, be well.

Outro: If you like this content, share it or like us. If you want to join the conversation or connect with us, please visit us at www.firstclearing.com. This content is provided for general informational purposes only. The views expressed by non-affiliated guest speakers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of First Clearing or its affiliates. First Clearing and its affiliates do not endorse any guest speakers or their companies and, therefore, give no assurances as to the quality of their products and services. This channel is not monitored by First Clearing. For more information on our podcast, visit firstclearing.com. First Clearing is a trade name used by Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC, member SIPC, a registered broker-dealer and non-bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company. Copyright 2019 Wells Fargo Clearing Services, LLC. All rights reserved. First Clearing provides correspondence services to broker-dealers and does not provide services to the general public.

Block Quotes

Everybody wants to be known. Everyone wants to be liked. It’s just a human thing that we all have, and I don’t think it’s playing on a weakness of a client. I think it’s just recognizing a need.

Pat Blassie

About The Guest

Pat Blassie is owner and president of Altair Travel and Cruises, which she has grown to 50 agents since the agency’s beginning. Pat has built a business around her simple understanding of the power of relationships despite technology’s disruption of the travel industry. She is a frequent guest on St. Louis Radio and contributes to a column in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Ways To Contact Pat

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