Complaints, objections and relationships
Isn’t it great when everything goes off without a hitch? The stars, moon and planets all line up and all is well… I think that happened to me once. Most often however, we are going to find ourselves dealing with an objection or a complaint. The ease with which we handle those matters as business people says alot about our emotional and business maturity. The issue comes up for me after witnessing two good business associates sniping at each other this week. I’m certain each later felt badly, and neither came off well in the exchange. Their mutual complaints were not without merit, but their way of handling the situation was. It made me think how often we are tempted to respond in kind rather than with empathy.
So, in honor of a couple of good friends who are a bit miffed at each other right now, let’s think through this matter of complaints, objections and relationships as it applies to our profession of choice.
During the course of travel planning, it is inevitable that clients will raise objections to your suggestions. Actually, it’s not really a matter of whether your client objects to some aspect of your presentation, but how you handle the objection that matters. Without a proper knowledge of how to handle an objection, the planning process, and the agent, may be stymied and much research might have to be redone.
The better your initial rapport with a client, the easier objections are to overcome and complaints to resolve. When a client trusts you, when it is abundantly clear to the client that their interests come first, your efforts at mitigation and damage control are likely to be much more effective. Never underestimate the power of establishing a real, substantial relationship with your clients well in advance of an issue arising.
Remember, objections are often just an attempt to obtain additional information or to more clearly understand. Thus, try to get objections out of the way during your initial client interview, before the research process ever begins. Adequate client knowledge and a sufficient number of probing questions will most often reveal what a client prefers in their travel planning. This is also the time when the travel consultant might discover something about the fears and concerns that are acting as an obstacle to the client’s travel ambitions.
The smart travel consultant learns to distinguish between a client objection that is accurate and one that is actually a misdirection. If the client truly hates the very idea being on a ship, agree and move on. Don’t spend time and energy trying to convince the client of the merits of modern cruising. If, however, the objection is really a request for understanding, an opportunity arises for the travel consultant to educate the client. In fact, many such objections present excellent marketing opportunities. For example, the client might indicate that the thing they hate about cruising is being on a ship with 2,000 other people. This sounds like a client that doesn’t know about small ship cruising, tiny ports of call that only small ships can reach, and the intimate atmosphere aboard small ships. Thus, in each instance, make sure you clearly understand the source of the objection. If the problem is a misunderstanding, it’s your job as the professional to clarify and to be understood.
Particularly important are price objections. A concern over price almost always has one of two origins: either the client does not have the budget for your recommendation or they do not understand the value. In both instances, client training can save the day. Start your research with a budget in mind, even if that is derived from past experience with the client rather than a direct question. Always be sure that you can convey value first, long before you get to the issue of cost. If the value is clear, the cost always seems appropriate – provided you are good at painting the picture.
But it is equally as important to distinguish between an objection and a complaint. Don’t keep punching a client’s hot buttons! Naturally, the best way to deal with customer complaints is to never give the customer a reason to complain! Go to great lengths to design business practices that accommodate and surround the client with safeguards. Many complaints can be avoided by “training” your clientele, anticipating possible sources of customer dissatisfaction and briefing the client on possible inconveniences and scenarios.
When you do receive a complaint, the following suggestions will usually help.
First and foremost, listen to the customer. Demonstrate some empathy. Give the client your full attention and concern by turning off your cell phone or closing the door to your office and facing the client directly. It is seldom that a good client complains for no reason. No matter how poorly a customer may present a complaint, it will almost always have some basis.
Secondly, remain helpful. Do not take a complaint personally. Even if a complaint is without merit, treat the customer as you would like to be treated. Remember that the client is probably emotional at this point. Don’t argue and don’t defend, just let the client vent to drain off the emotional energy. Listen and give the client the one thing the client wants more than anything: empathy. Put yourself in the client’s shoes and try to determine, objectively, the merits of the complaint. Defuse the situation by listening.
Next, apologize to the client for any inconvenience the problem has caused them to feel. This is not the same thing as taking on the blame for causing the problem. Simply express your empathy for the bad experience. Assure the client that their complaint is important and that it is your policy to assist all parties to resolve problems in favor of the customer whenever possible.
Ask the client what could be done to make the situation right. Assure the client that you are their advocate and that you will attempt to correct the situation and seek some proportionate redress for their inconvenience. Thank the client for doing you the favor of letting you know the problem, and mean it. If the client had not come to you with the complaint, you would have had no opportunity to make the situation right and possibly retain the client.
Then, follow up! Determine the merit of the complaint and document your findings. Your good relationship with the suppliers you used will come in handy now. Work with the supplier in a reasonable manner. Whatever you do, don’t take on the client’s emotion. You are the professional in this equation. Clients can yell or threaten, but these types of responses are inappropriate for your position.
Report back to the client with your documentation in hand and spend time explaining the situation. The remedy may be small, even non-existent, but your interest and sincere concern for your client will assist you both in getting through a difficult situation. Most clients appreciate the fact that problems arise. It is often how well you handle a complaint that will most impress a good client.
Stay professional, don’t take complaints and objections personally, and be a good partner. You clients will note the difference when you make the difference obvious.
Listen carefully to an objection or a complaint. Handled correctly, it might just be your next big opportunity. Handled poorly, it could take a lot of mending to repair the damage done.