It’s a fact of travel agent life: at one time or another, you’re going to screw up. You’re going to make an error so massively huge, you will feel like crawling into a hole. You will think the client will hate you forever, and you’ll never work in this town again. I know, because it happened to me.
Let’s set the scene: I was handling a multi-faceted trip for a client in Texas. She flew out of Houston to Florida, where she boarded a 3-day cruise to the Bahamas, then drove to Orlando where she was enjoying The Mouse for a few more days before flying back home. She was taking her family, a total party of five. We worked out the details and pricing and I made the reservations then sent her a detailed invoice. A few days later called me.
“Steve? I was looking over my itinerary, and it looks like my flight from Texas to Florida is on the wrong date.”
My blood turned cold, and I nearly froze. I checked into it, and she was right – I had booked the flight for a week LATER than it should have been and had not realized it. What made it even worse is the flight had gone up in price so in addition to change fees, there would be an increase in airfare to cover in order to correct the error. All told, it would cost $830.00 to fix the airfare. Since it was my error, and not the client’s, I had no choice but to eat the fees.
It hurt, very much. That was money out of my pocket, funds that I had earmarked for something else that I had to divert to this. It taught me an important lesson – triple check everything. I just wish that lesson wasn’t so expensive!
I can’t prevent you from making these kinds of mistakes but I can share with you what I’ve learned on how to handle the fallout.
- Apologize! The important thing to do is to apologize as soon as you realize there is a problem. It’s even more powerful if you do this before the client notices a problem. If you don’t know how to fix it right away, apologize anyway, and let them know you’re working on a solution. Let them know the details of the error, but don’t downplay it or make it more dramatic than it needs to be.
- Face the Music. When you apologize to the client, meet them in person or if you can’t, call them on the phone. Doing so by email is not a good way to handle this (exception: the client is the sort who prefers email communication).
- Figure It Out and Share It. Once you have determined a solution to the problem, share this solution with your client. Get their okay to implement the solution – make them feel like a part of the process, not just an affected person who can’t do anything about it.
- Fix It, and Do Something Extra. Once you’ve corrected the problem, find a way to go one step further. Often, this goes a long way to smoothing any ruffled feathers. Prepay airline luggage fees, provide for a stateroom amenity of some kind, or some other added value. Do not offer money, such as onboard credit, or a discount on their package or future travel. People may like them, but they don’t remember them as much. You WANT them to remember that you made an error, and that you went above and beyond to fix it.
- Thank Them. It’s important to thank the client for working with you to get the solution fixed, and thank them for being a client. If possible, let them know what steps you’re taking to ensure the error doesn’t repeat itself.
In my situation above, I ate the $830.00 in fees to fix my client’s flight. I also prepaid their luggage fees for BOTH flights (even though the error occurred on one flight) and I arranged for them to have a bottle of wine in the adult stateroom on their cruise. She’s since continued to work with me, and has referred more clients to me.
Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS is a six-year industry veteran and owner of Exclusive Events At Sea and Journeys By Steve, based in Springfield, MO. In addition to producing special events on board cruise ships, he specializes in escorted tours of Europe and the Holy Land and culinary-themed travel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his websites at http://www.JourneysBySteve.com and http://www.ExclusiveEventsAtSea.com.