Tough love for tough clients | Travel Research Online


Tough love for tough clients

How do you handle the impossible to please client?  I am not talking about the difficult client—we all have them and can work our way through the hand holding and consoling and explaining.  I am talking about the client that has a very minor problem, and uses it to leverage everything else into a major problem?

Tough Love Part 1

Several years ago, I was escorting one of our Harry Potter themed trips in the UK. We had 12 families who were having the times of their lives, and one that was not.  By the third day of a 12-day trip, the weather was too chilly. The hike was too steep. The food tasted funny. The bed was not comfortable. The road was riddled with potholes. The list went on and on. And to make matters worse, she made it a point to let everyone know how displeased she was with the trip.  I pride myself on transparency. My prices include taxes, fees, and any other upfront and known costs. Any additional expenses and expectations for the trip are clearly discussed and presented.  There was very little I could do about any of her issues and she was dragging the group down to the point where others were complaining. So we voted her off the trip!

In what was one of the most awkward conversations I have ever had, I explained that it appeared there was nothing that was going to make this trip right for her and her son. I explained that I couldn’t control the weather, the bumpiness of the roads and the manner in which the Brits prepare their food.  I handed her two tickets back to the US along with a refund for the trip. I could accept one unhappy client—I was unwilling to accept 13.

Tough Love Part 2

Last week, I had another group in Jamaica. I was not escorting this trip, but received a call on the first night from a client claiming she got the wrong room. By the time we got down to it, it was the correct room; but her bedding request (2 doubles) was not fulfilled—she was aware it was a request.  I called the sold-out resort to see if there was a different room available or possibly an upgrade. No such luck for a few days.  It was explained to the client that requests are never guaranteed and in a sold out situation, there was nothing to be done. They did agree to mover her to an oceanfront room in in two days, but that was not enough. She wanted free Wi-Fi (don’t get me started on why they charge for it in the first place), a $250 resort credit and 10% off her bill. When I explained that her requests were unreasonable her response was, “fine, I will just voice my displeasure on many websites.”

I made a last-ditch “tough love” pitch to her. I explained that she had the room she paid for. She received free Wi-Fi. She was receiving an upgrade. But that she would not be receiving a resort credit or a partial refund on the trip. I apologized for not being able to accommodate her request, but that if she continued with the unreasonable requests, I would be suggesting to the resort that there was nothing that was going to make the situation better in the client’s eyes, and to forego any type of accommodation. Tough love. But she backed down, took the Wi-Fi and an upgraded room for the 2nd half of her trip.

Thankfully, these clients are few and far between, but boy, when they strike, they can wreak havoc on a trip. Not only do you run the risk of making everyone else’s experience less-than-perfect, but you also run the risk of having others jump on the bandwagon if you cave into their demands.   Does anyone have a sure-fire way to handle these unreasonable clients?

  8 thoughts on “Tough love for tough clients

  1. byoft says:

    Curious as to how the rest of the Harry Potter trip went.

    Also, did you ever hear from the “voted off” client again?

    1. John Frenaye says:

      The rest of the trip went exquisitely. Actually the rest knew what I had done (didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out) and felt bad for me. Let’s just say I didn;t buy a cocktail the entire rest of the trip.

      Strangely enough, I did hear back from her about six months after we had returned when she came across an itinerary I sent. She called to tell me that in hindsight, the trip put a huge financial burden on her and she probably should not have taken it, but did not want to disappoint her child. The trip was just shy of $10K before airfare into LON and out of EDI. She stopped short of apologizing or trying to “make up” and I just empathized about how difficult it can be at times balancing dollars, homes, and kids as a single parent and that sometimes you just need to say no. We have not booked her on any trips since of course.

  2. Lucille Stern says:

    I was in Edinburgh in a taxi with 4 other clients. The adult son of one of the clients was verbally swearing at traffic in front of us. I asked the son to cease as others were in the car. Next after retuning to the US, spoke to the mother who was angry with me for correcting her son. She never again booked with me.

    1. John Frenaye says:

      Maybe it is something about the UK?

  3. Anna Bedney says:

    I think you handled both cases exceptionally well. I am in the business of client loyalty and we all experience these folks- to have handled them as tactfully as you had is a learning tool for all of us.

  4. FBeifeld says:

    We have all had difficult situations but the strangest was on a personal trip. I had booked a small wine-tasting tour to the Barossa Valley in So. Australia. While waiting for the pick up we met a woman who’s son was doing a semester at the local college. He got into the back seat with his buddy and then they began discussing what they had brought along for the trip intending to get high. The tour was supposed to be 4 and we were now rather squeezed in. My husband asked the driver to stop the car. Explained that we would not be travelling with this group and perhaps they could accommodate us the next day or just refund our money. The next day we got a private tour.

    1. John Frenaye says:

      Well played! I do find it unusual that seeming straight laced clients here in the US seem to have a presumption that recreational drug use (especially in the Caribbean) is the norm.

  5. Being in the travel industry for 22 years and having escorted many groups that I’ve booked, I find the stories here very uplifting. The old saying that you can’t please all of the people all of the time is so true. Thank goodness for those of the majority that make our jobs so worthwhile and heartwarming. I’ve learned over the years that sometimes “tough love for tough clients” is all that works. In my beginning days, I was “afraid” to speak up to adults acting worse than children, but learned quickly that the possibility of losing one client is not so bad when they cause headaches we don’t need!
    John, I wish you would have a monthly article with situations such as these. It’s delightful reading!

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