When customers simply won’t listen! | TravelResearchOnline


When customers simply won’t listen!

Last Thursday night as I was in a music club listening to Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, I was the proud recipient of two panicked phone calls. The first was from a client in Northern Virginia who was frantic because she just realized that the passport she thought was valid, no longer was. The second was from a client in New York who had a similar revelation with her passport. Oh, and the group trip they were booked on was departing the next day!

International documents are a big thing with me. I always err on the side of caution and tell my clients to have at least 6 months left on their passports. I always request a copy of the first page to avoid the inevitable “Oh, wow, my name is Elizabeth? I just always go by Betty!” conversations. I got burned once back in 1997 and I vowed to myself that it never would happen again.

For these two clients, I specifically told them they would need to renew before the trip. They acknowledged they knew in an email to me.  I sent a reminder to them when the final payment was made in late June. Likewise, they both acknowledged it. When the final documents were sent out, the part on my disclaimer about the client being responsible to have current identification and travel documents was highlighted on their invoices.  Aside from going to their home, what more could I do?

I hated when my mother used to say “I told you so,” so I was sure that was not the way to go. So, like most travel professionals, I simply put on another hat—this one of magician.  I sent them both emails with some of the same day passport companies we work with along with the addresses of their local passport offices—thankfully they were relatively close.  My advice was to gather their old passport and the current travel invoice, go to the passport office first thing in the morning, and get in line. I told them to be prepared to abandon that mid-way and go to an expediter to resolve the issue.

While they were (presumably) on their way, I contacted both of their local US Congressmen’s constituent liaisons. From past experience, passport drones perk up when a Congressman or Senator calls.  I explained the situation, told them where their constituents were and what we needed to have done.

Within 30 minutes of arriving at the passport office and standing in line, both were called out because an appointment had mysteriously opened up.

In the end, they had new passports approved by 10am and they needed to return to physically pick them up after noon. Crisis averted!

But as I let out a sigh of relief that I did not need to invoke “Plan C”, I wondered how two people came up with the same problem at the same time? Does our advice matter so little? Are consumers now trained to believe that they know best under all circumstances?  I was shaking my head because I knew I could not have done more; yet I was the point man for the resolution.

This time it all worked out well. I had a nice stiff drink on Friday night along with a smile on my face knowing that had they booked this trip online, it likely would have been a total loss. And my clients? Well, right now they are probably sunning themselves on the white sands of Grace Bay with a frozen umbrella drink!

Do you find that some customers will never listen to your advice? How do you handle it?


  16 thoughts on “When customers simply won’t listen!

  1. Pam Hallberg says:

    You definitely handled that crises well. I have also found that clients don’t heed my advise. Recently my clients missed their VIP, before hours tour of the Vatican because they arrived too late. I told them to take a taxi there rather than public transportation (and included the advise on their itinerary) but instead they listened to the hotel clerk who suggested the subway. Since it was their first morning in Rome, they under estimated the time needed and got lost. Fortunately, they didn’t blame me, but they did miss an amazing experience and lost some money.

  2. Lori Derauf says:

    Way to save the day for them. They probably had great intentions of renewing but just didn’t put it on the right list. I also find that some people really don’t read all the information carefully. I had one client tell me she didn’t open anything I sent her until the night before the trip. I’ve since convinced her to open it up and read through it upon receipt. Take comfort that you did your job very well and even came through when the chips were down for them.

  3. Sheila Batty says:

    John – you are way too kind. Although, I feel, I would, as I have done in the past, go above and beyond. Where does it stop? Hopefully your clients are faithful to you and realize your value. So few do.

  4. John Frenaye says:

    They do appreciate it. And in a weird twist of something, I may end up better for the deal next year. Neither of them (also against my encouragement) purchased travel insurance. Not that an expired passport is covered, but they now understand that any trip can have a wrench thrown in the mix. These two in particular were facing losing about $6K a pop.

    Of course if they hadn’t been able to get the passports, I would have pulled some favors from the resort and try to negotiate with the airlines to mitigate that cost.

  5. Barb MacKenzie says:

    My pet peeve…People who don’t READ!!! I’ve sent information and yet get questions about all sorts of things already covered. And I often go back and say “read last paragraph on page two”. I highlight on documents constantly. But get asked “where is the number for this? Oh you mean the hightlighted one?”
    I am trying to come up with a nice, tactful way of saying “read this, I don’t just send it for my amusement and I am not your mother so I don’t have to hold your hand!”
    I wonder how these people function at work and at home.
    Other than highlighting, red text, bold text, underlined text etc. doesn’t seem to matter.
    Does anyone have a good suggestion on how to say this tactfully but firm enough so they do actually read what is sent?

    1. John Frenaye says:

      I also bought little sticky arrows from Office Depot. I use them if I need someone to sign and also to highlight key parts.

  6. Donald J. Simpson says:

    What a great story and “how cool are you” dealing with a situation like that with such professionalism. There is much wisdom in this story and lesson for those of us that want build our travel business and be successful. Thanks for sharing. I bet they listen from this point on.

  7. Well done John but in saying that…..do we actually have a choice..we absolutely have to do all possible to ensure our clients experience seamless vacations etc. and it surprises me how often they seem to feel that we deliberately make life difficult for them…..often also they tend to rely rather more on the advice of friends or family members who know sooooo much more than we about…well…everything of course! Why do we do it……I know….for some very strange reason we absolutely LOVE what we do !!!!

    1. John Frenaye says:

      It is funny you mentioned that. Someone at the Passport office told the one woman that he son’s Passport would also need to be renewed because it expired 1 month after the return. That may be the case for some destinations, but not so for Turks. It is frustrating when I check the Turks site for THEIR entry requirements and then there is an official US representative essentially telling my client inaccurate info. I sent her links to both the US Dept of State and the the Turks site to keep on her phone just in case someone also tried to reject them.

  8. You know what Barbara……you could do what FLIGHT CENTRE do here in NZ…….make your clients sign a document saying that they have read and understood. I don’t like a lot about what FC does but this is probably the ONLY way we have to get through to the “Non Readers” out there.

    1. John Frenaye says:

      I do have a disclaimer, and I suppose it is legally enforceable, but no one wants to go to court. And in the long run, it is a lot cheaper (and has a lot more “feel good value”) to take some time and money to resolve the issue if possible.

  9. Tony Monaco says:

    Kudos John – you did what had to be done not what was easy. Obviously, it is impossible to make some people read the documentation you work so hard to create and keep up to date. I know we have to go over important items multiple times and in numerous ways (not just written form) to ensure some clients have prepared correctly. We use “sticky notes”, online “checklist forms”, “final touch phone calls” a couple of weeks prior to departure, etc. and still some clients forget to complete some mandatory items. Thanks for sharing such a great example to serve as a reminder for all of us attempting to provide SUPERIOR client support.

  10. I hope that at least you levied a large service charge on both of them for your extreme efforts!

    1. John Frenaye says:

      Actually no. There was a fee upfront, plus the commission was valuable. My niche also has a very good word of mouth referral pipeline, so while it cost me a few phone calls and maybe an hour time, I am willing to give that up.

  11. Cade H says:

    I hope these two clients will remember all your hard work when they travel again. Unfortunately in todays real world of entitlement thinking the odds of these two remembering what you did is 50-50 at best. Many the younger generation ( not all ! ) especially have no concept of being on top of things and take the attitude that since you got my money that entitles me to be irresponsible since you will clean up my mess.

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