Last week, I was having drinks with an agent who was regaling his story of being sued by a client for a “ruined” vacation. Thankfully (fingers, legs and arms all crossed) I have not had the “pleasure” of being sued by a client, but my colleague had some tips in five distinct areas that I thought might be useful.
Yes, the clients’; but more importantly, you need to be insured for errors and omissions. Yes it is an expense, but it is one that will allow you to continue in business if the worst happens. If you do not have it—go get it now.
If a client threatens to sue, it should not come as a surprise to you. No matter the situation—a missed connection, a wrong stateroom, or the unthinkable, chances are the client has already had a conversation with you about it. As a consultant, it is your job to work a client through the travel process and that includes the bad stuff. Discuss, without promising, what it is that the client seeks. Is it a refund? Replacement trip? Your first born? My all means, try to reason with the client and work with a supplier. I had a client looking for a refund because of a toilet that ran all week keeping her awake at night. When I explained that it was an inconvenience, and that a call to maintenance would have solved it, she began to understand. I also pointed out that she did stay an entire week, ate the food, drank the booze, and partook in the events. In the end, a credit on her next booking was given by my agency as a gesture of good will. By all means, try and resolve the issue on the agency level. If it warrants, and you can afford it, offer a refund. Work with the suppliers (believe it or not they are your partners too) to see if anything can be done. Very often all a client is looking for is a sympathetic ear.
If, despite your efforts, your client tells you that they will sue; by all means remain calm. Do not argue with them or get angry. Reiterate your prior position and see if they might be able to reason with you. Do not make any promises that you cannot keep. Even innocuous statements like “I’ll call XYZ and try to get a refund” might come back to bite you—you just sort of agreed that a refund was reasonable. Be polite and non-confrontational and let the process take its course. Contact your attorney and let him or her know what is going on.
Once you have been put on notice, (verbally, in writing, or by service) shut up. At this point, there is little good to come out of any conversation you might have. Your statements can be used against you (and they will). If asked for any information, refer them to your attorney. Once you have been put on notice, nothing you say can positively impact your case.
Being sued, especially for a small single-person business, is personal. The client may not feel it is personal, but to the at-home agent, it is completely personal. Just like any other business transaction (like selling your agency), you need to remove the emotion out of the equation. Go home and scream into the pillow if you must, but in the office, professionalism must be your guide.
Going back to my first point about insurance—litigation is very expensive. You and your insurer need to weigh your options to see if a settlement is a reasonable resolution or if it makes sense to push forward. And remember, nothing is final until a Judge says it is final. There is always room for negotiation up until the last minute.
Have you ever been sued? Any tips? Care to talk about it? Leave a comment!