This week, TRO’s 365 Guide is looking to some of the types of clients you might encounter as a travel planner. An inevitable consequence of being in business is handling customer complaints. As a travel consultant, the problem is exacerbated since many of the sources of complaints are not within your control. Handling complaints is an art, and the most accomplished can turn a customer’s gripe into a client retention exercise.
First and foremost, listen to the customer. Give the client your full attention and demonstrate your 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 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.
Finally, some clients can not be pleased. For these clients, no redress is enough, no proportionate response adequate. These are the clients that want the full price of their vacation refunded because the weather was bad on vacation. It is an unfortunate truth that you can please some of the people none of the time. This falls into the category of clients you would be better without. Nevertheless, work through each of the steps above just as you would with any client. If the complaint truly is without merit, however, skip the step of addressing it with the supplier. Explain the situation, calmly, with the client and then let them go. Do not worry overly much about their threats never to book with you again as you should have made that decision for them already. Most people who are chronic complainers are recognized as such by those around them and while negative word of mouth is never welcomed, most hearing her complaint will consider the source. Remain calm, thank the complainer and then, lights out, sleep well.
I’m interested in hearing some of your most interesting customer complaints and resolutions. Comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.