Written By: Scott Koepf MCC, CTC, V.P. of Strategic Development – Cruise Planners
It may seem a little strange or counter intuitive, but it may be a good idea to hope that something goes wrong during your clients trip. I know you are thinking that I may be a bit looney for suggesting this (or if you know me you may have come to that conclusion long ago). However, there is a logical reason for this crazy idea.
If everything goes smoothly on your clients vacation they may never really understand the value that you bring as a travel advisor. Hopefully if you have exceeded expectations throughout the selling, booking and servicing phases of the client interaction, your client will be happy and satisfied. However, studies have shown that the most loyal customers are created when a problem has occurred and the travel advisor has handled it in a professional and efficient manner. So, customers who had a problem but felt it was dealt with correctly are more loyal than those who had no problem at all!
Unfortunately, we are in an industry where ‘stuff’ happens. In most cases it is due to hundreds of things that are not in you or your clients control going sideways. Since we know these situations will occur, it is important to have a process and system in place to make the client feel that you are there for them and that they can trust in you when things go awry.
While you should create your own process, here is a list of suggestions to consider when the inevitable issue occurs:
Be Responsive – When a problem occurs the response time may be the overriding element as to how your client will judge how you provided help and assistance. Make sure you have a plan in place to answer the phone, return calls or answer emails quickly. If you are not available make sure you have coverage so your customer does not feel ignored.
Be Receptive and have Empathy – We all know that an urgent crisis is defined differently by every customer. The stories of clients who call in the middle of the night because of the ‘emergency’ they are faced with of losing their room key while on a drunken stupor at a local bar are endless. However, even if it might drive you a little nuts, you need to hear them out and show empathy to their plight. In some cases, it might require explaining what a real emergency is but try to hear them out first no matter what.
Acknowledge and Respect the Complaint – While you do not have to agree with their reaction or perspective of the situation, it is important to let them know that you understand that they are frustrated or disappointed and will do what you can to help.
Ask Questions to Clarify and then Confirm the Issue – Some problems are simple and clear like a missed flight or a sick passenger but other issues may need more context and details. Spend the time necessary to get all of the information possible and then confirm (in writing if possible) the exact details of the issue.
Propose Immediate Action – At the end of each conversation or interaction with the customer try to end with a statement like ‘Here is what I am going to do for you’. It could be a phone call or an email and a follow up appointment with the customer. Be specific so that you and the customer know what the next steps are.
Take Personal Responsibility – In most cases the situation was not created due to your error. However, as they are your customer they want to know you are working on their behalf. You should not take the blame, only the personal responsibility to help.
Thank the Customer for Bringing the Situation to Your Attention – No one likes to deal with problems but if you never knew one existed then you cant help rectify it. In many cases you may even need to probe for any complaints after the trip is over. Remember a customer who had a complaint will move to another Advisor, even if you never knew about the problem. When you express gratitude for discussing their issue you deepen your relationship and trust.
Follow Up as Promised- This may be the most important part of dealing with any issue. As noted above, end every customer interaction with an understanding of what you or your customer will do next. Then not only do what you promised but over communicate the status of the situation with the customer. Continue to follow up until the matter is resolved or has concluded to the customers satisfaction.
One of the primary advantages of booking with you as a travel advisor versus direct or online is your role as an advocate for your customer. When you have solved a few problems get testimonials from those clients as they can be a powerful marketing tool to prove that you are Mr. orMs. Fix it!