By Matt Castell @MattCastell29 Feb 2016It’s not always chocolates and wine we get from our customers after they return from a trip abroad – sometimes it’s snarls and spittle… But that’s okay, if travel always went smoothly then it wouldn’t be as fun and rewarding. The difference between an all-star Travel Agent and an un-schooled nob however, is how they handle an unhappy client. Anyone who’s been in the business long enough; or knows the value of great customer service, will see a complaint not as a negative – but as an opportunity. You see, customer service in general across all industries isn’t usually what it’s cracked up to be. Disgruntled consumers are normally routed through customer relations departments tended by apathetic employees on minimum wage who don’t give a rat’s ass if the customer returns to the business or not. Waiters at cafes shrug their shoulders and barely issue a forced apology if an order is wrong, mobile phone companies falsely promise services they cannot provide and force customers who are trapped by contracts through barbaric gauntlets of hold times and frustrations before allowing them to take their business elsewhere. My point is that service in general ain’t too great. So, when a customer is treated with dignity, empathy and compassion when they think something could’ve been done better, this is new to them – and YOUR chance the make them a raving fan. It’s quite simple really, so throw away that flow-chart and put that phone number for customer relations down. I’ll tell you my fool-proof method on handling complaints like a pro. Actively seek out complaints You may think this sounds ridiculous – but it’s true that only around 10% of unhappy customers will actually address their problems with you. This means that there could be a whole bunch of people out there dragging your name through the mud – which you don’t even know about. ALWAYS set up a welcome home phone call or consultation. Email won’t cut it because nervous customers won’t have the guts to reply. Ask specific questions about the trip, rather than a simple “how was everything?” Enquire about the airline, the meals at the hotel, the tour guide, etc. Not only will you increase your knowledge about products that will help with other customers – you’ll also have the chance to offer improvements on the next holiday they book with you – don’t be surprised if they actually start booking the next trip right then and there! Put your listening hat on This can be a tough one, especially if the issue is personal – like if you booked something incorrectly. But, you need to stay calm and listen first. Write everything down and try not to comment or defend anything just yet. Remember that the customer might be a bit fired up and the last thing you want to do is enter into an argument – the chips are all yours to lose. Ask your customer what outcome they would like to achieve Our customers want to be in control. By putting their destiny back in their own hands you’ll gain huge levels of trust and truly put YOU in their shoes. I’m not saying that we’ll always be able to comply with their requests – but at least you’ll be on the same page with where they want to be. A lot of the time, all they’ll actually want is some sort of apology or acknowledgement that their complaint has been taken seriously and structures put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again – and this usually doesn’t cost a cent. Give a clear timeline of what happens next The classic “under-promise and over-deliver” comes to mind at this stage. Make sure your customer knows that their complaint will be handled as a priority and give a clear timeline of when you’ll get back to them. Keep in mind that if third-parties are involved like airlines, hotels or tour companies then you won’t be in complete control – so add a few days to your response just in case. The last thing you want to do is fire them up even more by not responding when you say you will. Follow through This is where the “over-deliver” part comes in. After you’ve addressed any concerns and provided feedback or reasons why things went wrong, why not offer something they weren’t expecting? A $100 travel credit goes a long way, especially if the issue was out of your hands, or was a ‘ridiculous complaint’ in your mind. The customer will feel like you’ve got their back, you’ve almost guaranteed yourself a repeat client – and a raving fan. Have you ever actively sought out complaints? Other stories you may like “Travel Agents aren’t going anywhere anytime soon”: Travellers Choice Last night at dinner: “I got screwed booking travel online” The 2017 Avis Travel Agent Scholarship goes to… a TravelManager!