How to Turn Disasters Into Customer Service Wins
by Robin Amster

Travel sellers need to respond aggressively — and immediately — when clients are caught up in events like last week’s ill-fated Carnival Triumph cruise. But as challenging as these situations can be, they give agents a chance to cement their reputation for stellar customer service.

“Agents should kick into high gear and apologize to clients,” said Ron Kaufman. “When something goes wrong and you do a good job, that’s where your reputation stands to gain a quantum leap.”

Kaufman is a customer service consultant and the author of Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else you Meet (Evolve Publishing, 2012).

Kaufman acknowledged that agents may be limited in what they can do — the responsibility for a situation and the way it’s handled often lies with suppliers. “But agents do have control over the ultimate relationship with their customer.”

Travel Market Report asked Kaufman to advise agents how to handle travel fiascos such as the Triumph’s interrupted cruise as well as more disastrous happenings.

Respond immediately to the client
When problems or a crisis occurs, contact clients immediately, or as soon as possible, said Kaufman. “If you wait, by the time the customer contacts you, with all that blame, it’s already too late.”

At that point, the customer is right to blame the agent, he said.

 . . . and to the supplier
“Immediately get in touch with that supplier too and say, ‘That’s our customer, yours and mine, and I want to work to get our customer back,” said Kaufman.

Kaufman calls the agent-supplier relationship “a service partnership,” in which both must work together to deliver service to the real customer.

Travel sellers may want to sell that supplier in the future and it’s a good thing “to change those bad memories.” But they should insist on securing a good deal from the supplier for future travel, he added.

Make a gesture
Apologizing to clients is crucial but agents need to go beyond that.

“Do the unexpected,” Kaufman advised. Send flowers, chocolates or a fruit basket. Give clients an upgrade or a discount on future travel.

If it’s a gift, make it one that’s “consumable,” Kaufman adds. “In a service-recovery situation, the gesture should be an enjoyable experience. Not something that will sit around on the dining room table.”

Any agent can shine
Any agency, large or small, can excel at serving its clients. “That requires building a culture of customer service,” Kaufman said.

“You have to hire people who believe in it, reward people who do it and educate people in service recovery.”

Agency owners or managers have to frame disasters for their staff as an opportunity to show clients that everything they say about their service is more than “a hollow claim,” he added.

“You don’t build a culture of powerful service recovery for everyday. But when you need it, you can’t get the right response if it’s an oddball occurrence.”

Things will go wrong — often
“The travel industry is no more fraught with difficulties than any other industry,” Kaufman said.
But the likelihood of something going wrong in travel is high, so agency clients are “more exposed.”

There are potential problems when kids travel with parents and on business trips, potential medical issues, even changes in food, time zones and comfort levels can create problems for clients.

“So it’s not a question of will something go wrong,” Kaufman said. “It’s a question of how it will be handled if it does.”

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Comments
Jeffrey    2/22/2013 4:06:57 PM
Great article... I have always told my agents "look on a problem as an opportunity"   "If you handle it well you will have a better client that you had before"  

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Ingrid    2/23/2013 1:01:18 AM
Thank you for the article and the good advice. Clients will appreciate the help in stressful situations. A little caring and effort on the agent’s part will go a long way!

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williama    3/2/2015 11:46:54 AM
Great article... I have always told my agents "look on a problem as an opportunity" "If you handle it well you will have a better client that you had before"

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Tip of the Day
Remember that your travels, too, are part of this important aspect of provenance. Hard-copy photo albums or visuals on a smart phone can be part of the sales process where your photos, selfies, and home-made videos show where you've been and what you've done.
 
Steve Gillick
President, Talking Travel
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