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Dealing with difficult customers

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A run-in with an angry client doesn’t have to ruin your day. Dinah Hatch gives some tips on dealing with complaints





Stay cool

The first rule of dealing with hostile customers who are complaining is to learn the art of self-control. No matter how angry and abusive your client is, it will never help the situation for you to start matching his or her aggression.


Don’t forget, your client has been at home getting worked up about the issue before they have come to you, so they will have built up a head of steam. It’s your job to diffuse that, not equal it. Detach yourself from the heat of the moment by taking a few seconds in the back room to keep your cool.




See their side


Try to empathise with the customer. They might have paid out a lot of money only to have experienced a holiday that was less than satisfactory. They almost certainly will have been looking forward to it for a long time. Wouldn’t you be frustrated if your holiday had gone wrong?


The secret to dealing with this situation is to try to convey empathy to the customer. This can be done with the verbal language (‘yes, I can understand how you must have felt’) and the body language you use (for instance, hands faced palms out on the desk will subconsciously tell your client you are a trustworthy person).




Stay on the fence


Don’t take sides. It’s possible to show your client you know where they are coming from without actually siding with them. For instance, if the client wants compensation from an operator, it is unwise to start slating the operator just to get in favour with the customer.


It’s best to bring your line manager into the equation as they will know the correct procedures. It’s all about maintaining professionalism without coming across as aloof (who wants to seem like the Little Britain travel agent, after all?)




Remain strong


Try not to be intimidated by a customer. No matter what has happened, there is absolutely no excuse for any customer to frighten or intimidate you because things have gone wrong and they blame you.


Tell the client politely you will not tolerate being spoken to in anything other than a civil tone and inform them they must speak with your line manager if they want to continue. Your manager will probably have more experience in dealing with awkward customers and should be able to diffuse the situation.




Educate yourself


There are dozens of courses on dealing with tricky customers and difficult complaints, so why not get yourself enrolled on one (bigger travel companies already offer them).


As well as learning how to cope with the customer who is never satisfied, the knowledge that you have completed the course will give you the selfconfidence you need to tackle sticky moments head on. You never know, you might end up being the office troubleshooter!




Nip it in the bud


Resolve matters as quickly as you can. Speed is key when it comes to sorting out complaints. Customer service research has shown that 54%-70% of customers who complain will do business with you again if their complaint is resolved, and a whopping 95% will do business with you again if their beef is sorted out speedily.


Learn to ask the right questions straight away. You can only do this by listening properly and getting to the heart of the matter as soon as you can.


Solve things quickly and your customer will be telling friends about how efficient you were – and that’s good PR.




Keep it simple


When you are responding to your customer’s complaint, do your best to talk to them in language they will understand. That means avoiding jargon that will only succeed in annoying them further – they will think you are trying to blind them with science to avoid helping them.


Use simple language to reassure them you will do your best to help them resolve their complaint and to convey to them you are not planning on shifting the blame.


An agent who starts rabbiting on about GDS systems, airline overbooking patterns and IATA rules will have lost the faith of their customer within seconds.




Keep an open mind


Clear your mind of any preconceived notions about people who are complaining. It’s a wellknown fact that the average person makes up their mind about another within 10 seconds of meeting them, so it’s easy to understand why a grim-faced customer marching into your shop is going to colour your view of them.


Let them say what they have to say and only after you’ve been chatting to them for a while should you use your judgement to work out what sort of a person they are and how you should deal with them.




It works both ways


Try and work out a mutually beneficial plan. This will not only help them with their issue but also show them you are capable of solving the problem and prove you are an agent worth dealing with again.


Your knowledge of how an operator’s complaints procedure works may help the client see how to progress with their grievance. They now know what to do and feel better for having asked you about it. Everyone’s happy.




Learn from experience


Even if none of the above tactics work for you and you end up swapping some terse words with your client and go away feeling you handled it badly, take time out to review what went wrong and how you could have turned things around. Next time you will perform a whole lot better!

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