Spear Travel’s Kim Kent offers advice on dealing with clients seeking refunds
I think you will all agree that we, as travel agents, have to be made of tough stuff.
Every day we deal with people we don’t know, some of whom are polite, others not so polite.
Selling holidays to destinations all over the world, we have to have a great deal of knowledge to do our jobs well and we gain more and more experience as the years go by.
In the past we have dealt with crises like Sars, the Gulf war, 9/11 and financial crashes. These, of course, all hit us hard, but we got through them.
“No one really took it seriously at first as the virus was concentrated far from home in China, but it very quickly became a reality in Europe and then in the UK.”
This latest crisis in the form of the coronavirus, however, is a whole new ball game. And if we survive it, which we will, I’m sure we’ll go down in history.
It’s fair to say that no one really took it seriously at first as the virus was concentrated far from home in China, but it very quickly became a reality in Europe and then in the UK. I had to remind myself the other day that no, we’re not going to wake up tomorrow and be back to normal.
So what has your agency done to protect you and the business? Perhaps it’s taken one of these two options:
1. Nominated a key worker (maybe the branch manager) to continue to deal with clients, and put the rest of the staff on furlough?
2. Closed all the shops except one, centralised the bookings, put some staff to work in other businesses and furloughed the rest or those that can’t work because they have kids or other dependants to care for?
Not easy choices to make.
“I must say I’ve been quite impressed so far and found myself saying ‘I should do that’ or ‘that sounds great’.”
My company decided on the first option. As manager, I am working from home with full access to the systems but no paper files, no printer and only my mobile.
It’s been interesting delving into other people’s work and seeing how they deal with customer bookings. I have learnt so much about the people who work for me, like who puts notes on the system and not only on the paper files (!), what they say to their customers, how they deal with complaints and how professional they are. I must say I’ve been quite impressed so far and found myself saying ‘I should do that’ or ‘that sounds great’.
The downside is that you have to read and digest so much more. You need to know all the terms and conditions of each operator and explain it all to the customers, making sure you don’t trip yourself up.
Not many companies have been refunding. Most have been offering credit notes or free date changes. This isn’t always ideal for customers and can cause friction.
My advice is to be pleasant, listen, sympathise and explain the situation from the industry’s perspective in simple terms. If you can, remember that your customers trust you and value your advice – so try to steer them the way that is best for them, whether that’s pushing for a refund or rebooking them to an alternative date.
“Your customers trust you and value your advice – so try to steer them the way that is best for them, whether that’s pushing for a refund or rebooking them.”
Remain positive at all times, and if you don’t know the answer to a question, offer to find out and get back to them. Be firm, but understanding, in your response.
But most of all: stay home, stay safe and be kind.
This is tough but we’ll beat it together
We all like a challenge from time to time, don’t we? Well now we have one, probably the biggest one we will ever have. So being confident, happy and helpful is definitely the way forward in my eyes.
Not all customers understand the way we, or the tour operators, work, so be patient. We don’t have all the answers – no one does – but we are here to help.
I don’t think any of us knows what the state of our beautiful industry will be after all this. But together I am sure we will beat it. Good luck, everyone.
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