Hays Travel Washington branch manager Colin Burns shares his approach to encouraging clients to rebook

In the 38 years I’ve been a travel agent, I thought I’d seen everything… wars, natural disasters, strikes. But Covid-19 has created a whole new learning curve none of us could’ve predicted.

Like many, I’m working from home, dealing with customers, and five of my team are doing the same. In the shop, we would’ve had at least eight, so the workload is heavy, and it’s a bit strange sitting in a room on my own all day. I miss the banter and support from my team.


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When writing these columns in the shop, the team chips in, saying things like “what about that customer Julia had?” and “oh my days, did you hear what Talia just said?” So working from home I really wanted to keep that team togetherness.

“We have a group-call every morning to recap the previous day’s events, swap tips and set the scene for the coming day.”

We’ve set up a WhatsApp group and continue to fire questions to one another. We have a little moan when things aren’t going so well, and a massive rant when we feel we can’t take any more. We have a group-call every morning to recap the previous day’s events, swap tips and set the scene for the coming day.

The ‘refunds chat’

We’re trying to get as many customers as possible rebooked for later in the year or next summer, and this option comes as a pleasant surprise to those who thought they would be offered a refund or a voucher or would lose their money.

Just like booking the holiday in the first place, we go into the call positively. We advise the customer their current booking can’t go ahead but that we’re here to help them find the best alternative for when “this is all over”. And in the main, they’ve been appreciative.

“We also prepare for calls by looking at clients’ booking histories. Do they normally book early? Travel to the same destinations? Look for free child places?”

Obviously, the subject of refunds comes up on most calls. It can be a tricky one to handle. So we say to customers things like “are you really not going to go away anywhere once the restrictions are lifted?” And “why have the stress of trying to get a refund when you can pick from the best availability now and transfer your money over?” We find people tend to go for it.

We also prepare for calls by looking at clients’ booking histories. Do they normally book early? Travel to the same destinations? Look for free child places? If so, we offer them solutions and stress the importance of sorting it now for the best chance to get what they want.

Is that pushy? I don’t think so. It’s looking after customers’ best interests and making sure they make informed decisions. When a customer is really adamant a refund is the only acceptable outcome, we politely explain their tour operator’s policy and say that we will do everything we can to help them get it.

Best advice

In this regard I think the media has helped. Every day a travel or consumer rights expert gives advice on what to expect from holiday firms, the offer of a voucher comes as less of a shock. Just keep your customer on side and follow the processes. Customers will thank you for giving the best advice in uncertain times.

“I’m sure I’m not the only manager who feels a duty to help protect the my team’s jobs. So, stay positive, and remember that customers will understand if we do what’s right for them.”

Of course, getting a rebooking instead of a refund protects our business too. And I’m sure I’m not the only manager who feels a duty to help protect the my team’s jobs. So, stay positive, and remember that customers will understand if we do what’s right for them.


Biscuits

Listen up, team: Learn from Mrs B

I’d like to use this little section to issue a warning to all of my team in the branch about some new standards that have been set while working at home.

Every hour, on the hour, Mrs B brings me a lovely cup of tea and a plate with a selection of biscuits. She asks me if I’m OK and, if I’m a bit stressed, she pats me on the head and says: “Ah, poor little bunny. Come on, you can get through this.”

“Mrs B brings me a lovely cup of tea and a plate with a selection of biscuits. She asks me if I’m OK and, if I’m a bit stressed, she pats me on the head.”

I find this so much more motivational than you lot in the shop and your usual “Col, man, have a word with yourself and get on with it”.

The support standards have gone up. A little change on our return to the shop, please.

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