When Clients Are Wrong

Customer Service
Photo by michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Ruthanne Terrero
Vice President—Content/ Editorial
Director, Ruthanne Terrero

How often do you know that you are absolutely right and that your customer is absolutely wrong? It must take all of the patience and tactfulness in the world for a travel advisor to deal with such a challenge.

Of course, some “wrong” clients aren’t worth keeping. If they swear up and down they have passports and call you from the airport as they can’t get on the plane to Europe because they had no idea they needed a passport, it’s not worth your time trying to send them on a follow-up trip. The customer who argues with you on price, falsely claiming you cited a very low quote for a vacation, is definitely not worth saving. All you can do in these cases is extract yourself gracefully.

Things are not always so clear cut, however, when social media is involved. I belong to a Facebook group whose members sell their crafts online on Etsy. One seller was lamenting how poorly she dealt with customer service in the early days of her shop. She cited a customer who wanted to return an item. The seller recalled how she wrote several e-mails arguing with the woman as to why she would not take the item back. She had every reason in the world for not accepting this return and she was right on every level. The result? The customer wrote a scathing review, focusing on how the seller was negligent in addressing the buyer’s concerns. That’s an ouch. That very public, negative review hurt sales for several weeks and the seller definitely wished she had handled things differently. It was most certainly a case of “Win the argument, lose the battle.”

Then there are instances of a customer being despicably wrong.

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I was chatting with a travel advisor recently who was quite upset. A client she’d worked with for months on a complex itinerary had decided to book the trip on her own. Turns out, every step of the way, the client was finding alternative options online, and, of course, “finding lower prices” at every turn.

I asked the advisor if she had charged a consulting fee up front. “Yes,” she said, “But the $150 certainly doesn’t cover the hours I spent planning this trip!”

Sometimes all you can do is tell a person you’re sorry something bad happened. People do steal from others. Some even wake up each morning with plans to outsmart virtually everyone who crosses their path.

I’m sure that you’re thinking of ways this advisor could have held on to the client along the way. She should have noted in writing at every turn the dollar value of the free amenities she was able to provide at the hotels because of her network’s relationships. 

This means not only saying, “You’re getting free breakfast during your five days in London,” but adding up and spelling out the hundreds of dollars that would have cost the client. The same goes for what the dollar cost would have been for that early check-in at that Paris hotel as well as the upgrade to a junior suite.

We all want to believe that people are at their best all of the time, but clearly there are those who can’t resist the urge to work around a trusting travel advisor. Protect yourself by constantly spelling out your worth in the number of dollars you’re saving your client. You’ve earned bragging rights as to how amazing you are, so don’t be shy about articulating them. That’s just good business sense.

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