When It’s Wrong to Be Right

Customer Service
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How often do you know that you are absolutely right and that your customer is absolutely wrong? I’m sure that travel advisors encounter this problem frequently and I can imagine it takes all of the patience and tactfulness in the world to resolve things gracefully. It could be that luxury client who confused what their sister-in-law said about a destination with what you told them during your consultation. Or perhaps they made incorrect assumptions about the hotel you put them in because they didn’t really focus on the itinerary you provided for them.

Some infractions are worth forgiving. To err is human, and if a client is worth retaining, it’s best to use the “customer is always right” philosophy, make things right and move on.

Ruthanne Terrero, Vice President—Content/Editorial Director

Sometimes the drive to be right can get the best of suppliers as well. That guy pulling the doctor off the United Airlines flight recently clearly felt the truth was on his side and so did the United personnel who instructed him to do so. However, the damage done to the airline’s reputation is extravagantly awful, and aside from being the subject of disdain and mockery they’ve prompted themselves to release a 10-point list of things they’re doing to “serve and respect their customers.” It’s quite a mea culpa by any standard.

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But it works on smaller levels as well. I read in an Etsy newsletter recently how one of the more successful sellers lamented the way she dealt with client service in the early days of opening her shop. She said a customer wanted to return an item and instead of taking it back, the seller sent many e-mails explaining why her policy didn’t allow that. Bottom line? She was technically “right,” but, in the end, her customer had a poor experience, which is wrong. Even worse? On sites such as Etsy, buyers are encouraged repeatedly to rate and comment on their experience with a seller, so being “right,” might just cost you much more than the price of the item in question in the end. Win the argument, lose the battle.

Of course, for travel agents, some clients aren’t worth keeping. If they promise you repeatedly that their passports are valid and then call you from the airport in tears to tell you they can’t get on the plane to Paris because, in fact, they expired a year ago, it might not be worth your time trying to send them on a follow-up trip. They’re going to find other ways to screw themselves up even before this vacation is over.

Then there are those would-be customers who argue with you about price, trying to trip you up on what you quoted them or attempting to get you to rebate your commission because another agent has agreed to do so.

All you can do in these cases is extract yourself artfully; don’t take money from them because once you do their status can be elevated to that of an enraged customer with a viable complaint. Prior to a transaction, you are just two people who decided not to do business together because it wasn’t a good match.