Travel insights from Joanie Ogg, Publisher of Travel Professional NEWS

Customer Communication: Part 2 – The Art of Managing Difficult Conversations

We wish we could always communicate good news to our customers. While in a perfect world that would be the case, it is not uncommon to have to share not such great news from time to time. Difficult situations are not easy or fun to manage. Perhaps the property they are booked ends up being sold before their trip and goes into major construction that is sure to be a problem for their vacation plans. Maybe the ship they are confirmed to sail on suddenly undergoes a fire and is out of commission for their cruise. Airlines change schedules, aircraft and might even go out of business. None of these things makes your job easy when it comes to communicating bad news.

The goal is to strengthen your relationships with your customers as that of being a caring and concerned travel consultant and a company who is compassionate and focused on solutions. Following are some thoughts for making these situations a bit easier to handle.

  1. When delivering bad or not so great news will always require an apology. It is your responsibility to keep customers happy and delivering bad news about their travel plans is certainly something you sincerely feel bad about. Whether you are at fault for the situation or not, a sincere apology is important and really mandatory for the continuation of a good relationship. Saying, “I am truly sorry about this or that” which is a personal apology even if it was not your fault. The fact is you are sorry and you need to express that.
  2. Conversely, lingering on an apology does not project being solution oriented. You want to be prepared when you apologize with a solution if that is appropriate. Be genuine and caring, and then move on to solving or providing context to their situation.
  3. Words that you use in the apology conversation should focus around using the first-person pronoun such as “I totally understand how you must feel” can really help to demonstrate your honest compassion.
  4. Being in the wrong and admitting to it is key to the success of the relationship with your customer moving past the negative situation that you and they are faced with. We all make mistakes even though we hate to admit it. If we own up to them and follow up with steps to rectify the wrong, we are likely to gain true respect for being totally forthright and honest.
  5. Perhaps you are not sure what to do about the problem yet, but you know you need to advise them of what is happening. Let them know you are looking into it and will do everything to get them a solution as soon as possible and that you will be back in touch as soon as you know more. You may be waiting for a response from the supplier and now you are on their to-do list. Share with your customer that you are “On it” and that their satisfaction is a priority for you.
  6. Saying no is sometimes the best way to handle a tough situation communicating with a client. Perhaps they are asking for the impossible (some things just are) and you know there is no way you can make yes happen for them. Be upfront from the start and honest. If you know it is no, say it instead of circling around the issue with an “I’ll check for you”. Don’t waste their time or their emotions by giving false hope. Honesty is always the best policy!
  7. Have a compassionate ear to your customer’s concerns. Let them know you are really listening and as mentioned above are empathetic to their situation. Tell you are grateful for their honest opinion. When you simply have to say no or refuse a request, show your sincere empathy and your willingness to find an alternative if there is one to be had. You are the professional in your field and you likely know when a no is really a no.
  8. When we understand why things happen we are far more understanding of the issues facing us, right? Provide as full an explanation of behind whatever issues we may need to communicate to our clients as we can provide is always helpful in sharing not such great news.
  9. Take a deep breath when you are feeling negative communicating with your customer, be it in verbal or written form. Check and double check your “attitude” to assure your emotions are not coming across in an unproductive way. Think about the tone in your voice if speaking to the customer and conversely the tone in your email if communicating electronically. We can all hear and read between the lines…so be careful to check your negative emotions at the door.

I hope that some of these points might be of some assistance when dealing with communicating in difficult conversations. Being a good listener is, without a doubt, one of the most important techniques a travel professional should master. That skill combined with being an A + Communicator will enhance your customer relationships and keep them customers for life.

About the Author

Joanie Ogg is a 40+-year travel industry executive that has been recognized by all facets of the travel industry. She and her husband, Tom Ogg and son, Andy Ogg own and operate a plethora of websites supporting Travel Professionals with resources and tools to grow their respective businesses. As co-author of a variety of books and publications she has inspired tens of thousands of travel agents attending her presentations and keynotes at trade events, cruise seminars, international trade gatherings and numerous local educational venues throughout the United States. Joanie is a Master Cruise Counselor (MCC) and a Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) as well as a recipient of numerous awards and recognitions within the travel industry.

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