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Making the Most of Complaints

Nobody likes to hear complaints. But if you deal with them the right way, complaints can help you hone your skills as a travel planner and build better relationships with your customers.

If you take enough people on enough trips, sooner or later something is going to go wrong. And when that happens, someone is going to start complaining.

Since complaints are inevitable, we might as well make the most of them. When someone brings an issue to your attention, asking yourself the following five questions will help you turn a crisis into an opportunity.

1. Is this a reasonable complaint from a reasonable person?
Before you bend over backward to alleviate a complaint, the first thing you need to establish is whether the issue is a reasonable one and whether it is being raised in good faith by a sincere person. The unfortunate reality of business is that some people just love to complain. Some travelers lie in wait for something to go wrong so they can pounce and demand a discount. And other people are never satisfied with anything, no matter how much you do for them. If these types never travel with you again, it won’t be much of a loss.

2. What is the issue behind the issue?
Sometimes complaints are really symptoms of a deeper issue. When talking with your travelers, see if you can discern sore points or insecurities behind the surface issues they raise. Somebody who complains about the cost of something may secretly be worried that they are going to be taken advantage of financially. A traveler who grouses about too much free time on a trip may be feeling lonely or isolated. See what you can do to address these deeper issues.

3. Where did things break down?
When things go wrong, the best thing to do is to get to the bottom of how it happened. Did you forget an important detail? Perhaps a vendor didn’t deliver on what was promised. Maybe an experience fell short of how it was advertised. Finding out exactly what went wrong — in your process or in someone else’s — will make it easier for you to fix the issue today and avoid repeating it tomorrow.

4. How do I turn this into a win?
Every legitimate complaint is a customer-service victory waiting to happen. If the hotel coffeemaker is broken, show up the next morning with the person’s favorite drink from Starbucks. If someone felt too rushed at a museum, make special arrangements for them to return the next day. If you made a big mistake, take your client out to dinner to apologize. You’ll win loyalty by going above and beyond to solve problems.

5. How can I learn and grow from this experience?
No matter who made the mistake, you can find a way to learn from it. If you forgot something important, you need to revisit the way you keep records and organize details. If a supplier messed up, perhaps you should review the way you choose your vendors and how you communicate your guests’ needs to them. And if someone feels let down by an experience, you might need to work harder on preparing your travelers in advance and helping them set appropriate expectations.

Complaints can be blessings in disguise. Make the most of these opportunities to help your customers and grow in your business. In doing so, you may find that complaints become fewer and fewer.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.