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Navigating Challenging Seas: A Travel Advisor’s Guide to Difficult Clients

Navigating Challenging Seas: A Travel Advisor’s Guide to Difficult Clients

Navigating the Choppy Waters of Travel Advisory: Strategies for Turning Turbulence into Smooth Sailing


Written By: Jenn Lee, VP Industry Engagement and Support – Travel Planners International


As a travel advisor, you’re in the business of turning dreams into reality and curating unforgettable journeys for your clients. Most of the time, it’s smooth sailing, with eager travelers anticipating their upcoming adventures. However, every now and then, you find yourself in a situation where it feels like you’re dealing with a crew of unruly passengers. Late-night messages, a sea of choices to navigate through, and unexpected challenges during the planning phase – these hurdles can sometimes make you feel like you’re treading water, especially when the dissatisfactions of a client start to ripple and threaten to capsize the voyage. In those moments, you’re left pondering, “What did I do wrong?” or, in the worst-case scenario, “How can I possibly make things right?”


The Evolution of Customer Experience

The anxiety often stems from the sensation of control slipping away once you’ve handed over the reins. The “What Ifs” begin to accumulate, and this anxiety often originates from the fear that the client might have a less-than-ideal experience. In today’s world, customer expectations are on the rise. According to LinkedIn, 54% of customers now have higher expectations for service, and they firmly believe that companies must evolve to meet these expectations. 


This implies a need for adaptability and proactive measures in handling client scenarios.


Navigating Challenging Seas: A Travel Advisor’s Guide to Difficult Clients


Regaining Control

To regain control, you must first establish clarity. Ensure that your terms and conditions are transparent, precise, and easily understood by both parties. This sets the foundation for clear communication and shared expectations. You can also incorporate the following points below to help: 


  • Set a code of conduct. It might sound trivial, but it’s a vital aspect of shaping the dynamics of your client relationships. This leads us to our next point.
  • Define your brand promise. This represents your reputation and what your clients can expect from every interaction with you. It’s crucial for maintaining consistency.
  • Establish rules of engagement. These are your boundaries, ranging from setting clear availability hours to allowing clients to text you when they’re traveling. These guidelines not only help cultivate healthier client relationships but also create essential boundaries for yourself.
  • Emphasize the importance of travel insurance. Make sure your clients understand that even though they have you as their advisor, anything unexpected can happen while traveling, and they should be protected. If they don’t agree, make sure they sign a decline form so you are protected should something happen and they don’t have insurance.


These are the tools that not only help you flourish but are an essential step toward regaining or maintaining control when dealing with challenging clients.


Navigating Challenging Seas: A Travel Advisor’s Guide to Difficult Clients


Remember, It’s Not Personal

We hear it all the time, but it bears repeating – it’s not personal. Whether it’s a client’s frustration, anger, issues with communication, or an excess of communication, these challenges often stem from a desire for control. You can only control so much, and sometimes, you have to understand your limitations. If a client is unreceptive, angry, unruly, or unwilling to accept your assistance, it might be time to step back. Walking away doesn’t signify failure; it reflects an acknowledgment that you can only do so much.


Navigating Challenging Seas: A Travel Advisor’s Guide to Difficult Clients


The Four Agreements

Incorporating the principles of “The Four Agreements” encourages you to be impeccable with your word, avoid taking things personally, steer clear of assumptions, and always strive to do your best. Align your terms and conditions with these principles to establish a crystal-clear brand promise. Be authentic, maintain your composure, and resist the urge to jump to conclusions. Doing your best is key.


Navigating Challenging Seas: A Travel Advisor’s Guide to Difficult Clients


The Power of ‘I’

American psychologist Thomas Gordon introduced the concept of ‘I,’ a communication technique that encourages assertiveness without sounding accusatory. Rather than using ‘you’ statements, you employ ‘I’ statements to convey understanding and offer solutions. Keep in mind that your role is to advocate for the client, not to point fingers. Even in a challenging environment, there’s no need to over-explain. Simply express that you’ve done everything in your power and then pause.


Navigating Challenging Seas: A Travel Advisor’s Guide to Difficult Clients


Know Your Role

As advisors, it’s easy to become emotionally invested in resolving a client’s problem. It’s natural to transition from being a leader to donning the hats of a therapist or even a life coach, but remember that’s not your primary role. You’re not here to solve every problem. Instead, your role when dealing with a difficult client is to impart the rules of engagement and empathize with how you can help. This understanding is pivotal in regaining control.


Navigating Challenging Seas: A Travel Advisor’s Guide to Difficult Clients


It’s Okay to Walk Away

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a problem still needs to be solved. It’s crucial to understand that it’s okay to walk away. You have every right to part ways with a client if the relationship is no longer productive. It’s not a reflection on your abilities; it’s simply an acknowledgment that sometimes personalities don’t align. It’s perfectly acceptable to let the client go.


If walking away is something you struggle with, here are some phrases you can use to help start that conversation: 


“I’ve done what I can, and based on this interaction, it is clear that we are not a right fit for one another,” or “Thank you for your consideration in working with our agency. I just don’t see us as a good fit together.”


Navigating Challenging Seas: A Travel Advisor’s Guide to Difficult Clients


Closing Thoughts

In this ever-evolving, fast-paced industry, it’s easy to get lost in the tumultuous seas of client interactions. As an advisor, this work can be difficult, especially when you’re put into a position where you have unspoken expectations placed on you, but remember, you’re not alone, and everything will be okay. Take time for yourself, and always strive to do your best. Understand that your best varies from day to day, and that’s fine. After all, you’re not just a travel advisor; you’re the architect of unforgettable experiences. 


Are you looking to enhance your customer relationship skills in order to improve your travel business? Schedule a complimentary 15-minute power session with Jenn Lee, VP of Industry Engagement and Support; CLICK HERE to find time on Jenn’s calendar or connect with her Fiercely Forward Facebook group with over 1400 travel advisors.