Saturday, 6 October 2012

One situation, two people, two results

Every single person alive hates bad service, yet so many supply it to others.

Last weekend I went to a major travel agency called Flight Centre as I wanted to go to Mauritius in December.  I'm not about to rant about a bad customer experience, I just want to demonstrate how two agents I visited in the same company produced a different outcome from the very same situation.

Travel Agent 1:

The first lady attending to me, let's call her Lisa, was abrupt even in her greeting and supplied a host of reasons why I couldn't go to Mauritius in December.  Flights were all booked, it's peak season and I'm late in applying, I was told.

Slightly disappointed, I queried if there were there any other similar destinations on special.  Lisa responds that I need to specify where I want to go.  This was me asking for recommendations from the agent and I get told to be specific.  Pressed for choices without Google in front of me I say Zanzibar, to which Lisa immediately responds, "There again the flights are all booked, and I will have to check with our operators if there are any cancelled bookings, which I can only do on Monday as they don't work on a Saturday."

It was wall after wall I was running up against.  Perhaps she was factually correct, but the only message I got from Lisa was Go away, we're fully booked, we don't need you right now.  As a consolation prize she took my contact details and promised to call not on Monday, but Tuesday.

Travel Agent 2:

Not about to give up on my holiday I went to another Flight Centre branch not 10 kilometres/6 miles away.  I suspected this to be an agent-specific rather than agency-specific matter.  A simple smile and an immediately more welcoming tone was set by the agent here, who we shall call Soraya.

Knowing that all flights were apparently booked, I expected Soraya to give me the same story as Lisa.  But no, this agent simply spoke about the fantastic things one can do in Mauritius and shared her own experiences there.  The singular qualified statement Soraya made was that she would only be able to confirm pricing with me on Monday.  She didn't give the slightest hint that this holiday couldn't be done: No walls to doing business, just open doors.

Maybe Soraya hid the truth about the lack of availability to me, but this is still better than shutting the door before exhausting all alternatives.  Come Monday afternoon and I received the call from Soraya with prices and flights available.  To her credit Lisa made the redundant call to me on Tuesday as promised, with the great news that some other people cancelled their bookings to Mauritius.

The Lessons

Here's what any person dealing with customers or clients can take from this:

#1: Be kind.  This is obvious but people need to be reminded.  Set the right tone with anyone who walks through your doors, even if you're working on a Saturday or Sunday.  Soraya smiled upon seeing me; Lisa raised her eyebrows.  Kindness sets the right environment for business and makes your customer more receptive.  If you make them just slightly uneasy they will not come back even if you provide the best value for money.

#2: In business, don't give reasons you can't do something no matter how fully committed or resource-scarce you are.  Who has the problem of having too much business these days?  If you think you're over-extended, tell the customer that you need to check for availability and give them a date not more than two days subsequent to call them.  People that turn customers away due to capacity constraints may think they're doing the right thing by "being honest," but this is short term thinking and more often than not is an excuse to be lazy without finding a way to accommodate the customer.

Turning business away when you feel you're "too busy" is long-term suicide.  That very customer you accommodated while you were "too busy" can be the one who gives you business when you hit a dry patch.

#3: When someone walks in through your doors and has a query, it's an open invitation to sell them the idea of what your business provides.  They're basically telling you: My mind is 70 percent made up, you just need to dissuade my 30 percent of uncertainty to make me part with my money.  Whatever product or service you provide, you're selling an experience.  You're not just executing a transaction, making a booking or facilitating a request.  If you feel that's your job then you're going to soon be replaced by a computer.

The difference between a great and dire situation often lies with the person relaying the story to you.

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