Unhappy customers are (hopefully) rare, yet they do crop up from time to time in the industry. But with a good complaints handling policy, tour operators can turn that negative feedback into a positive experience.

To achieve this, it’s a three-step process:

1. Set your complaints handling policy in stone

Before you do anything, consider legal trading obligations that apply to you. For example in Australia there is Australian consumer law.

Next, explain:

  • How you plan to respond quickly and fairly.
  • What they need to do to follow your procedure in filing a complaint.
  • What you will do to resolve the complaint.

By the end of it, they should feel that they clearly understand your complaint management policy. They should also feel like your ears are open to customer feedback. You are willing to take it as constructive criticism, and not an attack.

2. Train your staff on how to respond professionally

Although the customer in question may be fired up and difficult to deal with, it’s imperative that you and your staff keep your cool.

  • Respond quickly. They need to feel heard.
  • Thank them for raising the complaint. Tell them you appreciate it (and apologize if necessary).
  • Be patient, empathetic, and fair. Show that you understand.
  • Research the situation. Check records or talk to other staff.
  • Tell them how you will handle the complaint. What happens next and when.
  • Involve them. Ask them what they want as a solution.
  • Keep them updated on progress. Let them know that you haven’t forgotten about them

It’s important not to jump to conclusions or get defensive. Instead, focus on finding a suitable solution.

Do your staff have authority to organize a solution even if you’re not there? It’s important that complaints get resolved quickly. You don’t want your customer to be waiting for you to get back from a tour just to get their complaint resolved.

3. Touch base afterwards

After the dust has settled, let your customer know that they are in your thoughts. Even if there is no real need to follow up, send a handwritten note or personalized email asking them how things are going. You may even want to send them a special discount if you were partly at fault.

You may not want to deal with that person again, but remember that unhappy customers are more likely to share their story than happy customers, so you really want to turn this experience around for them.

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