“Rich is a writer, editor, and stay-at-home dad based in New York. Previously, he was a content marketer at Stack Overflow, where he covered the latest in technology, advertising, and hiring. His work can also be found in publications such as Fast Company, Business Insider, and Inc., among others.”
When we sat down to write this article, we started by looking up what other people had to say. We started with search terms like “handling tour guest requests” and “complex tour situations.” Through our simple search, we found dozens of articles on handling difficult customers—and that struck us.
Sure, guests can have really specific expectations. In response, plenty of tour operators have designed some unique experiences for them to enjoy. And when those expectations aren’t met, you’ll hear from some unhappy folks. We haven’t said anything that has surprised you, right?
But when you take a look at some of the most common tips for handling difficult customers, it’s really hard to find anything that would be too applicable to a tour operation like yours.
In this post, we’ve combined our own experience with top research into customer expectations to help you navigate the tricky waters of complicated guests. Some of the best inspiration for handling complicated customers can be drawn from what other organizations have learned through trial and error. Learn how top companies navigate the most complex customer situations to keep guests coming back for more.
Think back to the last time you were a guest at a hotel or on a tour. More specifically, think back to the last time you were a frustrated guest at a hotel or on a tour. Even the most laid back consumers have a breaking point. The problem is that too many front-line workers tend to simply cross their fingers and hope that the guest will drop the request. And when that doesn’t work, it’s even more common for them to continue ignoring the guest, especially if the initial request was made over email or on a social media platform.
So what’s the solution for tour operators? According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, the answer is a bigger dose of active listening. In a survey of over 400,000 Twitter users who reached out to a company’s customer support account, HBR researchers found that many customers just wanted to be heard. They write, “While successfully resolving an issue created more brand value (about $6 for our airline sample), responding without providing a resolution was still worth about $2 in added brand value for airlines.”
While we’re not suggesting that this is a catch-all for your most complicated guests, it’s a good first step. Take the time to acknowledge them before you begin addressing any of their concerns or demands. This research by HBR proves that even just a little empathy can diffuse a tense situation and keep customers loyal to your tours.
Meg Prater of HubSpot recently explored a few ways to handle complex business customers. One approach involved using what’s known as the beginner’s mind, a concept in which you enter every conversation as if you don’t know what’s going on. Prater explains that this keeps you from prejudging a customer, their knowledge of your offering, or their unique situation.
Typically, Prater says that employees tend to say the following things when they’re dealing with a complicated customer:
With that in mind, we can probably think of a few thoughts that run through our minds when it comes to a complicated tour guest:
The beginner’s mind is an easy way to separate your tour knowledge from the customer’s situation, which you are not an expert on. The most complicated guests can often seem like insurmountable challenges, even for experienced tour operators. But take a step back and ask specific questions to understand the request or comment. Why is this guest asking for this specific date? What aspects of our marketing materials could have influenced this request? As you unpack the answers to questions like these, you’ll have a much easier time resolving even the most complex customer inquiries – and potentially preventing them from arising in the future.
You’d think consistency would be second nature for any company, but research shows us that it remains one of the biggest challenges for most organizations. A recent study published by McKinsey and Co. alluded to this in its headline: “The three Cs of customer satisfaction: Consistency, consistency, consistency.”
“It’s well understood that companies must continually work to provide customers with superior service, with each area of the business having clear policies, rules, and supporting mechanisms to ensure consistency during each interaction,” the researchers write. “However, few companies can deliver consistently across customer journeys, even in meeting basic needs.”
Ultimately, it identified three areas in which businesses need to be consistent. We’ll focus on two of them for your tour guests: emotional consistency and consistent communication.
The emotional component can be tricky. Complicated tour guests not only have specific expectations for their experience, but they can be challenging when those lofty expectations aren’t met. Not surprisingly, McKinsey’s team found that positive customer-experience emotions were the biggest drivers of satisfaction and loyalty. How do the top performers accomplish this? They manage customer emotions by consistently delivering the same experience throughout the buyer’s journey.
McKinsey also found that success is closely tied to a business’ ability to communicate consistently. In many cases, this came down to delivery. “What’s also critical is ensuring customers recognize the delivery of those promises, which requires proactively shaping communications and key messages that consistently highlight delivery as well as themes,” the researchers added.
So what does any of this mean for tour operators? Even in the face of a very particular guest, it’s important to stay consistent in two ways. First, you can manage expectations and emotions by delivering the same experience each time. And even when you fail to do so, be consistent in the way that you deliver information to those customers.
Meeting the lofty expectations of your guests is an ongoing challenge that’s not going away. And as tour prices for the most basic experiences continue to rise, operators need to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to customer satisfaction. While many of the examples we explored in this article aren’t specific to tour operators, there are plenty of lessons that you can apply to your business. Time and time again, research has shown that across all industries, staying consistent, listening to your customers, and a big dose of empathy go a long way towards making (and keeping) your guests happy.
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