Raise your right hand if have ever had a problem client, the type of individual that made you reconsider your entire career as a travel professional. Keep your hands raised. Now, raise your left hand if you currently have a problem client. Even at this distance, I can see most of you have both hands in the air. Go ahead and lower your hands, you are going to need them to assist some of these clients to the door.
Throwing time and effort into a bad travel consulting exercise drains your ability to more carefully tend to your other clients. Beyond the loss of precious time, clients who are difficult to manage will inevitably complain loudly and often to anyone willing to listen, a problem all of us can do without.
You must be rid of them. You will work, play and sleep better when freed of the unnecessary aggravations these clients are imposing on you.
Nightmare clients seldom sneak up on travel agents. More typically, they march onto the field flying full colours, with plenty of observable indicators that your professional life is about to become far more difficult than it was only moments before. It's often not easy to think objectively about prospective business, to evaluate the true potential of any prospective client only moments into the first meeting. But the ability to do so is important to the vitality of your business.
Here are a few indicators that you should pass on a prospective client. No single one is a deal-killer, but the presence of 2 or more in any single or consecutive conversations should have you looking for the exit, even at 40,000 ft.
“Beat this" – If a client initiates the relationship with a price challenge, decline the opportunity. What is obvious from the outset is this prospect does not understand what you do. Hopefully, it is not your advertising or marketing collateral that has led him astray. Try to reform this type if you like, but chances are your time is more valuable to you than it will ever be to him.
“QuickQuestion" – This client has a “quick" question or an “easy" assignment for you. Remember, that's their lay evaluation of the situation, not your professional assessment. This client is telling you up-front that quality is of minimal importance to him. This character is looking to avoid your fees and is undervaluing your time. This is nature's way of telling you not to touch.
Unrealistic Time Frames – this is the last minute client, the one who wants to go to London over New Years and tells you on Christmas Eve. OK, there may be a very valid reason for the request, but most other businesses charge an expediting fee. It's likely this client is expecting a “last minute deal." Again, proceed with caution.
Promising Future Business – This is the client who begins their unreasonable series of requests with promises of how much travel they will do with you in the future. Maybe they will – but they won't.
Questioning Your Fees – If you are brave enough to have instituted a fee – and I hope you are – stick to your guns. You will earn every fee you ever charge. One of the reasons you decided to charge a fee was to eliminate this type of client from your life. This prospect is just about to tell you how proficient he is on the internet. Tell him to Google himself.
Bad History – You are the 4th travel consultant this client has had, and he's ready to relate to you the reasons why all of the others were not up to his standards. Stop for a moment and consider the common denominator in each of those 4 previous relationships. Next?
The Disappearing Client – this client asks you to research a trip and then disappears only to show up months later with a new assignment for you. Fooled you once – but only if you don't charge a fee.
The Confused Client – You know this one – doesn't know what they want to do or when they want to do it. They can't tell you what they like to do when they travel or even what they have done in the past. This client “just wants to get away". These types are disorganized at the beginning of your relationship and will soon having you forgetting your own name. If a client cannot fill in the blanks, send them home with some brochures – that's what they really wanted in any event. This one might actually someday travel, but they need to be put back in the oven until no longer half-baked.
The Grump – He's not happy when you meet him, he's not happy when you speak on the phone, he questions your every suggestion and strives to prove you wrong at every opportunity. This is why 50% of all marriages end in divorce and there is absolutely no good reason to give this fellow a seat at your table.
Your Intuition – something creeps you out about the client. Trust your gut. Don't forget everything you know about human nature just because you really want the booking. If you don't feel good about the transaction then you won't feel good entering into a long-term relationship. Explain that you are not accepting new clients at this time.
Relationships have to work for both parties. Both you and the client must be mutually happy and respectful of the other. If you start catching the bad ones earlier in the day, there will be more time for you to lavish on the relationships that add real quality to your professional life. Don't think of it as turning away business – consider it a tactical move in shaping the travel practice you really want to have.
Richard Earls is the Publisher of Travel Research Online, an online travel industry resource dedicated to enhancing the professional lives of travel agents.