Lessons Learned. Some of Them, the Hard Way

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(Newswire.net — March 4, 2015) — Five years ago, The Global Work & Travel Co. was a boutique travel agency with some hopes and not much else.  Today, we are the largest working holiday organization on the planet, with offices on three continents and roughly 100 staff, having arranged working holidays & gap year trips for well over ten thousand customers.  That growth has been gratifying, but it hasn’t been easy.  Here are some of the lessons we have learned along the way.

Don’t be Afraid of Complaints

No one likes to hear complaints, and we’re no exception – but even if it’s reluctantly, we do love knowing where we can improve.  In the past year, especially, we’ve had to recognize that a complaint is a valuable opportunity to address a problem, and hopefully prevent it from happening to someone else.  Because of complaints, we’ve created things like a 24/7 worldwide emergency phone number so our clients can reach us anywhere on the planet.  We’ve dedicated extra staff to customer service, and gone through extra training.  We’ve changed the way we interact with customers so that the process is easier for them.  All in all, there’s been a laundry list of changes to our business model that are going to make future customers far happier, and leave our competitors even further behind. 

The Customer is NOT always right…

Here’s the plain truth – some customers are simply toxic.  They have unrealistic expectations, place unfair demands on our team, or simply have bad attitudes that make their working holiday experience miserable for them, for us, and for the potential employer.  We have learned that some customers are simply not worth having and when we can identify those individuals, we wish them well but send them on their way.  Some people are simply just not a good fit and it’s more profitable to NOT take their money.

…but the customer always wants to be heard.

We are a young firm with a young team, working with a young clientele.  Sometimes, tempers can flare – at either end of a phone.  We’ve chosen to take a conscious effort, if that happens, to take a deep breath, and ask the angry customer to tell us more.  Even when a customer is being rude or ignorant – as long as they don’t threaten our employees, we’ll let them have their say.  It was a hard pill to swallow for us – after all, your instinct is to snap back.  But, we’re all people, and people have bad days.  We remind ourselves here that if someone is going to have a bad day, we want to make it a little bit better, not a little bit worse.

Transparency is King

We are a travel agency, so we all love to travel. Most of our team has been to multiple countries.  (One woman on our sales team has visited 52 countries before she was 24.)  We were taking for granted certain elements of travel and we needed to remind ourselves that many of our clients have never been on an airplane, much less traveled internationally. 

Sometimes it means reminding people about the blatantly obvious.  One traveler en route to Australia stepped outside for a cigarette on a layover in Singapore.  When he discovered how hot and humid Singapore was, he instantly decided to abort his trip “because there’s no way he could handle that kind of humidity.”  He turned around and caught the next flight back to North America, turning his back on a six-month job contract (in a much cooler and less humid Australia.)

Ignoring for a moment that sometimes you just can’t fix stupid, it did remind us that we can do a better job of explaining what conditions are like, especially in a foreign environment.

Another area we realize we need to be transparent on is fare conditions for flights.  Many of our travelers require a customized fare, since job commencement dates or circumstances change.  At The Global Work & Travel Co., we were getting great value for some pretty unique air tickets, but they were still more expensive than a basic, economy class, no-frills ticket a client can buy online.  We discovered, the hard way after a few complaints, that we need to be crystal clear about what we are purchasing for our clients, and why. 

All in all, I love working with young people and giving them an experience of a lifetime.  We have thousands of happy customers and I sleep well knowing we have changed lives for the better.  But I think anyone in charge of a rapidly growing business will tell you – some mistakes are inevitable.  And we’ve made them.

The key is to use it as a lesson learned.  We recognized a need to devote increased attention to customer service and answering tough questions.  It’s an investment I know will pay off, because that’s the only way we’re going to double in size again.