5 Tips to Help You Deal with Challenging Customers on Tour
Hospitality is central to our industry, and that means we always have to be prepared to deal with any challenges that arise with customers. Most customers will be excited to partake in your tour or activity, but it’s inevitable that difficult situations will come up every now and then.
This could include:
- Late guests
- Children who aren’t enjoying the tour
- Talkative guests who interrupt your narration
- Guests who are upset about some aspect of the tour or activity
- Misunderstandings about tour policies
- Language barriers that make all of the above more difficult to navigate
- And more
These challenges can range from mildly irritating situations to more serious confrontations with angry guests. No matter the situation, follow these 5 simple tips to handle the situation as quickly and painlessly as possible.
1. Make Your Policies Clear Up Front
One of the most effective ways to avoid misunderstandings is to make your policies and rules as clear as possible in any materials or communications customers will read before the tour. For example, you can avoid customers arriving late and missing the boat (literally, if it’s a boat tour) by clearly communicating at what time the tour departs.
Here are some policies that should be explicitly stated in your activity descriptions and emails to customers:
- Start time, late arrival policy, and what to do if you’re running late (such as calling the main office)
- Time needed to check in, sign waivers, or get ready for a tour
- Cancellation, refund, and rescheduling policy, with clear cut-off times
- Age, height, or weight restrictions that would prevent a customer from partaking in a tour or activity
- Any health restrictions (such as whether pregnant women or people with certain injuries can take a tour)
- Availability of restrooms throughout the tour
- Accessibility of tours, such as accommodations for people with mobility issues
- Languages offered
- Restrictions on smoking on your premises or vehicles
- Restrictions on purchasing or consuming alcohol (especially for brewery, winery, and distillery tours)
- Mask requirements, social distancing rules, and any other COVID-related health and safety policies
Pro tip: In addition to putting this information in your activity description, FAQ, and any other appropriate pages on your website, be sure to reiterate it in canned emails you send to the customer prior to their tour. Over-communicating is much better than not communicating enough!
2. Listen Attentively to Customer Concerns
You may not be able to predict or control how a customer reacts, but most of the time, if you listen to and empathize with their concerns, the issue won’t escalate. Make sure your customers feel heard when they have a complaint or difficult situation. Practice active listening and repeat your understanding of the situation back to them to make sure you’re on the same page.
It may not always be easy, especially when a customer is upset, but a little empathy goes a long way. Understand where they’re coming from, and they’ll likely do the same for you.
3. Keep Calm
No matter the situation, always speak to your customers in a way you would be proud of if there was a crowd watching you (if it’s a public tour, this might actually be the case). What does this mean? Explain your position calmly and clearly, remain respectful at all times, and never raise your voice. Your calm demeanor will set the tone and help keep the customer calm as well.
If the customer is becoming aggressive (like raising their voice, swearing, or personally insulting you), do your best to ignore this behavior and continue to be calm. You can establish boundaries with phrases like “please don’t raise your voice at me.” Keep the conversation focused on the problem and the solution you’re offering.
4. Look for a Compromise That Works for Everyone
If a situation arises during a tour or activity, there are three points of view you need to consider:
- The concerned customer
- Yourself/your company
- The rest of your customers
This can be tricky, but try to find a solution that’s going to satisfy the concerned customer and allow you to get back to the rest of your guests as quickly as possible.
For example, say you’re on a group hiking tour and a guest is upset because they didn’t realize the hike would be so long. Rather than stopping the whole tour and leaving the rest of the group hanging, you could send one guide to take the concerned customer back to the trail head while the other guide continues the hike with the rest of the group. Otherwise, you could ask the concerned customer to wait in the shade while the group finalizes the hike and you can pick them up on the way back, or if it’s safe, advise them on how to get back on their own.
If it’s a problem you can’t solve on the spot (like a customer asking for a refund), clearly tell them how you will contact them after the tour, such as by phone or email. Then make good on your promise as soon as possible!
Pro tip: Sometimes it’s easier to appease one difficult customer (for example, by offering a gift card they can use in the future) rather than derail the tour. Focusing on one challenging customer to the detriment of the rest of the group could result in a whole slew of negative reviews rather than just one.
5. If Needed, Contact the Appropriate Authorities
No matter how much training you have, there may be some challenges you can’t handle on your own. Have the phone numbers of local authorities and emergency dispatches saved on your phone so you can easily dial them if the needed arises:
- If there is a medical emergency you’re not trained to handle, call 911 (or the equivalent in your country.)
- In the rare case that a customer becomes overly aggressive or violent, to the point where you’re concerned for your or your other customers’ safety, contact law enforcement.
In most cases, a helpful and understanding attitude will help you appease even the most challenging of customers. Follow these tips to diffuse any difficult situations. If you handle it well, you might even be able to turn a concern into a positive review!