Two months before the first lockdown in March I had just had my best month of sales and commission since starting my business 4 years ago. I felt like my business had finally found some consistency, I had good repeat business and a high rate of word of mouth referrals.
I had built up almost £30k commission in my sales pipeline for the year (as I only get paid when my clients travel, not when they book) so it was an exciting prospect when, In January I knew my hard work in previous months had set me up for a great year of earnings and I knew I would be booking many further holidays on top of this. These were the fruits of 4 years of tenacity and hard work, finally paying off.
The first wobbles were when Italy began to really suffer with Covid cases and then deaths. I had an imminent departure booked for the Orient Express… we moved it from Spring to September, disaster averted.
I woke up in a champagne fog after a day at the Cheltenham Gold Cup to see Trump on the news announcing the USA was to close borders to Europe and later that day the UK. IM SORRY WHAT? I had at least 3 bookings imminently due to travel to New York, Florida and California and countless others due to go in Summer.
We packed and rushed home, my phone was blowing up with worried clients, the hangover was deadly.
Unsure of where anyone would stand, with phone lines engaged or with long hold times it was a highly stressful few days of pacifying my clients while watching constant updates on the news.
A week later before there was talk of UK Schools closing I was asked to collect my 3 children from Primary school and self isolate with them at home as one had complained of a sore throat (that she didn’t actually have)
Schools actually closed completely just 4 days later but my god I felt cheated having it sprung on me without any mental preparation! Homeschool mixed with my business unravelling by the minute, mixed up with genuine fear and cabin fever was a recipe for a breakdown.
Now the scene is set and I am sure it’s a familiar one with many of you… onto the main point of this blog. How did I single handedly manage over 70 bookings affected by Covid 19 disruption, and keep every single client happy?
Firstly, I answered my phone. Every. Single Time.
I whats apped people back at 6am, 11pm, Sundays, time and days became so irrelevant.
I walked. Walked for an hour every morning before everything would kick off, with the phones, emails and kids. I truly believe the daily early walks by myself saved me! That and baths…. Hashtag selfcare.
As one set of rules were established by one airline the next would contradict them and in those early days we were reeling trying to keep up. Some hotels wouldn’t bend their non-refundable policies knowing that the volume of people affected was too great for anyone to pick a serious fight over it. We did, and won, but that came later. And villa companies? They were the worst! The best? Disney in my opinion handled the whole situation like leaders.
I am part of a larger organisation, and they use in house television broadcasting as a means to communicate with us (I know right?) So I would tune into a daily update – a bit like Boris’ daily news conference, but mine was a daily travel conference…. Letting us know how to manage each type of booking. Who was offering what, how we were to support our customers. How we could support each other..
We are blessed with the most amazing system, Phenix. It helps me to see all my bookings at one glance. Which bookings are in crisis, which ones have been cancelled, which ones are due a refund and so on. This became my daily dashboard just caressing and stroking each prickly, painful little booking onto the next phase and the next phase until eventually, outcomes were agreed and those clients got rebooked or refunded. Some felt like giving birth… begging, holding, negotiating, quoting text from regulators, waiting.
During March to July, around 50 bookings had to be dealt with. Probably about 200 passengers since I do a lot of family bookings and groups. Only 1 client ever spoke to me rudely. I understood, she was upset…. So was I. Everyone was so sympathetic and understanding… we were in it together. They were patient with me because I was always there being honest and answering the phone, or better still phoning them first.
Since then a further 20 or so bookings have been affected as we didn’t think for a minute that Christmas bookings would still be affected, but here we are.
That £30k I had built up? Poof! Up in smoke ages ago. I watched it slip away 1 booking at a time. This hurt in March, April May, there were tears, I pitied myself….I was angry with the virus. By June and the really hot summer I was numb to the financial losses and just trying to do a better job with homeschool.
Now in March, a whole year on from the start of all this, I have adapted our lifestyle accordingly. We don’t only manage but on the whole we are pretty happy.
Many clients have now rebooked for 2021 and 2022….and the fact they returned to me again means more than the bookings they made in the first place! 2021 has a fairly decent pipeline building up and let’s hope they actually travel.
The ones who haven’t rebooked yet have gone out of their way to leave a review, send me flowers, or tell me that it doesn’t feel right for them just yet, but they will be back. Not one client, has ever been unhappy with their outcome from booking with me, and having their travel disrupted by Covid, even the upset lady from back in March.
I tell myself this is huge personal achievement and these 12 months of zero income have absolutely been worth every second, for how it has given me a platform to show my worth, and therefore know my worth. No one is asking for a discount anymore. There are better times coming. The past was just a practice run for what we are going to build next year, and I am excited. Everyone has upped their game! People want better, and are better. There is so much love in the air right now…
Who wants a holiday?
About your author
Jenny Igoe is a Travel Counsellor arranging all kinds of travel for all kinds of people and businesses.
“I believe that arranging any kind of travel should be exciting and not stressful. I like to think of myself as offering quite a retro service with a personal human touch, with actual tickets, and I find that clients become friends just as often as friends become clients! I am the complete opposite of booking online.”
You can find out more about Jenny and Travel Counsellor here.
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