When you plan an amazing vacation for a client, you should really only have to worry about those issues you really can’t do anything about: airline delays, flight cancellations, bad weather, etc. As an agent you shouldn’t have to be worried about when your client is going to go off the rails. Unfortunately, it happens. So, what can you do to protect yourself and minimize the damage?

There are two big issues you have to be concerned about with an unhappy client: 1) bad reviews or damage to your reputation, and 2) chargebacks. The first you can fight against with good communication and honesty. But with the second you can take a very serious hit to the wallet. Many agents don’t know it until it happens to them or someone they know, but if a client disputes a credit card charge the vendor can come back to you to collect. And your Errors & Omissions Insurance won’t cover this. It just comes out of your pocket. Ouch.

So, the best thing to do is to avoid these problems before they happen. How? Here are a few suggestions.

First, really know what your client wants. Don’t make any assumptions about they want or guess at what they think they want. One of the most frequent sources of client dissatisfaction is what they told their agent that they wanted is not what they got. Sometimes it is because they didn’t really explain what they wanted, but sometimes it is because the agent wasn’t listening or understanding. It falls to you as the agent to help make sure you understand what the client wants in this vacation. That might mean that you need to ask the same question in several different ways. When they say they don’t need a fancy hotel, what does that really mean? Your idea of “not fancy” and their idea might be completely different. You have to keep asking questions until you are clear on their expectations.

Second, clearly communicate and over-communicate if necessary. Just because you say something to a client doesn’t mean they heard it. Just because you emailed it to them doesn’t mean they read it. But if you have it in writing you have a lot more protection. If a client disputes a credit card charge and you respond by saying, “I told the client” without any proof, that won’t help your case at all. So, if there is an issue you think might be a concern in the future, put it in writing. You can easily do this by following up on phone conversations or in-person meetings with an email that starts, “I know we discussed a lot today and I want to make sure we are on the same page, so I am summarizing our discussion here.” Use bullet points to outline what was decided or discussed. Make sure to end by saying something like, “If any of this is inaccurate, please let me know immediately.”

Third, work with vendors you can count on. There is nothing worse than planning what seems like a great trip for a client only to find out the vendor overpromised and underdelivered. So, make sure you are working with a vendor that you are confident in. If you don’t have a reliable vendor for an area or type of travel, make sure you can trust the people who give you recommendations. If these are other “agents” on a Facebook forum, how much do you really know about them and their businesses? Another reason to work with vendors you can count on is that they will step up if things go wrong. Recently in our agency we had a client dispute a charge and the credit card company sided with the client. The vendor could have forced the agent to reimburse them for nearly $3,000, but they didn’t because they valued the relationship with the agency. If you just pick some random vendor you won’t get that type of benefit.

Finally – and MOST IMPORTANTLY – trust your gut! If you are working with a potential client and your intuition is telling you that it isn’t a good fit – LISTEN! Don’t take on the client. Just politely tell them you don’t think you are a good fit and you wish them well in finding another agent to assist them. If you already quoted them a service fee and they paid it (bet you were thinking that would get rid of them!), refund their money and tell them you don’t think it’s a good fit and you wish them well in finding another agent to assist them (see a theme there)? It is ABSOLUTELY OK TO DECLINE WORKING WITH A CLIENT. If your gut is nudging you and shaking its head “no” or it is screaming at you “RUN!” – listen to your gut. I cannot tell you how many horror stories I have heard agents tell that start with, “I knew I shouldn’t have worked with this client, but…” Only you can control that!

If you don’t charge a service fee and already booked their trip, you are stuck. (And as soon as this is over please implement professional fees!) Your best strategy now is to document, document, document. Over-communicate and be very clear about everything including as much detail as possible. You may feel like this isn’t necessary now, but if the client disputes the charges on their credit card you will be glad to have all this documented!

I hope that this is something that you never have to deal with. But unfortunately, there are those clients out there who just cannot be pleased. Your intuition is trying to help you avoid these people, listen to it!