I wasn’t best pleased to be put back on furlough but senior bosses have a ‘balancing act’, says Hays Travel Washington branch manager Colin Burns.

Hands up if at the beginning of this year, you had never heard of the word ‘furlough’. I hadn’t. In fact, I thought it was a word made up especially for our current situation – you know, like Brexit.

I remember, back in March, telling the team that we were to be furloughed and Leah asked, “What? Do you mean like the horse racing?” “No, Leah,” I said. “You are not being furlonged.” Yet now it is an everyday word and, I dare say, a vital one being used in business plans across the land.

 “I remember several times spinning round in my office (spare room) chair, staring at the ceiling and thinking, ‘what on earth is going on?’”

After a short spell on furlough, five of the team and I were brought back to work from home. The first few days were a nightmare, getting to know all the suppliers’ policies and procedures and then constantly checking they hadn’t changed.

It was tough making sure our customers got the best possible service while sorting out their new holidays or refunds, all in an odd new environment. I remember several times spinning round in my office (spare room) chair, staring at the ceiling and thinking, ‘what on earth is going on?’ But, we settled into a routine and soon brought back more staff to help handle the massive volume of rebookings.

Team spirit

Speaking to our regular customers, one of the most-asked questions has been, ‘Do you think Mr and Mrs Hays are regretting buying all those Thomas Cook shops now?’ John and Irene have spoken in Travel Weekly, as well as local and national news, to give their thoughts – that they have no regrets.

All I can say on the subject is, my team and I could not have sorted out all of our affected customers within an acceptable timescale had it not been for the help we have had from some of the staff at these shops. It was a real team effort.

“The retention of many of these customers in the longer term will be determined by how much we were able to help them in a time of crisis.”

Our customers are looking forward to us returning to our shops and everything getting back to normal. But what sort of normal? Nobody really knows, but we all have a part to play in making sure that whatever future we have is as secure as circumstances will allow.

At branch level, I keep telling my team to focus on what they can control: customer service. Our customers have always fed back that we do a great job in finding their holidays and making sure everything goes smoothly. The retention of many of these customers in the longer term will be determined by how much we were able to help them in a time of crisis.

Difficult decisions

At senior levels, there have been very difficult and, at times very unpopular, decisions to be made.

“It’s a fine balancing act between protecting staff, safeguarding the long-term prospects of the business and looking after our precious customers.”

At the moment, I am furloughed again as part of a rolling furlough programme at Hays Travel. I don’t mind admitting that I was not best pleased when I first got the news, after all the hard work my team and I had put in. But then you have to reflect on why such decisions are made. It’s a fine balancing act between protecting staff, safeguarding the long-term prospects of the business and looking after our precious customers. It must be almost impossible at times and some people are going to be upset along the line.

Still, whenever I feel down now, one thought keeps me going: thank God I don’t work in HR!


Scotland-SHUTTERSTOCK

This customer’s scot a nerve

We’ve had staff from all around the UK helping us to get customers sorted as efficiently as possible, but not every call has gone well.

Kenny, from our Glenrothes branch, had a bit of an ordeal with one customer who was angry because he thought Hays Travel was using an overseas call centre to contact him.

“No, sir, I’m calling you from a Hays Travel branch in Scotland,” Kenny told him.

“Well, that’s the same thing isn’t it – abroad, I mean!” the customer replied. “Now bugger off and get someone who speaks English to call me back!”

Kenny took this with great humour, and when I called the customer he was very apologetic about his little outburst.

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