In place of our normal Untourist of the week profile, I’d like to introduce you to the heart and soul of the Swiss Untour program. Francy Douglas (2nd from left, above) has worked here at Untours for 20 years. She is team leader for the Swiss Untour and, along with a deep love of Switzerland, she bring something else to the job. More than any other person here, except perhaps for Hal Taussig, Untours founder, she treats customers as if they are family.
That may have to do with how she was raised, and who she was raised by.
Fran Douglas (2nd from right, above) is Francy’s mom. Fran was the first employee Untours (It was called Idyll back then) ever had. Hal Taussig (my Dad) started this odd venture on the dining room table of his one bedroom apartment that he shared with Norma, my mom. My mom was the breadwinner for a few years, and my dad was doing his best to get back into the employment game by trying to start a fledgling company that rented apartments in the Swiss Alps to Americans and helped them live like a local, instead of a tourist. Much to his surprise, he had some modest success, and soon the work became too much for one person to do. He originally thought he needed to hire a secretary (Remember secretaries?) and asked his friends if anyone knew a reliable one. His dear friend Mary LeFever, recommended her dear friend, Fran Douglas.
By that time, my dad’s business had expanded off the dining room table and into the spare bedroom at a friend’s house.
Fran loves to tell the story of going off to have a job interview in someone’s bedroom, thinking ” I wonder what kind of job this is?!”
Fran worked for Untours for more than 20 years. I was one of those lucky enough to be her colleague.
She was the most steady, professional, kind and conscientious colleague you could ever want. And for many years, she was the only non-family member who worked at Untours. How she tolerated all those Taussigs and their kin, I’ll never know, but she did. One of my best memories of her is after a particularly frustrating, and overwhelming day. (Idyll grew like Topsy in the first decade, and without computers, often the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.) someone commented that they’d like to take a swig of the schnapps bottle she had on her desk. (an unopened holiday gift from on of our airline representatives) I jokingly teased her about having liquor on her desk and she shot back, ” I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.”
Come to think of it, maybe that was her coping mechanism for working with all those Taussigs! Heaven knows my family can make you want to take to drink, at times.
The only thing that really bugged me about working with Fran was her unreasonable devotion to the customer. I can remember when the customer service backload would get intense, and all of us would be working long hours, and weekends. I’d look over at Fran’s desk, and grouse to myself thaI had “cleared” more customer tasks than she did. (Remember, I was pretty fresh out of college, and a bit of a jerk.) No matter how much work there was, Fran would give every single customer her sole focus, while she was setting up their trip. Didn’t matter how many oddball questions they had. Didn’t matter whether they were charming or abrasive. Fran loved Untours and she loved helping each customer take the trip of their dreams. And, if that took longer than it did me, racing through my tasks, and no doubt alienating customers in my haste, well, frankly, my dear, she didn’t really give a damn. That was who she was — a customer’s best friend — and nothing you could say would ever change that.
Her daughter Francy inherited that same gene. Although the world has changed, and Francy can plough through work with the best of us, she still has that same extraordinary human connection with the customers. She knows them. She knows all the people who have come to love Switzerland, and its Untour villages, as their second home. She’s just as dedicated as ever, to listening to each phone call, finding them just the right apartment for their wishes and needs. When a voice for the loyal customer is needed in our policy deliberations here, Francy always speaks up.
Francy got her start here, when back in the days when snail mail was the only mail, we got overwhelmed with mailed requests for a catalog. My mom and dad would lug home envelopes to stamp and seal, after working all day in the office, and so would Fran. Finally she enlisted her teenage daughter, Francy to help, for some sort of pittance salary, to pitch in. This will be Francy’s twentieth year here at Untours.
The two Douglas girls have brought a fierce loyalty to the customer experience, a love of Switzerland and a wicked sense of humor to Untour for nearly as long as there has been an Untour. We’re very, very lucky to have them.