This is a long one – so hold on to your hats.
On Feb 3rd, I accidentally booked a flight to the wrong city – it was almost 3am, do not make travel arrangements when tired! I immediately phoned Expedia to see what could be done. Expedia has a policy of cancelling arrangements without any fees if said cancellation is done within the same calendar day. When I phoned, it was 8 minutes to midnight and the customer service rep was very frazzled because he felt like he needed to process the cancellation ASAP so that it would go through. I explained that since I had placed the call within the calendar day, even if we ended the call after midnight, their policy should be enforced. He disagreed. This resulted in me agreeing to cancel the flight vs calmly reviewing all possible options.
While he processed the cancellation, I got onto the internet and found the correct flight for about $150 more than the flight I had mistakenly booked.
Let’s pause for a second to note that if the customer service rep had not been freaking out about the midnight deadline and had been empowered to extend the cancellation deadline, we would have had time to look at all possible options before *having to cancel before midnight*. Had we been able to do so – we would have realized that the city I booked the wrong flight to is about 45 minutes away from the city I actually wanted to end up in and that there is bus service (think Greyhound) between the 2 cities for about $30/per person. But nevermind that. The rep was intent on “helping me cancel my flight” when he should have been intent on me ending up with the best possible travel option.
He finally returns to the line and tells me the first flight is cancelled. What followed was a very frustrating exchanging during which he got confused about the dates & the number of passengers, even though I wanted the exact same thing as the initial flight, with the only difference being the destination city. Frustrated I end up hanging up the phone and decide to book the flight myself.
Let’s pause a second time to note that the flight I had found while the rep was cancelling the first one is now unavailable, sold out. The next flight that works for us is now $75-100 more. Annoying, but now I have no other options as he’s cancelled the initial flight.
At this point I still have the second portion of the trip to book – the above being for the flights only – but seeing how successful that whole ordeal is, I decide to go to bed instead and make the rest of the arrangements after a good night’s sleep…
Now let me mention that I only get my daughter for March break every second year and that we absolutely cherish our time together. The last year having been tumultuous at best, we are especially looking forward to a getaway.
The next day, I get online to book the second portion of my trip and I am told my card is declined. Odd, I think, as I know exactly what I have been spending on. I log on to my VISA account and see that there are “transactions pending” in the amount of $6171, but because they haven’t been processed I can’t see the individual amounts or the merchant.
I get on the phone and am told that there are transactions pending for 6 airplane tickets. The 2 I cancelled, the 2 I purchased and an additional, mystery 2 tickets. I immediately think to myself that the customer service rep in the previous evening’s attempts to help must have mistakenly put a hold on 2 tickets…
I call Expedia and point this out and at this point they agree that this must be what has happened… I stay on the phone for a really long time, I argue with many CSRs before eventually being transferred to someone in North America who has any authority to do anything about this issue. At first, they suggest calling the airline & my bank to get the “hold” lifted on this third mystery flight. Of course nothing works. I eventually have to point out that this error is hindering my ability to book our Spring Break vacation and I will admit that at one point I broke down. When I get really angry & frustrated, it unfortunately often turns to tears. Nevermind that in the back of my mind I am now thinking that the cruise might sell out and we may not get to go on vacation at all…
Eventually I get someone who understands my frustration and tells me she is doing the best she can and I believe her. So she tells me to hang tight and she will get back to me at the end of the day. And she does. To tell me she has done everything she can and that there is in fact nothing she can do because the bank is holding the funds for Continental and that Expedia, as the middleman, does not appear anywhere in the transaction so they can’t do anything. I point out that by the time this is resolved I will expect compensation and that having just checked, the category of cabin that I had wished to book is now sold out – so another $167/per person out the window. She tells me that she will put in a request, but that unfortunately she will be away for the next three days, so she will get back to me then.
Hm, no. That is just not acceptable, so I get a number from her and resolve to call back the next day and get a new CSR to be my advocate. At the end of the day, we have spent between 3 & 4 hours on the phone together…
When I call back, I suggest that what they should do for me is hold the cruise I want and apply the compensation amount to that and when the hold is lifted on my card I can pay the balance. I get a lovely CSR who is sympathetic, understanding and promises to stay on the case of the department in charge of compensation and to give me an update every day as to what is going on – even if there is no resolution. Unfortunately, she explains, Expedia.ca & Expedia Cruise Centre are two different entities; she will see what she can do. She explains that her authorization level is $1000 and that she would have no problem applying that to my travels but that since this is for a cruise, it’s not that simple. (Add a significant amount of time spent on the phone here and some tweets pleading for help. The tweets only result in the typical canned answer “please provide us with your itinerary number and we will try to help” but of course there is no itinerary number and as far as everyone is concerned it doesn’t even exist really because no transaction number was ever assigned to it).
To say that this is all very frustrating is a gross understatement. I tweet out my frustration. In a very calm fashion, more than amply leaving the door open for a smart executive at Expedia to do the right thing.
My bubbly CSR gives me a report at the end of the day Thursday: “I still don’t have an answer, but I am keeping on top of them!” And I want to believe her… On Friday evening, I get another status report: “I am sorry, but it looks like you said something on the tweeter or twitter or something? This has now been taken out of my hands and will now be looked at by a VP because of the exposure.” Honestly at this point I think three things: Wow – Expedia needs to do social media training to their employees, I can’t believe they treat customer complaints differently depending on which channel they came in and man, I wish my name was Scott Stratten (or Lady Gaga, whatever :), just someone with more clout/klout) I am shocked at that response and tell her so, but it really is out of both our hands at this point so there isn’t much I can do. She does mention that while she will be working on Saturday, she is off Sunday/Monday, but assures me, she will get in touch first thing Tuesday… Great, more delays… Saturday comes and goes and by now even my bubbly CSR doesn’t call with my daily report…
On Friday, I notice that the hold has been lifted on my card, so I am now free to book my cruise, except that I am still waiting to hear about the amount for the compensation and hoping that it can be applied to the cruise, so I hold off on booking anything.
Sunday & Monday are very busy days for me so I don’t have time to worry about this too much, and I actually do hold some hope that bubbly CSR’s efforts and perseverance will pay off. I do attend a panel at Social Media Week Toronto #SMWTO where I ask the question: Should brands respond to customer complaints differently depending on if the complaint was made in social media vs a 1-800 number (for example) and if the person’s influence should affect the way the brand approaches resolution.”
Sean Moffitt, author of Wikibrands, suggests that it shouldn’t matter, but that if we are honest with ourselves, treating influencers preferentially, especially if they are using visible channels, inevitably does happen. Someone points out that we would all, in most situations, get a response different than Peter Mansbridge might when launching a complaint. For my American friends, Peter is a well known news anchor.
Sam Fiorella, Chief Marketing Sensei at Sensei Marketing thinks that conflict resolution is an awesome opportunity for a brand to make amends and turn a critic into a brand advocate. And especially in this case. I completely agree. I travel a lot and Expedia can see this by looking at my file as I book most of my travel through them. What a great opportunity to just knock my socks off and turn me into a brand evangelist.
When Liz Strauss, founder of SOBCon and recently named the second most influential social media woman by Forbes Magazine answers, I add that a VP is now involved because I mentioned the issue on twitter and she suggests that I ask “the brand” (I did not mention them by name during the session) if they have heard about “United Breaks Guitars” (a video by Dave Carroll that went viral and which currently has over 11 000 000 views on Youtube) – which is a good point – I immediately start writing lyrics in my head.
I send out a few more tweets, and point out that what I want is fair resolution – could someone please just call me back.
Tuesday morning. I have not heard anything since Friday. I send an email through Expedia’s website…
Tuesday afternoon, I finally get a phone call back!! Woohoo I think. And this is yet another new person on the end of the line.
So much wasted time and energy! Photo by Andrew Mccluskey
At this point I am told that it looks like something I did at my end caused their computer system to experience an error and that is what resulted in Expedia telling Continental that I wanted to fly with them… Frankly – I don’t care. The important part of this sentence is “caused OUR system to experience an error” and for the record, I am not convinced that this is the case anyway… I am told that in fact this is very important and that it demonstrates that the problem was between Continental & my bank NOT Expedia, and that in fact Expedia was acting as my advocate. #HEADDESK I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t need this kind of “helpful” advocating!
I decide to stop trying to explain why this is not the case, how much stress, frustration & worry this has caused, not to mention the fact that I have lost money because of the time that has gone by and that as a loyal customer I never expected that I would be treated this way. And then I ask, what the compensation will be so that we can get this over with.
“Well as I have told you this was not Expedia’s fault.” Seriously? I ask if we both agree that the hold was caused because of an error in their system and she agrees… So where’s the problem is what I want to scream at this point!!!!
I point out the incremental cost for the flights, the incremental cost for the cabins and the frustration factor. At which point she says she is prepared to give me a $200 credit because I did miss out on the cheaper flights. Then it dawns on me, they record customer service calls. So I tell her to go listen to the recording of my bubbly CSR telling me should has no problem issuing a $1000 credit. She doesn’t readily agree, at first telling me that her notes say something different. I tell her to go listen and that she will agree with me once she has. She finally agrees and tells me she will call me back with the next 60 to 90 minutes. And by the time she calls back 2 hours and 45 minutes has passed… Over promising and under delivering not a good strategy at this point in the game.
(Let me mention here that the tone is civil during the whole previous exchange but that she does talk over me instead of letting me vent. I do point out that there were many opportunities to ease the frustration along the way and that they were not taken and that if the first rep had been empowered to make a decision that had me in mind in te first place, this whole situation could have been avoided.)
As it stands: No recording of the telephone call can be located so the request for compensation has once again been forwarded to the executive team… I have been told I should have an answer in 24 hours, but as you can imagine, I am not holding my breath.
What is your worst customer service experience? And should I start taking bets as to how this will turn out?
P.S. I am sure some of you are wondering if I will ever use Expedia ever again regardless of how this turns out – and my response to that would be: therein lies the opportunity for Expedia. So we shall see.