Monday, February 24, 2014

Off topic and welcome back

The antique show business is based upon a lot of people traveling.  Here is one sad travel tale and a company to avoid!

The death of customer service and the birth of #travelocitysucks

After 48 hours and a weekend lost occupied by anger, bewilderment and frustration over the death of the concept of customer service, I am now compelled to memorialize what must be considered the worst customer service experience ever.  On Friday afternoon around 4 p.m., I attempted to book a spring break trip to Mexico for the family.  What transpired over the next 8 hours and 10 minutes will live for at least 5 minutes in the horrible customer service hall of fame.

After spending the earlier part of the day scouring travel websites, we had finally made a decision and around 4 p.m. decided to book.  Typing in all the required information, reviewing for accuracy, double-checking dates and times were done and it was time to push the magic button to purchase the trip.  Now those of you who have ever made an online booking travel mistake know the anxiety about the proofreading process- mistakes on booking are almost nearly fatal.  Trying to change tickets or hotel rooms after booking comes with a punitive level of fines, scorn, public shaming and several years of therapy.

Pushing that final purchase button brings up that 2 second-5 minute lag until you receive your glorious confirmation and trip details page which signals success.  But alas, it was not to be as I received a message that the trip could not be booked at this time.   Using deductive reasoning, I quickly figured out the problem.   The cost of the trip exceeded the daily limit on the debit card I was attempting to use.   No problem I thought, simply call the good people at my bank’s call in center and have them raise the limit on my debit card.  That should only involve a wait time of 90-120 minutes and 2 hours of Kenny G while on hold.  No offense to Mr. G and his musical skills but any hold music after 90 seconds makes people long for the sweet relief death will bring.

The wait time and musical selections on the Chase line were not as bad as anticipated and after a few minutes, I was able to raise the limit on my card and was reviewing my online Chase statement when I noticed that there was a pending charge for over $4000 on my statement from Travelocity!   How does a company place a charge for a trip that was not purchased???  I immediately called the “customer service” (quotation marks from this point on denote sarcastic air quotes) line at Travelocity and tried to figure that one out.   I did not want to raise a stink; I simply wanted to purchase the trip.  I wanted to give them money and book the trip I had spent several hours looking for which included finding a nice hotel at an acceptable price and not having to overnight at a Mexico City bus station.  I thought to myself that they already have over 4k of my money, how hard could this be??

The first customer service rep that I spoke with was very friendly and seemed determined to help.  When I brought up the charge on my account, she apologized and said that there was no way she could take another card for the difference between the amount charged and the total amount of the trip.  I asked why I was charged over 4k on a trip that wasn’t booked, I simply got an apology and assurances that the charge would disappear in 2-3 business days.  She then asked for all the details about the trip I was trying to book and said she would help me book it.   After 5 minutes, I was told that the trip was no longer available and that the hotel was sold out.  I told her the trip was still showing available on the website and she asked me to hold.  She came back on the line in about 10 minutes and told me that she was able to book the trip, but that it was $1500 more expensive than the one I had tried to book online.  If I could provide her with a card we could book it right now.

Frustrated by the experience in dealing with this particular “customer service” representative, I asked to speak to a supervisor.    After explaining the story from the beginning I was told that I needed to speak to the new reservations department, not the existing reservations department. 

After waiting on hold for another extended period, I was speaking to a supervisor with whom I had to start from scratch.  10 minutes later after explaining the details that I simply couldn’t give him another card for the full amount because I didn’t have it and that they already had 4k of my money.   The argument then ensues whether or not they have the money, which he vehemently denied.  I offered to send him a copy of my online bank statement, which showed the transaction, and he finally relented and apologized.  I tried to explain that his apology didn’t amount to a hill of beans and his explanation that I would have access to the funds in 2-3 business days was not sufficient.  Why is it ok in this day and age with the technology we possess for a company to tie up over $4,000 of a customer’s funds for 2-3 business days for something that you failed to purchase?  The supervisor then connected me to their credit card department where I spoke to another “customer service” representative.  After telling the entire story again and expressing a desire to simply pay the remaining balance, I was told that the only way to book the trip was to provide a card for the whole amount.  After explaining that the card I gave them previously represented the entire amount of money that I had available to purchase the trip, she then decided that we needed to call my bank and try to work on it from that end via conference call.

The hold time while she contacted Chase was another 15 minutes and after I verified my identity with the bank and relayed the details with the Chase representative, I was informed by Chase that due to the high amount of the transaction, it would take them several days to remove the pending charge.  I asked the Travelocity “Customer Service” rep what else could we do only to discover that she had hung up!!   I immediately went to the medicine cabinet to make sure I had taken my blood pressure medication.  I thanked the Chase rep for her help and once again called the Travelocity “Customer Service” line.

I once again began the process of trying to explain the situation.  I now either wanted my money available immediately or to pay for the remainder of the trip.  Three customer service reps later, I finally was able to get in touch with someone in “corporate”.  He was the first person that I was able to speak with who spoke clear, un-accented English.  After several minutes on the phone repeating that while his apologies were nice and well intentioned, it didn’t solve the problem that they had a large chunk of my money and I had nothing to show for it or the ability to purchase the trip without the funds they had.  He again insisted that my bank was the only possible solution.  I told him that we had already called Chase and they were unable to help, but I agreed to call them again if he promised to stay on the phone during the call because the previous rep had simply called Chase and hung up on me.

He agreed and once again we tried the bank route.  At this point, I was nearly 4 hours into the process.  Once the Chase rep verified my identity I started the story for at least the 8th time.  I asked the Travelocity rep a simple question, only to discover that he to had hung up on the call.  The Chase rep informed me that if I said that the charge was fraudulent, they had the ability to make the funds available quicker, possibly in a few minutes.  She also said that she should be able to raise my limit allowing me to purchase the trip.  After another 10-15 minutes on hold, the rep got back on the line and told me that I was good to go.

I had abandoned my attempt to purchase through Travelocity and was using Expedia-, which ironically is the same company as Travelocity.  It was now nearly 10 p.m.- no dinner out, grumpy wife, weary and worn and I once again was sitting at a computer ready to push the purchase button and declare victory.  But the Expedia site gave me an error message- daily card limit exceeded.  I called Chase back 3 times – disconnected twice due to poor cell service (thanks ATT) and was finally told that while my limit was raised, the previous Travelocity transaction still counted against my daily limit.  I would have to wait until 12:01 a.m. to purchase the trip. 

At 12:01- after nearly 10 hours on the computer and 8 hours since I first tried to book the trip, I finally was successful.   The joy was tempered by anger and exhaustion.  It was at that moment that I came up with the idea of #travelocitysucks.   Customer service may be dead, but corporate sensitivity to social media criticism is at an all time high.  I went to Travelocity’s twitter feed and used #travelocitysucks in a post and was quickly messaged to send them a phone number so their customer service rep could call.  It’s been over 48 hours and still no call.  So I wrote the above story and plan to start sharing via FB, Twitter, Blogger and email to see where it goes.  The treatment I received was not acceptable and should not be rewarded.  Please share this if you’ve ever had a bad customer service experience with any company.  Let companies know that we expect more!!



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