Thursday, December 10, 2009

Expedia and Orbitz Need to Clean Up Their Act

A marine was scheduled to travel home to be married. Unfortunately, he broke his jaw and the doctors would not allow him to travel. The wedding would have to be postponed. They were able to make all of the necessary changes with the hotel, caterer, everyone one that one end of the situation. The airline was willing to make changes, but the tickets were booked through Orbitz. They held the money and they refused to make any changes.

The mother of the marine sent out a plea for suggestions or help. It reached me via my Facebook Live Update. I contacted someone who I thought might be able to help. While they didn’t have any contacts in Orbits, they suggested they go through the military desk of the airline. After a great deal of back and forth, they were able to make the change for $200!

Lest you think this is an unusual case, Dave Farber’s case is even more infuriating. His son was set to go on his honeymoon, but his mother became terminally ill and is in a hospice. He needed to change plans. The hotel had no problem with it, nor did the airline. However, the tickets were booked through Expedia. They held the money and refused to make any changes.

If the name, Dave Farber, is not familiar to you it should be. (Just do a Google Search) If not for Dave and folks like him, the Internet would not be around and Expedia would not even be in business, but that made no difference to Expedia.

Dave runs and Internet mailing list called Interesting People (IP). The list is populated by everyday citizens like you and I, along with industry leaders, policy makers, journalists, and a wide array of movers and shakers. He posted his problem to the list and the list responded.

Here is a portion of that post. “However interactions with Expedia, which were necessary since they hold the money until the trip was taken, yielded a complete refusal to do anything. I find this. to put mildly, shocking.

I've tried to reach out to see people at Expedia but they seem not to be reachable.

I need this like a hole in the head right now. It's become an issue not of the money but of a company that seems to have no heart.”

Needless to say, I’m sure Expedia heard from a flood of people from the list, but the very first post back to the list summed up the situation nicely. The low level support people were unresponsive to the public relations nightmare they had created and offered no solution other than writing to the travel desk, which this person did. Here is a section of his letter.

“I am requesting that someone with the appropriate level of authority call Dr. Farber and facilitate the resolution of this problem. You will need to be responsive Dave's situation: it is a major stress to have a life partner in Hospice and likely to die in the near term and, at that point, need to deal with this kind of situation. If you take this kind of proactive action and resolve things to Dave's satisfaction (he is a reasonable guy), I am sure he will report that on Farber's list (as Interesting-People is known) and you'll recover some of your credibility with the readership.

Please confirm to me by email that a call has been made and that you are working to resolve Dave's problem. I am anxious to learn whether Expedia can step up to a situation of this sort and behave in a supportive fashion.”

A few hours after this letter was sent, Dave posted to the list that Expedia had contacted him and the situation was resolve. He received a message from the president of Expedia. They are providing a full refund and waiving any documentation of his wife’s condition.

We are all relieved and overjoyed that Dave’s mind can focus on more important matters, but the situation points out the lack of concern that big companies have for individuals, or at the very least, the lack of a mechanism to resolve issues of this type without having to jump through hoops or wage wars. It is obvious that there are such mechanisms that would allow for refunds with medical documentation, but not even that was offered to him until the fire storm hit the president’s desk.

Here’s a quote from his message to Dave about his conversation with an Expedia manager.

“In particular, they did not want you to have to worry about obtaining a doctor's statement of the emergency, that was waived, that neither Expedia, the airline or the hotel needed any further action from you.

I have his name and direct phone number -- contact me if the full purchase price is not back in your account within 2 - 3 business days.

I told him I would pass this info on to you.”

It also points out the power of social media and the Internet. With out it, Dave’s situation, and the marine’s plight would be unresolved. It’s heartening to know that individual can make a difference, but disheartening that it takes the mobilization of the masses and a threat to the bottom line of a company in order to get them to be responsible citizens and be responsive to these types of situations.

Compare these two examples to an experience I had last week with Southwest Air. I was doing a workshop in Delaware and booked flights through their site that arrived on Dec. 1 and returned on Dec. 4. On Dec. I tried to print out my boarding pass from the hotel, but the site told me I was trying to print it out too early, but I wasn’t. I waited a while and tried again, but got the same message. After a little investigation, I realized that Captain Klutz had struck again. I had booked the return flight for Jan. 4!

I called up customer support, I explained my mistake to the rep. She chuckled and said, “Well bless your soul. Let’s see what we can do.”

Within five minutes she had changed my reservations from Jan. 4 to Dec. 4, but because it was my mistake, I didn’t get off scott free. It cost me $16.

It's certainly not a case that my abject stupidity deserves more consideration than a service member with a broken jaw or someone with a dying wife. It simply a case on one company valuing their customers and the others valuing only the bottom line.

Southwest has always provided great service. Others in the industry need to wake up and take a lesson from their customer support operation and remember that we are all in the same boat!

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posted by Art @ 12:23 PM   0 Comments


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