I’m usually an easy customer. It doesn’t take much to please me. Just treat me fair and show me respect. Work with me if you’ve made a mistake. Just basic, simple stuff.
Do this and I’m yours forever. Because I’m loyal, too. I’ll return over and over again to your business and I’ll sing your praises to everyone I know. Amazon.com is a company that fits this bill. If I can find it on Amazon, I’m buying it there, even though they include sales tax now in New York and their prices are rarely the best available. In years and years of buying stuff on Amazon, they have rarely done me wrong, and when they have, they quickly made it right.
But if you do something stupid, even if it’s something little, and treat me like you don’t care about having me as a customer, then it’s bad news. As Bruce Banner often warned potential transgressors, ‘Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” No matter how much I may like your product or service, if you cross me and don’t make amends, I will never spend another dollar with you again.
A couple of years ago, I started using a JetBlue AmEx credit card almost exclusively, spending thousands and thousands of dollars on it so that I could earn free tickets on an airline I absolutely loved (the new planes, the leg room, the fair pricing, the friendly employees, the TVs – just awesome).
Then I found out that their much-advertised promise that your miles will never expire as long as you use the credit card wasn’t quite accurate – the miles may technically not expire, but once you fly or spend enough so that those miles turn into a free ticket award, that ticket does expire. It’s a joke of a system, and while I should have read the fine print more closely, I thought the company was being deliberately misleading. And I didn’t realize this until it was too late and a couple tickets expired.
When I continued to get canned negative responses to my elaborate, detailed requests to have an expired free ticket reinstated, I told JetBlue I was tearing up the card and using the airline only out of necessity or convenience. It wasn’t an easy decision, but as a customer, sending your dollars elsewhere is the only recourse you really have. Dell (a classic story of corporate arrogance and ineptitude) and AT&T Wireless are two other companies to which I have vowed not to send any more of my money.
(I may relax the AT&T ban since their offense of atrocious customer service was many years ago, and I can at least rationalize to myself that it’s a new company now that they’ve merged with Cingular – but mostly I just really want an Iphone. I hear AT&T’s service still sucks, however, and I really like my current provider T-Mobile, a company that knows how to treat its customers)
Unfortunately, Priceline has become the first My One Least Favorite Thing of the week award recipient, and may soon become the next blacklisted company on my shopping shit list.
Until yesterday, I’ve always loved using Priceline, so when I wanted to find a reasonably priced four-star or better hotel on the Las Vegas Strip for a trip I’m planning there this Labor Day, it was one of the first sites I checked out. Unfortunately, my ‘Name Your Own Price’ bid was accepted by a hotel – the Westin Casuarina – which markets itself as an ‘off-strip’ venue. Granted its only a block and a half off the strip – but these are Vegas blocks we’re talking about here, and in any case, it’s more a matter of principle.
Now Priceline says that the area I checked was ‘Strip Vicinity’ and that the Casuarina is located within that region. But as I told them in my letter, I’m no cartographer; how am I supposed to know which hotels are within the poorly defined shaded circles on the map – the site gives you no way of checking in advance, a sorely lacking feature. All I know is when I clink on a box saying I want a ‘Strip’ hotel I should get a Strip hotel.
Priceline has a policy where they cannot cancel or change a reservation made using their ‘Name Your Own Price’ system. I understand that policy as a general rule, given that the whole reason hotels agree to offer their rooms to users at much lower rates is because they believe they are dealing with brand-indifferent consumers. But there are times when exceptions must be made, or at the very least something should be offered as a way to compensate an aggrieved consumer, perhaps a significant discount on a future purchase.
Again, maybe I should have been a more diligent researcher. But I wasn’t trying to game the system, and the bottom line is I didn’t get what I expected or wanted. Why can’t the company make a relatively small gesture to keep me happy and a returning customer?
What truly pissed me off the most about the experience was the hour-long call to the customer service hotline, where two different agents did nothing more than repeat the line – over and over again, like it was some sort of holy mantra – ‘I’m sorry. Our contract with the hotels does not allow us to refund or cancel your reservation.’
I stayed as calm as I could, begged them to go off script for a second, to just really listen to me for a moment, and at least pretend to understand where I’m coming from. But they were no better than robots.
Afterward, I sent an email to management, which I think was pretty clever (attached below). Alas, I don’t expect a response, at least not one of the non-canned variety.
And if I don’t get one, it’s goodbye Mr. Shatner and Priceline, and hello Hotwire. My business may not mean much to them and they may not give a damn, but it will sure make me feel better.
Kinda like this blog post.
My Letter to Priceline Management:
Hello there. First of all, I want to say I appreciate Priceline offering customers this ability to contact management in order to address issues and problems. Not all companies do that, so it’s very nice to see, and I sincerely hope someone high up enough to make a difference reads the entirety of this email (it’s a long one!) and follows up in a reasonable time.
I just got off the phone with customer service regarding a problem I had with Request Number: 628-999-***-**.
I was looking to book a hotel and name my own price for a Vegas trip I am taking this Labor Day with my fiancee. After a couple of failed offers trying to bid for 4- and 5-star hotels on the North Strip, I checked the South Strip box and tried again.
This time, my $85 offer was accepted by the Westin Casuarina. Even though I had never heard of the hotel or remember seeing it, at first I was happy about it because the price was decent and I am a regular Westin customer.
But then I went on the Westin website and noticed that the hotel itself markets it as being ‘off-strip’. And taking a look at the map showed clearly it was a block and a half off the strip, which posed a problem because my traveling companion sometimes has trouble moving around and as you know if you’ve been to Vegas a block and a half there is not your normal block and a half and pretty much means you’re looking at a 20-30 minute walk to get to any hotel on the strip.
I frankly felt duped by Priceline. I have used Priceline in the past many times, have sung its praises to friends and colleagues over and over again. I consider it a great, unique service and have never had a bad experience before, but this was just uncool.
My assumption is that the Westin is in fact within the circle on the area I selected in the name the bid process, and that Priceline wasn’t outright lying by including it. And perhaps I should have been more careful but I am not a cartographer, and can’t be expected to know every hotel that is offered within a poorly defined circle on a Website map (especially because Priceline does not have any way – that I could find – to show customers which hotels are in fact in that shaded circle area. That is a feature that should be added tout de suite). What I do know is that the Westin Casuarina is NOT a Strip hotel, which is clearly what I was after.
I know the ‘no-changes, no-refund’ policy of Priceline associated with the name your own bid process. And as a general rule, I understand it. But clearly there are times when exceptions should be made and I thought this was one of them.
So I called Priceline customer service expecting to get some customer service. Instead I ended up spending nearly an hour on the phone with two agents who had to be about as unhelpful as customer service people could possibly be.
As I tried in a very calm, respectful manner to explain my situation as fully as I could, the ONLY thing they’d say, and they kept repeating it like it was a holy mantra, was ‘I’m sorry. Our contract with the hotels does not allow us to refund or cancel your reservation.’
The second agent – who was I guess supposed to be higher along the customer service food chain – was as unhelpful as the first guy but even worse, in that he didn’t even seem sympathetic to my issue. His name was Matt, and his ID # was *********.
In any case, I’ve gone on long enough. But needless to say, if no one can help me out, then I suppose my much-anticipated trip to Vegas will be dampened unnecessarily. And given that it’s the only recourse as a consumer I have, I will have no choice but to not use Priceline ever again and try to convince others in my circle to not do so either and use Hotwire or some other service instead. I may not be as good at convincing people not to use Priceline as William Shatner is at convincing them to use it, but I will try my best.
Given that I really like Priceline, and love Shatner (heck, I feel just by writing this letter I’m being The Negotiator he is constantly imploring us to be), I’d much rather feel like someone at your company cared enough to go the extra mile to make me happy so I can continue to use your services and sing your praises. While for therapeutic reasons I was going to write this letter regardless (nothing is perhaps more frustrating that being stonewalled by two customer service agents who clearly enjoy not helping customers), I’m hopeful that it will get a non-canned response and a satisfactory resolution.
Thanks very much. Yours truly,