TULSA, Okla. -- Speaking of viral, I recently shared with you my experience with Expedia.com--how I needed to change my flight itinerary and the only way to do so was to call customer support. I did and waited two hours and 15 minutes before a young man name Zak politely reworked my travel arrangements.
[In fact, I wrote this column from Tulsa late on a Tuesday night as the final leg of a three-state, four-day trip.]
I am happy to say I heard from many of you who shared your vexing stories of bad customer service. I also heard from Expedia and just a little while ago, I got a surprise email:
"I read your article on Expedia. I am Zak's mom. Thank you for saying he is pleasant. You didn't mention it, but I hope he did solve your issue. … He did say he remembered your call and you amused him, hoping it was not delirium setting in from the wait. Best wishes for easier travel in the future."
Mitch MorrisonWell Zak's mother (I'm deliberately leaving out her name), I am proud to say your son did well. Otherwise, I wouldn't be writing this at 11:15 p.m. from Tulsa.
I only wish that Expedia shared your personal touch. Instead, I received the following email shortly after I posted a critique on their Feedback page. Here is their response:
"Dear Mr. Morrison,
"Thank you for taking the time to contact Expedia.com via our Feedback link. We appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns.
"We apologize for the long hold times you experienced on Jan. 15, 2013. Due to the unusually high call volumes, our hold times have been longer than normal, and we're sorry that you were inconvenienced.
"Our records show that this matter was resolved on Jan. 15, 2013, with an agent-assisted change being made to your flight reservation with United Airlines. Should you have any further questions or concerns please contact Expedia Customer Service at 1-800-397-3342. Our agents are available 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
"Thank you for choosing Expedia!
"[Name], corporate senior specialist, Expedia.com"
24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And how long will the on-hold be this time?
To its credit, Expedia did respond to my feedback within days and acknowledged my grievance. So why, you wonder, am I upset?
Where is the gesture of regret? Other online businesses I've encountered, including Zappos, Continental Airlines (before United scooped them up) and Target.com, forwarded me free coupons along with apologies for inconveniences or mistakes on their end. Expedia, the world's largest online travel company with more than $29 billion in gross bookings and $3.45 billion in revenues in 2011, could easily have offered me--a frequent user of its services--something, something that suggests personal remorse.
More importantly, Expedia is not addressing the deeper problem. It is acknowledging the inconvenience but not offering a solution. It is instead asking that its loyal customers to wait on the line and wait some more.
In short, it is disrespecting its customers.
I asked you to share your worst customer nightmares. Here are a couple of samples of what you said.
One person rapped American Express Travel online. "Half the time the site doesn't work and you have to call in!" the person wrote. "Their pricing is generally higher than Expedia or Orbitz! [and] the site is hard to navigate (even when it is working)!"
Another retailer, echoing others, threw his darts at Wells Fargo. It's a long rant and relevant to hear out. "I built a house this summer, and they were the preferred lender of the builder so I went with them (biggest mistake of my life).
"The first sign of trouble was after I had been preapproved by Wells Fargo. I heard nothing from them until I called them one day just to say hey. The broker then told me I needed to get a ton of paperwork together because it was due in less than two days … so I stopped my life and got everything together and drove it 40 miles to their office in Charlotte, N.C.
"Not a great start, but OK, we will survive. The house was scheduled to be finished right before school was to begin. Perfect!
"So here is where the wheels came off. I received a 30-day notice from the builder and was told that builder had contacted Wells Fargo. I heard nothing for two weeks. I called [the] broker and was told 'we are sending some papers please sign and return,' done the next day; 36 hours before closing, [I] took a call from Wells at 3:00 p.m. stating that we couldn't close because the underwriters were overloaded. I said no way, I am living in another state -50 miles from the new schools, so you (Wells Fargo) need to figure it out.
"They didn't. I next talked to a divisional vice president and was told that there was a known computer problem that was causing a problem and this had been going on for the summer.
"My response was not polite. So, now we are at the closing moving trucks are waiting on my call and sit down to read the closing statement, and to my surprise the statement doesn't match the first good faith estimates. And, oh by the way, I had never received and updated estimate along the way. NOW I HAVE A CHOICE: sign a mortgage that is $250 more per month for 30 years or continue to live 50 miles away or get three teenage girls into new schools in a different state. I hate Wells Fargo."
As for me, I don't hate Expedia, but if you don't improve your call center, don't invest in online chat, I suspect there will be others who will carry their grudge. Hello Twitter and Facebook.
[How should Expedia have responded? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, or with Mitch Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org]