Rant: Whatever happened to good customer service?

Rant: Whatever happened to good customer service?

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. For the most part it does. Gone are the days of wandering aimlessly with no idea where you’re going – you’ve got Google Maps. Nothing on the TV tonight? Check out Netflix, without having to even get off the sofa. Hungry? There’s a seemingly endless stream of apps for ordering takeout. Want to get the best price for your holiday? Try one (or more) of the many, many websites designed to take the stress out of grabbing a bargain. From Siri and Alexa to robots for the elderly, it would seem our every need is handled by modern technology.

Except when it isn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of buying things online – the idea of traipsing around the shops when I can do it from the comfort of my own home with a glass of wine in hand? Who would do such a silly thing?! But sometimes buying things online doesn’t work out.

At the beginning of November last year, I went to Munich. It was a brief and last-minute trip – just one night. I wanted a hotel that was central so I could make the most of my time, so, having used the site before, checked out Hotels.com. Found the perfect hotel, for a reasonable price, and booked. I was happy. But then the problems started…

After receiving the confirmation email from Hotels.com, I then received an automation email telling me the hotel had cancelled the booking. I then received a message from the hotel saying this was a mistake, they apologised, and assured me the booking still stood. At this point I should explain that the reason I had booked with Hotels.com in the first place is that they have a loyalty scheme – book 10 nights through them, you get a free night. When I booked the night in Munich I had nine nights ‘pending’ (i.e. booked but not yet taken), which is of course why I booked the night in question with Hotels.com – it would be my tenth night, meaning I’d then get a free night. I asked the hotel to reinstate my booking through the Hotels.com booking system, explaining that I was part of their loyalty scheme and didn’t want to miss out. Well guess what? They didn’t.

When I got back, I emailed Hotels.com and explained that I had booked a night at an eligible hotel, completed that booking, but that the reward night hadn’t been credited to my account. I received a reply thanking me for contacting them, and saying “Upon checking your reservation is not eligible to collect Hotels.com rewards night since the reservation was cancelled”. They would appreciate my understanding they said. Ok I thought, they’re obviously just using an automatic response system or something, hell, maybe it’s not even an actual person at the other end of the email, just AI.

I sent another email, explaining again, and attached screenshots of the messages from the hotel, an email from Hotels.com regarding check-in procedure (received after the supposed cancellation), and a copy of the invoice from the hotel confirming that I’d stayed on the night in question. The next reply was longer, but basically said the same thing; “as much we would like to add your rewards night, our system did not allow to do your request because your reservation was cancelled.”

The email ping pong went on until just before Christmas, when the message changed – they were going to contact the hotel to confirm I’d stayed there. The reply came back, “We contacted the hotel and they confirmed that you didn't stay at the hotel.” Well that’s just B*******!

I complained again. And again. I sent proof of the hotel’s mistake again. I sent a copy of the invoice. Again. Nothing. “You can only collect Hotels.com Rewards nights for bookings completed,” they tell me. The most frustrating thing? I don’t think they’re even actually reading my emails – they’re just replying with whatever stock reply is in the handbook.

At time of writing, Hotels.com still refuse to credit my rewards account with one measly little night. The most ridiculous thing is that I’m not even asking them to give me a free night – I’m just asking for one token towards that free night. A night I won’t even actually get until I’ve completed my pending bookings which won’t be until the summer!

So I find myself wondering, is this just laziness on the part of the people answering emails? Is it that they have a drop-down list of pre-formatted replies to choose from and can’t deviate from? Have ‘systems’ developed to a point where common sense can’t overcome them? Whatever happened to good customer service?

Munich was lovely. I would definitely recommend it for a short break should you ever get the opportunity.

I wouldn’t however, recommend booking your accommodation with Hotels.com.


UPDATE: Hotels.com have apologised and as a goodwill gesture, have kindly credited my account with one reward point.


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Kate Hoy

Kate Hoy is Editor of IDG Connect

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