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We’re Here To Serve – Yeah, right!

Before we get started, you should know that I’m not in a very good mood this morning. January has been a bit rough, with three deaths in the family over the past couple of weeks, the weather is a bitch and I’ve just spent the better part of three hours in an unbelievable cock-up with online travel arrangements.

It is unbelievable how poor customer service is these days.

It was a simple process actually. Maggie is going to Scotland in April to visit the youngest daughter who is taking her Masters at the University of Edinburgh. Usually when we travel, we use a travel agent although we have used Expedia to book hotels from time to time. We like to pay as we go, so we use a Visa-debit card rather than credit. That means the money is taken from our bank account immediately and we can all sleep soundly secure in the knowledge that the universe is unfolding as it should.

It appears that there is a need for some remedial courses in universe unfolding.

Expedia doesn’t accept Visa-debit cards. Actually, let me rephrase that. It does accept them for hotels and car rentals just not for stand alone flights. They blame the airlines for that.

Remember that tidbit for later in the rant.

With Expedia not willing to accept money instead of credit, I logged into Travelocity; you know, the one that uses a garden gnome statue to advertise itself. After dealing with them, I’m convinced that they must have spent almost as much money on their customer service operation as they did on their nickel and dime television commercials.

I booked the flight (after setting up the mandatory account). No problem. I paid for the flight no problem – well – actually there was a problem. Travelocity (and the airlines, apparently) are quite happy to accept Visa-debit so the transaction went through. It just didn’t go through for the quoted price.

Now try and keep up with this because it starts to get a bit complicated.

I booked Maggie not only for the same trip on the same day through Travelocity that I tried to book on Expedia – it was the same bloody plane. KLM was prepared to fly her over for $883.00 Cdn if I booked on Expedia but wanted $903.00 (all taxes and fees included) to fly her on the same day on the same plane, if I booked her flight on Travelocity.

No problem, I was feeling a bit extravagant so I authorized the extra $16.00, completed the payment information, hit the complete transaction button and voila! What I didn’t realize at the time was that the extra $16 would grow almost as rapidly as invested capital thanks to the miracle of compound interest.

The payment wasn’t what I authorized or that Travelocity had confirmed before I completed the transaction. The new price was $976.90. I decided not to let it ruin my day and chocked it up to experience and the fact that January 2014 is just not going to be pleasant.

Fifteen minutes later, I went online to do some banking and to confirm that the payment for Maggie’s trip had gone through. It had but again, unfortunately, it was not for the amount I had authorized. This was the description of the transaction in my bank account.

Under description it read KLM Royal $976.00 (so far so good). Under debit it read $1113.56. In other words, they had put through a payment of $1113.00 for an invoice of $976.00.

To make matters even more annoying, Travelocity sent me a confirmation email in which they outlined all of the trip details and confirmed payment of $976.90 so, I called their customer service department, conveniently located in Mumbai, India.

I called the toll free number and after punching a bunch of 1s and 2s in response to the automated receptionist’s questions, I finally got a human being not that it mattered all that much. After twenty minutes on the phone with Mina over in sunny Mumbai, I gave up. I had no idea what she was saying beyond telling me that she was very sorry but not to worry – it would correct itself.

I hung up and called again hoping to get a customer service agent I could understand and who wouldn’t pepper the conversation with apologies and platitudes. This time I got Adrian. Great – perhaps a North American. Wrong. His accent was even worse than Mina’s and was compounded by the fact that his head set didn’t work well. It kept cutting in and out, making crackling noises that could be heard half way around the world from Mumbai to Quebec.

I gave up and called my bank. My bank identified the issue. The airline had put the $976 through in U.S. funds and the $1113 amount was the conversion to Canadian. The problem, of course, is that I was dealing with Travelocity Canada, the price was quoted in Canadian funds and at least one of the airlines (West jet) is bloody Canadian.

The bank suggested I call KLM Royal Dutch Airlines which I did.

They were very pleasant about it but they had only charged $976.90 Cdn. They suggested I call Travelocity although they were kind enough to offer to cancel the flight so that I could rebook it later at the new price of $1536.00 Cdn.

Back to Travelocity where I was informed that, in fact, the fault is theirs and that lately it has been a recurring problem that will correct itself. I should receive a refund for the $136 rate conversion fee within the next billing cycle. I asked what is the billing the cycle and was told that was up to my bank. They also offered to cancel the flight with no penalty.

The second question I asked was simple. If this was a recurring problem, why wouldn’t they fix it? No answer, just another apology for the inconvenience.

It’s unbelievable. Three and a half hours of time wasted talking to people who don’t have a clue working for companies so oblivious to the basic tenets of customer service that they can’t do a simple thing like correct a mistake immediately or reverse a transaction and then correct it.

The bottom line is that they were successful at pulling the money out of my bank account within 15 minutes of the transaction but it will take a minimum of 5 -7 days to return the over-payment.

It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this ridiculous circumstance. The reason we don’t buy something with a credit card is because it does take too long for the charge to be reversed. You would have thought that with what pretty much equates to a cash transaction companies would be just a bit more clued in.

You might have thought that but you’d be wrong.

We had a dream once that technology would simplify our lives and expedite even the most complex operations. What fools we mortals be.

It was never about technology; it has always been and remains, about how companies (and government) treat their customers and the simple fact, my friends, is that they don’t treat us very well. It takes anywhere from 5 to 1o minutes working your way through a punch button phone menu just to get to a human being.

“Please listen carefully to the following menu as our menus have recently changed.” which is always followed by “All of our agents are currently serving other customers, please remain on the line for the next available representative.”

Bell remains the worst but too many others are rapidly catching up. From retailers to banks, from software companies to online travel booking organizations, the concept of customer service borders on non-existent. Much of it is now off-shore and I’ve spoken with customer service reps for Canadian companies in India, Africa and Columbia. I understand it saves the business money but quite honestly, I’m tired of getting less while paying more just to improve their bottom line.

The only difference between the quality of customer service provided by Canadian business and the government is that at least you can understand the stupid things you’re being told by the person at Service Canada. It isn’t any more helpful or less annoying but at least you can actually make out the words – in both official languages.

They don’t understand the meaning of the word service any more than Canadian business but at least you can make out what they’re saying.

A lot of smart people are always how much better and more responsive private industry is compared to the public sector.

Yeah, right! I’m still waiting to see it.

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© 2013 Maggie’s Bear

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  • oldwhiteguy

    I do absolutely no business on line. I have always used a travel agent. I also refuse to pay cash in advance for anything.

  • bobmontgomery

    hear ya. One thing about snatching your dough within minutes, but taking days or weeks to correct it – With the miracle of electronic banking, and electronic buying and selling of securities and bonds and stocks and all the rest, they have the ability to make a quick buck off you and the millions of others just in the nick of time to avoid being charged with fraud or felony theft.
    That makes up for the lost sales from millions of others telling them to piss off, we’ll vacation at home this year.

    And the banks themselves – how can they get away with paying you zero% interest for the privilege of holding your money, or holding your deposit for a week while they wait for your check to clear when everybody knows your check clears in fifteen seconds? But our liberal friends want to harp on income inequality. Good grief.

    • MaggiesBear

      One of the gifts I bought Maggie at Christmas was at Future Shop. They took the payment in less than three minutes. I cancelled the order an hour later – it took 10 days to get my money back. It’s just one more way Canadian business and banks take our money and as you point out, make a few extra bucks on it before returning it to us. It’s unbelievable.

  • CanadaGoose1

    Actually got a person speaking English from North America the other day when we were trying to get our cellphone service from Koodo straightened up. We seem to live in a Bermuda triangle area that has our cellphone service frequently searching and searching and then saying call ended (funny enough my husband and I have the identical phone and one or the other usually works while one or the other will say signal low). He spent a long time with us phoning up various stores to see if they had a type of cellphone that would work in our area. However all for naught, as the bottom line seems to be we have to wait until service improves or is revamped in our area by mid-March. He was very helpful but why should we have to buy a different cellphone if it is their problem? Meanwhile we end up using our landline for long-distance calls on a random basis instead of using the Koodo service we are paying for.

    • MaggiesBear

      It’s great isn’t it? I had a plan with Bell Mobility that gave me 2000 minutes a month and unlimited with five selected people. They set it up for me at the the Bell Mobility store but screwed it up. The plan was $130/mnth. The first bill was for $1,600. When I called to complain, they told me to go to the store and try and get my money back. I asked if it was their store, and they replied yes but billing had nothing to do with retail. I’m no longer with Bell Mobility.

  • Randy

    So called ” customer service ” departments should be re-named
    “customer annoyance” departments as it seems they shuffle a
    person around punching buttons until you quit or lose your
    temper. Nothing is done to actually help the customer.
    In all honesty, and I never thought this would come to be, dealing
    with federal government agencies is quicker and more effective
    than most corporations that I deal with: ie Telus, Royal Bank, Air
    Canada etc.
    I am in the USA right now and my dealings here as a customer
    are much better than at most places I have dealt with in Canada,
    as a whole. Friendly, helpful, courteous and efficient is the norm,
    while north of the 49th, it is the exception.
    As we continue to put up with it, do not expect it to improve. As
    everything moves online, do not expect personal inter-actions, or
    at least productive ones. This is what the corporations want, one
    less person helping a customer is one less cost. And they know
    we will stay, complain and put up with it. For those who think it is
    not so, look at what we tolerate in politics, municipal, provincial
    and federal. Nothing done to prove me wrong yet.

    • MaggiesBear

      I agree with you. My experience with American firms is heads and tails over that of Canadian operations. It’s an attitude and performance that is as mediocre as government bureaucracies. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve talked to someone in the customer service department of a Canadian business and they couldn’t answer even rudimentary questions about their company’s service.

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