Expedia Eats a Little Crow

Honestly, the number of people that give up must be staggering. Who wants to make all those phone calls? And even when you KNOW, you just KNOW you’ve been wronged, if you can’t get the right person to help you, you’re just, well, you’re f*cked. I have endless persistence, a high speed internet connection, and a handy sense of search. That’s how I found the National Geographic Travel Ombudsman who helped me get this resolved. But I’ll bet nine out of ten screwed consumers just give up. Here’s to the other ten percent.

Ms. Nerd’s Eye View

I apologize that there has been a delay in our response to this matter. I would like to assure you that your matter has been looked into and researched fully.

We have received your complaint made to Christopher Elliott, ombudsman for National Geographic, via our Public Relations department. I have personally researched your case and noted that, while our agents did provide you with correct information with regards to the usability of your reservation, they did not recognize that this information was not made clear to you prior to purchase.

After a review of our website and your itinerary, I can see that the fare rules for only one portion of your ticket was displayed; ultimately, the rules indicating that your ticket could not be changed were not made available. For this, I cannot apologize more.

It is never our intent to mislead or miscommunicate to our customers, nor it is our intent to cause such confusion or inconvenience. In light of this, I would like to assist you with making accommodations for your return flight from Vienna to Seattle, at no cost to you.

Administrative stuff here.

So. There. Ha.

Outrage II: The Customer is Always Wrong

CHANGE-100.00 USD BEFORE/AFTER DEPART SEE TEXT RULE
CHANGES ANY TIME
CHARGE USD 100.00 FOR REISSUE/REVALIDATION.
CHANGES ARE PERMITTED PRIOR TO THE TICKETED DEPARTURE TIME OF EACH FLIGHT.

Pulled from the ‘Rules and Restrictions’ portion of my ticket. Emphasis is mine.

I purchased my British Airways ticket on Expedia in late summer. All fine, decent fare, reasonable terms, yadda yadda. I always buy a ticket that permits changes, my bicontinental lifestyle requires it. Fast forward to last week, when I accepted a two month contract at Sony in Salzburg and attempted to change my ticket.

  1. I take my intinerary to the travel agent. The agent calls British. British says they won’t do business with an agent as it’s an individual purchase.
  2. I call British. British tells me my ticket can not be changed. I quote them the terms you see above and they disagree with my interpretation of the text. They tell me changes are not permitted after my outbound flight. They tell me I may apply for a waiver by faxing the above terms to British. I ask them if they are kidding me. Faxing? What? I ask for a supervisor.
  3. The supervisor tells me I must settle the deal with Expedia and that the ticket as seen by British is not changeable. They say Expedia must pay for any changes.
  4. I call Expedia. The agent says, “Sure, I can go ahead and make that change,” but is then unable to do so. I ask if she sees anything that tells me I can not make the change and then, she says no, but British must make the change because travel has already started. She connects me with British and leaves me there. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  5. I call Expedia. The agent says, “Sure, I can go ahead and make that change,” but is then unable to do so. She does some further research and says that my ticket has “two fare rules and that they are required to apply the most restrictive rule.” I ask, rather politely, I think, where that information is available to me and she concedes that it is not. I ask for a supervisor.
  6. The supervisor tells me, repeatedly, that the terms of the ticket are clear and that changes are not permitted after my initial outbound flight. I ask, repeatedly, where where that information is available to me and she concedes that it is not. She finally says she can contact British to apply for a waiver.
  7. I call Expedia. The agent reviews my case but says that the British has not yet been contacted and asks me to hold. I refuse. The agent, who is actually trying to be helpful, agrees to contact British and request the waiver and tells me to call back.
  8. I call Expedia. The agent says “Sure, I can go ahead and help you with that. Changes are 75 dollars.” (What? Huh?) I explain, again. The agent, who is actually trying to be helpful, reviews my case and sees that the request has been made, but has been denied by British. The agent has a suggestion for me, however. She says that the flight schedule has been changed and it’s my right as a passenger to refuse that change and ask for a different flight. She suggests I try that route with British. She then offers me a 75 dollar credit on my Expedia account. I say, rather politely, that is insufficient to cover my expenses and time, and if British refuses again, I will incur additional hassle and expense. I say that Expedia is responsible for all this hassle and that I want them to resolve the issue. The agent concedes that it’s a drag, but says that if she contacts British, they will resist because “they know she knows the rules.” She says it’s really best for me to do it and insist upon my rights as a passenger. The change which allows me this loophole? A delay in an outbound departure.
  9. I call British. British tells me that, yup, I’m correct about the rule, but the schedule change has to be a two hour minimum. My flight change? 20 minutes. (Still, good to know. Fliers, keep that in your pocket should you ever need it.)
  10. I call Expedia. Luckily, I get the same agent again. She asks me what I want her to do. I tell her that Expedia needs to either compensate me for the half of the ticket that I can not use or provide me with a new flight. She connects me with a supervisor.
  11. The supervisor says that because I was informed that the ticket was not changeable, there is nothing she can do and she offers me a 100 dollar voucher. I tell her that actually, I was informed that the ticket was changeable by several Expedia agents, who happened to also be wrong. The conversation devolves, I kid you not, in to a “no you didn’t” – “yes you did” sort of thing. I suggest she review the tapes of the conversation, but she insists that I was never told that the ticket was changeable.I ask to speak with her supervisor. She puts me on hold after stonewalling me about how her supervisor will tell me the same thing. Worn out for now, I hang up.

I do actually undertand that I’m in the wrong about the terms of my ticket. But so were several Expedia agents, so it’s not really surprising that I didn’t get it right. The terms as stated are not clear – it does not say anywhere that changes are not permitted after travel has commenced. Are the terms intentionally obfuscated? I can’t help but wonder.

Nonfamousi, do you know anyone at Expedia? I’d like to, um, get in touch with them.

Outrage

Why do I have to yell and throw a “hissy fit” when I need a corporate customer service organization to do the right thing?  Is it really that customer service is dead or is it something more sinister – is their CRM system telling the service rep on the other end of the line that I am not one their most valuable customers and therefore I can be f*cked with mercilessly?

Anyone who has been reading this blog long enough already knows that I skirt the edge of professional paranoid.  However, I think I may have hit upon the true reason that I never receive good (or even halfway decent) customer service – I have a low “lifetime value” as a customer.  In fact, I probably cause most of my vendors to lose money in maintaining me as a customer.

As a professional marketer, I almost never respond to direct mail or other advertisements in a vendor’s attempt to upsell me to a more expensive item or service.  Rather, I spend a few minutes dissecting the piece for its relative merits and faults before I toss it away.  But this Lifetime Customer Value thing is big business and I think it is undermining the very thing it was originally designed to support – personalized service.  When 1-to-1 marketing was first promoted, it focused on how to increase the value of your customer base by serving or anticipating their needs better.  Now it is about culling the fattest calves from the herd and sh*tting on the rest.

The vendors that provide me with truly personal service I reward with not only my loyalty but with referrals and testimonials.  The ones that treat me like a number and a set of behaviors I ditch at the first opportunity and steer people away from every chance I get.  I realize that it is unfashionable to have customer service agents that actually care about resolving a customer’s issue or speak English as a first language.  And until we as consumers rise up as one and slay the evil market whores vote with our dollars on a large scale we will have to yell and throw stupendous verbal fits in order to get our lifetime value returned.

Wuv…. twue wuv

“It’s a motivation; the person [we’re in love with] is a goal. Emotions come and go. We feel euphoria, but we feel anxiety, too. This core system that is driving the person who is in love toward their sweetheart, that is much more important in a sense than an emotion.”

Do you remember the first time you met someone you dated? They were all you could think about. You were excited and anxious at the same time. You wanted to spend every single second talking to them or doing something with them. Turns out that’s normal and it’s your brain making you feel that way. A recent study found that people who recently “fell in love” thought about the other person 80% of the time and that your brain treats them “like a reward” so you want to spend time with them.

“It’s a motivation; the person [we’re in love with] is a goal. Emotions come and go. We feel euphoria, but we feel anxiety, too. This core system that is driving the person who is in love toward their sweetheart, that is much more important in a sense than an emotion.”

It also goes on to say that people can be as passionate about their love at all ages… from 8 to 80. (So eat that Kansas AG Phill Kline… that 15 year old having sex with another 15 year old could be “making love”.) Love is a powerful motivator. Just today on Oprah (yes Oprah… I’m writing… not channel surfing) there was a story of a guy that was in an accident and was told he’d never walk again and he was determined to walk down the isle to marry his girlfriend. And it’s the card/flower/crappy stuffed bear/chocolate companies that are counting on this to steal your money on this made up holiday, Valentines Day. Next year remember that.

Shouldn’t food porn, by definition, be enticing?

Sumptuous? Sexy, even? Shouldn’t the cover of cooking magazines make you covet the item depicted, so that you buy the thing in the vain hope that you’ll learn the secret to creating such a delectible and sensuous treat. Isn’t the idea to give you something fantasize about as you head to the kitchen (or dining room)?

Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

So what is up with Gourmet Magazine lately? Because all I get from their covers is, “Wow. I’ve made Kraft Maccaroni and Cheese with more sex appeal than that.”

Seriously. Look at the cover of the Thanksgiving issue. So I’ll add to that–I can take a better photo than that with one of those underwater disposable cameras. See how the turkey bleeds into the overexposed window area? See how the turky just looks like, well, like something the average housewife might put out? Where’s the bar I’m supposed to be working toward?

And it’s not just this issue. This whole year, the covers have been, well, uninspiring. While Saveur tantalizes me with images of things I know I could never really pull of in real life, it creates the set for my food fantasies (and yes, I do daydream about cooking lovely things that cause everyone in the room to fall hopelessly in love with me). By way of contrast, look at the latest Saveur cover. See that pretty blue background, bringing out the blueberries in that fluffy stack of pancakes temptingly piled next to the work “FEAST” in large font? Doesn’t that make you want to fall asleep dreaming of waking up to the smell of coffee brewing in the cold morning, stumbling down the stairs in your pajamas to find the table just being set with that lovely treat?

This summer Gourmet also featured blueberries on one of their covers. A pale blue background, with a pale blue bowl, featuring overexposed icecream and a smattering of blueberries. Cold. Stark. Monocrhomatic. Not exactly alluring. Or even pretty.

So what gives with Gourmet? Have the succombed the puritanical fever infecting the country that disdains anything smacking of class or society or basically anything not sold by Walmart? Have they just decided that food should be about taste and not presentation (but then, that doesn’t leave much to recommend their print product until they figure out a way to emit the odors of homecooking when you open the pages?)

I don’t have any answers. I’m just perplexed. I hope the editors of Gourmet will return to covering their editions with luscious images soon. Either that, or Conde Naste starts putting slightly overweight, un-make-uped, cover models wearing last years Old Navy t-shirts on their covers.

The Smarter They Get, The Dumber They Are

I have a message to “online marketing specialists,” just because the media that you are dealing with is different from traditional outlets doesn’t mean that human beings aren’t still human beings. This MediaPost editorial (free registration required) expressing surprise at the results of out-of-context placements is simply ridiculous.

Serving an ad in an editorial environment with NO relationship to the product may seem counterintuitive, but it is becoming hard to ignore. Case studies too numerous to count are showing surprising results from the targeted delivery of “out-of-context”online ads – delivering ads to qualified consumers within content areas that are “out-of-context” for the offer. For example, serving automobile ads to “auto buyers” in a site’s sports section, rather than in auto content. Quite frequently, the out-of-context ads will outperform those that are delivered in-context, sometimes dramatically so.

Imagine selling people cars within sports content – newspapers and TV have been doing it for years so why is this somehow amazing and unexpected? It’s called mass marketing and assumes that people with an interest in one thing are likely to have an interest in others – straight-forward demographics, people!

Whatever the reason, as more research and more case studies are developed in this area, this phenomenon could have a very significant impact on the online ad industry.

Marketing is a statistician’s wet dream and the levels of minutiae available for measurement and study online are close to infinite (depending on how much programming you want to do). But in marketing it always comes down to two things: the creative and the offer. Placement is really secondary because as we have seen if the creative and offer are strong enough your market will go viral in an Internet heartbeat. So measure that, stick it in your pipe and smoke it!

80 years, $100

Every New Yorker ever. Eight fully-searchable DVD-ROMs. Wow.

For the first time, every page of every issue of America’s leading magazine—from full-color covers to spot drawings, from poetry to Profiles, from cartoons to advertisements—on reader friendly and highly searchable DVDs.

The Complete New Yorker covers The New Yorker’s entire history, from February 1925 to February 2005, the magazine’s 80th anniversary, providing a detailed yet panoramic history of the life of the city, the nation, and the world during the most exciting and astounding decades any society has ever known.

Want one!

Great Rob Walker interview

Industrial design mag Core 77 has an amazing interview with Rob Walker. I’ll admit it–even before his star turn with the NYT Mag’s Consumed column, I was a Rob Walker fanboy. Back when he was doing the ad report card for Slate, I emailed him a couple of times and he wrote nice, thoughtful replies.

I find his writing sync eerily with what my firm is working on and talking about. Eerie as in like, “Is there a bug in someone’s office?!?” I’m not sure if the bug would be in his, or ours. Probably his, but only if he reads aloud while typing. [My pondering this is precisely how you know I’m a fanboy.] I guess it’s best just to autocongratulate all around by saying that great minds really must think alike. But this interview is no different… he talks about one of our biggest recent projects:

When I look at the Lance Armstrong bracelet, I start at the other end and ask, “What did the consumer respond to?” It could be the design, but it could be any number of other things. I don’t know that that bracelet is going to be studied in design schools as a beautiful object. (I could be wrong about that.)

The product should speak for itself, but it’s more interesting to me to discover what consumers are actually listening to. I truly think that the Lance Armstrong bracelet is a useless object, but for all the things that could become a craze, it’s certainly more positive for society than the pet rock—not that I have anything against the pet rock.

Compare the Lance Armstrong bracelet to another current hit product, the iPod. The iPod and the bracelet are so different; you can see so many functional reasons for buying the iPod. For me, I thought it was expensive, but cool, and it took me three months to decide to buy one. I rationalized it by thinking about how much travel I do and how useful it is on the plane and in the gym. You can come up with all these reasons. There may be counterarguments for each and every one, but at least there are many arguments to make.

Anyway, if anyone is hunting a gift for me any time soon, I would love one of these. Or this. And if you’re into this kind of conversation, remind me to tell you when and if I get any more issues of his sporadic but entirely amazing “Journal of Murketing.”