The Orbitz Saga Part 2: Lack Of Understanding Of New Media AND Customer Support (Not A Twitter Success Story Yet)

Update #1: Just got off the phone with @CarlyAtOrbitz. The story is over and they offered no additional help, compensation, etc. (and I standby quotes and assessments made here). Highlight quotes include [we were] “promised these were the seat assignments” and “did try to go above and beyond” and my favorite … “only so much we can control.” The take home for everyone should be this – before you take your company new media, make sure you have a company worth taking new media.

I’m not saying they didn’t try, I’m saying it didn’t work – o.k., they didn’t try hard enough …

You can read the first part of the sage in this post. I won’t bore you with a recap – but it is kinda humorous if you haven’t checked it out yet.

In the midst of responding to this New Media opportunity, they forgot the customer service. That’s what I want to talk about here.

The Call

Last Tuesday (the 19th), the day after my posting, I was on a conference call with Carly and someone called “Michael.” The essence of the call was as follows:

They rebooked me on a USAirways Flight that didn’t have that awkward overnight, extra city, and time warp requirement thing.

But Paul, wasn’t that part of your issue? In fact, didn’t you say in your blog post?

After a long chunk of time on the phone I was rebooked with lousy seats on a US Airways Flight, (yes, the airline who charges you $2 for a soda and threw out the inflight entertainment machines because they weigh too much)

Yep.

Now, to be fair, Carly emailed me that I was on USAirways because (from her email)

You will still be traveling on the same carrier, US Airways (the carrier that you originally chose to book on Orbitz.com ),

Well, yes and no. As per the original booking, I was US Airways from Santa Barbara to Vegas because Santa Barbara is one of those hub towns. Once in Vegas, I was flying Delta – which is why I tweeted that whole (in response to the original “how can I help make this right?” tweet). For the record, the link is here.

@carlyatorbitz I’d like what I paid for – good seats on an airline I trust (and have miles with). Delta/United is fine. US Airways is not.

Strike 1.

But, the promise was, via email,

Please note: the following seat assignments for your flights are either aisle or window and are at the front of the plane.

Thank you Orbitz. Now, you just better follow through!

I may hate US Airways but at least I had good seats, right?

I mean, they gave me the specific seats I was sitting in, US Airways would honor those, right?

And I was leaving early the next morning and wanted to spend time with my kids, not in phone queue hell.

Side note, I also have a $100 credit with Orbitz with these fascinating rules for claiming the credit:

We’ve also noted a $100 Travel Voucher in your account. In order to redeem this you need to forward your next Orbitz Travel Document (itinerary) to customerrelations@orbitz.com and reference the $100 future travel voucher. Your account will then be credited.

Does that make sense to you?

The Trip There

Flight #1 was as promised.

Flight #2 was not the seat on the emailed itinerary (promised row 1). Tweeted Carly and she said she’d look into it. Never heard back.

Funny thing is, flight #1 was delayed in Santa Barbara so I got rebooked outta Phoenix. Orbitz did rebook me (don’t if this was auto or Carly) in a LOUSY seat (but again at least they rebooked me). After an hour wait in the customer service line at Phoenix, I got a decent seat.

So, for those of you keeping score – not the airline I asked for and only 50% of the seats promised. A promise of a “looking into it” with nothing.

So far, not good.

The Steak

Waiting for me at the hotel was a $150 gift card for a local steak house called the “Blue Ridge Grill.” Very nice and very classy of Orbitz to send the card – very nice and very classy steak house. Had dinner with a couple of good friends on Orbitz – served by a great waiter.

The Trip Back

O.k., at this point, it starts to get REALLY silly.

My email from Carly promising “seat assignments for your flights are either aisle or window and are at the front of the plane” said I would be seat “7a (Window). See below:

Seat 7a (Window)

Strike 2 – and a big one.

As you might have read in this Tweet,

And of course gal next to me is afraid of flying and drunk.

Can’t blame that one on Orbitz but it sure made it worse. So much for “either aisle or window and are at the front of the plane.”

One of the longest 4 hours and 5 minutes of my life. I could tell you stories …

And then of course, the Phoenix / Santa Barbara flight – again, “either aisle or window and are at the front of the plane.”

Was placed in seat 9c – as per the reservation.

Plane only had 9 rows.

And it was one of those commuter flights where the back row was seats all the way across.

Yes, the “either aisle or window and are at the front of the plane” seat was in fact a middle seat in the back of the plane.

Strike 3 – you’re out.

And no, my mileage numbers weren’t on the reservation despite what the email said. And no, didn’t have the wherewithall to look it up at the counter. I needed to get away before I did some “damage.”

Strike 4

——

I’ve had a few Tweets from Carly asking to connect. I’ve responded (I’m pretty sure) via Tweet and from responses I’m guessing she’s not getting them. I could have made a mistake in the midst of this so I will give her the benefit of the doubt.

I called the number on the email today and left a message giving her my cell tomorrow. I’ll be able to take it any time during business hours.

——

O.k., now that the rant is over, what can we learn from this?

Attempting customer service by Twitter (or any other social media element) is not enough. It’s a story of both new media AND CUSTOMER SERVICE – it has to be. My complaints weren’t really listened to, the full blog post wasn’t read for details, my requests weren’t met, no follow ups were made, nobody double checked the “fix.”

If you’re going to put this much time, effort, and money into this, it isn’t that hard to hit the mark. Having an employee monitoring Twitter to see what people are saying about your company is admirable – and very forward thinking. But, if you don’t empower them to respond accordingly, you’re not just wasting money – you’re doing damage to your company. You need to train in Customer Service 101 before you train in New Media 202.

Anytime multiple people are involved in fixing a customer complaint, someone needs to be assigned to check that the seat is actually as promised (or that the “fix” is actually “fixed.”). Why didn’t anyone check? Once I told Carly that flight #2 was off, why didn’t that set off something to get someone to check the rest?

Your customer base is empowered to tell the real stories now. This post will be on my blog forever. I’d love to add a “Updated” element at the top that makes this a happy ending but … I’m not quite sure how they can do this.

Throwing money (or a gift card) at a problem isn’t always the answer. As much as I enjoyed the steak (and I did), I would have enjoyed what I asked for even more.

——

My passion is the people and the business of new media (and podcasting). I’m dedicating my professional life right now to helping others not mess up the wonderful opportunity in front of them.

And it is a wonderful opportunity.

It has been “fun” to view this through the eyes of my professional life (and tell thousands the story) but until major companies have a handle on this, it is going to get ugly.

I was pleased to see the effort, but so disappointed to see the lack of follow through.

Side note: I’ve noticed Carly is already responding to other Orbitz complaints via Twitter in her account. The last free piece of consulting advice you’re getting from me is this:

Orbitz, you’re not doing enough. Fix this problem before it does you in.

And, finally, whereas this has been a piece about Orbitz … do you see your company making the same mistakes?

Orbitz (and Carly), ball is in your court …

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