Online travel agents: “Computer says no”

Essential eCommerce’s Caroline Baldwin says blaming systems for poor customer service is just not good enough. 

The internet has revolutionised the way we book our travel arrangements. From Airbnb to Skyscanner and the Expedias and Booking.coms in between. Their technology is quick, efficient and often the most cost effective way to travel.

They skim through hundreds of flights and scour thousands of hotels based on a raft of filters: “I want to pay no more than £150 per night, it must be within five minutes of the station, with an on-site gym, free Wi-Fi, waffles for breakfast. Oh, and it must be able to accommodate my darling dachshund, Darcy.”

Best of all you can book within minutes. After choosing a flight to Paris using EasyJet’s app the other month, I was booked and reading the confirmation email before you could say “Viva La France”.

But in my experience, these websites fall flat on their faces as soon as a problem arises.

I booked a three night stay at a New York hotel via Expedia over the weekend, taking advantage of its free cancellation policy. I later changed my mind, deciding I instead wanted to stay only two nights, but Expedia prevents you from amending online bookings – you’re only option is to cancel and rebook.

But the hotel was now fully booked. I called up Expedia, hoping it could amend the reservation over the phone*, but I was told the systems just aren’t set up to amend bookings and I should try and call the hotel, which of course couldn’t help either.

Thirty frustrating minutes and one expensive phone call to the States later, I was left a thoroughly disappointed customer at a dead end.

Ten minutes later again, I had researched on – which had two nights available at the same hotel for the same dates – booked the reservation and cancelled my booking with Expedia. My problem was solved, but Expedia lost me as a customer to its competitor in the same amount of time it takes to make a cup of tea.

I’m not saying had I booked with first of all and had the same problem, Expedia wouldn’t have been able to accommodate and steal my custom away. But in that moment – and an online moment is so fleeting – I was a missed opportunity, just because the computer said “no”.

*Not to be completely negative about my Expedia experience – surprisingly, the eCommerce site did a good job of connecting its online and offline channels. When I rang up using the mobile number I had booked the reservation with, I was directed to a customer service person who instantly knew my entire itinerary. Very clever use of omnichannel.  

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