Monday, 31 July 2017

Bad business

THIS was originally posted in 2013, but it remains my consistent experience of trying to book hotels and venues:

I think I know why there is a recession on.  There's only one reason - people are completely crap when it comes to business.

Or maybe it is just me and I'm having one of those weeks.

A company I employ to handle my credit card processing sent me a snotty letter. "Your direct debit has failed and you owe us £23.40p."  But there is no reference as to why I owe them this money, or an invoice number or anything at all in fact.  But the letter continues, "Failure to pay within 7 days of this letter will incur a £30 penalty as outlined in our terms and conditions."  

Well, that's just charming.  So I check with the bank - all direct debits are working just fine.  
So I call the company's billing department.  Apparently my call is important to them, but no one answers.  I try umpteen times over several days.  Still no luck.

So I email them.  No reply.  This all began back in December.  On the 20th, to be precise. I email them repeatedly.

Still no one answers the phone, and no one has replied to my numerous emails.

Then customers started to complain to me that they couldn't make payments online.  I contact the company support desk.  Eventually I get a reply.  Apparently there is nothing wrong with the credit card processing, my customers simply aren't using it correctly.

But still those pesky customers keep complaining that they can't pay me money.

Several arguments later with the technical support monkeys and I cancel their service.  Still no word on that issue of the £23.40 pence though.

I'll wait for the legal letter, maybe their legal department will be more helpful.

Then on Monday a venue that I had booked for an event this year emailed me.  Sorry they said, but due to a computer glitch, they need to change my booking.  What this translates to is that someone there has double booked the venue and as the smaller player, I get dumped.

Now the thing is the room I booked was a very specific room. The requirements for the venue ware exact and this booking fulfilled those requirements. I'm offered an alternative room "at no extra charge" but this alternative doesn't fulfil the requirements.  It's a bit like paying for an iPad only to be told, "Sorry, we have had to cancel your iPad, but here's a mouldy banana and a free cup of tea instead at no extra charge."

So, I start shopping around for alternative venues.  I think I find one and i send off an email to the conference booking manager.  Yes, we have a room that is perfect for you," she tells me.  

"Can you send me a picture?" I ask

"No." she tells me.

What?

Wait. So, let me just check.  I'm wanting to book a large training room for the better part of a week (about £3000-£4000) plus refreshments (probably about £150 a day) including hotel accommodation for about 35 people for either 3 or 4 nights at £147 per night. People who will also inevitably buy breakfast and an evening meal as well drinks at the bar.  And this person can't be bothered send me a photo.

"Perhaps you could use a camera phone and send it over to me?" I try suggesting.

"Sorry, we don't do that, but please don't hesitate to let me know if there is anything further I can do for you!" she says cheerfully ending the converstion.

And right there, right then in a little *poof!!* noise and a painful lack of initiative, £20,000 of guaranteed business for that hotel vanished in a little puff of smoke.

So, I move on.  I find a well known hotel chain with a good reputation.  I've stayed in some of their hotels before and always found them to be very good.  So, I go to their website to find the phone number of the exact hotel I require.

But there is no phone number for the hotel. 

I can only find a generic central phone number. The website suggests that I enter a web-enquiry and a customer service agent will call me back.

Now, remember, my requirements are very specific. A customer service agent in Calcutta is unlikely to be able to answer any of my questions.  "Fuck it," I think, "nothing to lose", so I click the link.

Except it doesn't take me to a phone number or a place where I leave my phone number.  No, what it does is it takes me to an account creation page and only when i have created a business account can I "submit my enquiry."  Fuckwits.

And right there, right then in one swift click, £20,000 of business just vanished for that hotel chain.

I call the next hotel.  The phone rings out in the conference booking department.  I wait half an hour and call again.  It rings solidly and rings out.  No answer phone to leave a message.  So I look at their website, there is a "submit enquiry" form. 

I fill it in.

I click send.

And I get a screen load of error messages.  Stack overflow runtime error 6000, or something (I don't care. Nerds, please don't bother trying to correct me or explain it to me, I'll probably just be rude to you).

And right there, right then, another hotel loses £20,000 of guaranteed business.

And then something magical happens.

Calming me from my mounting fury, I find something really special.  I mean, really, really special.  I can't tell you what it is, because it would reveal where it is, but trust me, it is the Piece de Resistance of training venues.  I know it will be expensive, but I think it is worth a punt.  I send off a speculative email enquiry outlining my exact requirements.

A reply comes really back quite quickly.  But there is something a bit strange about the reply. 
It has a bunch of attachments that are actually booking forms and confidential data that has been sent over to them by another potential customer.  

God only knows how they got attached to the reply email. Then there is the thing about the price. It seems far too cheap for what they are offering.  But, the email says, in bold red letters beneath the venue details, that this is the correct price and for this specific venue.

I go bounding into the other room where my wife is working.  I think she is pleased that I've finally stopped ranting.  I tell her the good news.  The dog wags his little tail, he too is happy.  But the look on my wife's face tells me what the voice in the back of my head is also telling me.

I send an email back querying that they have sent me the correct details.

"Oh no," they tell me, in complete contradiction to the big red letters in their earlier email, "The price we have quoted you is for the other main training room, not [the really special place]"

The main training room seats 20. It's another mouldy banana.

But did they think, "Oh, maybe we should give him the prices for the other rooms?"  

No they didn't. That would require some kind of initiative, so I have to send another email back to them to ask this.

And guess what.  No reply.

I'll watch the news later.  It will continue to tell me that we are in recession.
And I will smile a little knowing smile of exactly why this is.

Do please share your stories in the comments section below.

1 comment:

  1. I recall an interview with erstwhile philosopher Ozzy Osbourne, who rapidly moved to the USA once Sabbath started to become popular and the cheques (these are basically paper versions of Paypal - Papy-r-us if you will) started rolling in. He said he was often asked by American journalists: "So Ozzy why did you move from Birming-ham?" and he said that his beloved pet parakeet passed away and he took it back to the pet store in said Birmingham, where the disgruntled - and yet somehow simultaneously apathetic - shopkeeper effectively, unironically and unwittingly re-enacted the dead parrot sketch. "He didn't give two shits and in that moment I thought "Fuck this, I'm off." "

    Having left the UK over a decade ago, in what some might call a clairvoyant reverse Brexit of sorts, hearing stories like yours makes me a tad queasy, because I lived it for the best part of twenty years and I thought there was something wrong with it back then. That goddamn country needs to sort itself out! I am staggeringly grateful when I encounter wonderful customer service and companies that maintain relationship and will evangelise about them enthusiastically. How is this too complex to understand? A distinct lack of systemic thinking, and entrenched, naive short termism. I wonder what it will take for the UK to undertake a fundamental cultural shift towards the e.g. Singaporean model?

    So this wasn't a story about me, but young Ozzy Osbourne. Forgive me Andrew.

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