E-Commerce Gone Bad: How Orbitz Lost My Business
“There are always consequences to our mistakes,” No this is not a saying from a fortune cookie. It is, in fact, the answer that a member of our team received when trying to correct a mistake made in a hotel reservation made through Orbitz, the online travel service. She had made a hotel reservation and decided that another hotel might be more convenient so she went online to cancel. After doing the cancellation she discovered that there would be no refund allowed. She immediately got back on the site and tried to reinstate the hotel reservation that had been paid for. I don’t have to tell you what happened – she was told, sorry, you are out of luck by the very sweet supervisor who imparted the words of wisdom about consequences and mistakes.
Now let me say that I have been using a variety of ecommerce services for many years with a great deal of success. What a pleasure to be able to log onto Amazon.com and have a book show up in three days – even one that has been out of print for years. But I would put travel sites into a whole different category.
This was not the first experience I have had with Orbitz. Before I tell you my additional sad tale, I would like to put this in perspective. I think a lot of us assume that it makes sense to do business with the big commerce site. After all, there have brand and name recognition which makes them seem like a sure thing. I remember in the early days of on line travel sites that there were organizations that would sell you a ticket and forget to send it. When you tried to track them down, their phone would be disconnected. Big sites like Orbitz, Expedia, Hotwire, and Travelocity spend a tremendous amount on advertising and marketing to create the persona of a large respectable entity – and some of them are indeed everything they say they are. However, there is a dark side to ecommerce that will have to be solved or the whole industry will suffer.
While I am not traditionally a complainer, I will be one today and tell you my story and how customer service responded.
I had a trip planned that I needed to change to the following week. I had planned the trip at least a month in advance and had gotten a pretty good price for a package of hotel and airfare from Orbitz. When my trip had to be changed, I tried to change it online but was unable to do so, so I called. (Have you ever tried to call an online site – is that an oxymoron??) Without causing you to relive my pain let me just say that after at least two hours on the phone with a variety of agents and their supervisors I lost my hotel reservation all together and had to pay a hefty fee to change my flight. I was told that the policies were clearly listed on the website.
Right…well maybe. In fact, if you look at Orbitz’s website under “canceling or changing reservation” you are told to follow a process. You are not told, “give up, all is lost”. Some sites, do in fact tell you right up front that if there are no changes allowed. Not so at Orbitz…
I think the problem is that these commerce sites make money by automating as much of their customer service as possible and adhering to very strict policies. I think these companies have a long way to go before the level of on line customer service is up to what many of us expect from a company we pay a lot of money to. I for one will think twice before I order a hotel or plane ticket from one of these guys – at least until they learn to improve the customer experience.