When online reservation, online shopping, and anything online started to get popular, I was one of the first people to get excited about it. I love online shopping, especially planning my travels and booking hotel rooms online. It feels great when I can compare different rates of different hotels and airlines online, in my own time, without being reliant upon the travel agent’s office hour or the advice of an officer that probably has never been to any of the places he/she mentions.
However, in recent years I have come to a realization that all this fancy online system is not without flaw. How many times have we sent an e-mail inquiry to a hotel / online travel agent / airline that never got responded to? How many times do we read “LOWEST ONLINE PRICE GUARANTEED!” claims only to find out two minutes after we book that their lowest price has not included taxes and surcharge … and we end up paying more than what we thought we would?
How many times have we booked something online and waited for eternity for the confirmation screen to show up, only to be left with a blank page? And then we book again, thinking that the booking is not through until we get a confirmation page, only to find out later in our credit card statement that we have double booked?
Recently I encountered an online reservation issue, this time with the Holiday Inn website. I made a booking and in their “special comments” column I asked a question, “We will arrive at 10am, so could you please let us know ASAP if we can check in early that day?”
Three weeks after I sent that question, nobody got back to me. By then I was only 48 hours away from checking in to their hotel, so I started panicking and tried to find their phone number so I could get their answer. Their own website only had the toll-free number for US residents, and everyone else should send an inquiry through e-mail. That’s very helpful, considering that I’ve received no response from the e-mail inquiry facility
So I clicked at least 10 different websites that I found on Google under the keyword search “phone number Holiday Inn Surfers Paradise”, each one of them only stated the address and US toll-free number. Unbelievable! I can’t imagine why a company seemingly want to “stay away” from customer inquiries by hiding their office phone number!
Anyhow, after I looked down the list of my Google search result, one link … way down the list, actually got the local phone number of this hotel. So I rang, only to find out that their online reservation system has put my booking under the wrong dates (they put the dates as 3 to 6), while the e-mail confirmation that I received correctly put the dates as 4 to 7. So much for thinking that an IT system will eliminate human error in data input …
Another recent case. I became a member of Holiday Inn’s “Priority Club”, which gives me points for every night I stay at their hotel. Being a member of so many different online groups and privilege clubs, eventually I forgot my customer ID number (they call this pin number) and the password to this club. So I go online, clicking “FORGET PASSWORD? Click here”.
After that I was asked to type in my Pin Number to be able to get my password again. And I was like, “D’oh!!! How stupid can the system developer be??? If I forget my password, what are the chance that I remember a pin number that I did not create myself (they assign me a pin number .. so the numbers don’t mean anything to me…). The only other way for me to get my password again is to call Hong Kong!!!! D’oh!!
So … what am I trying to say here? I just would like to get a few pointers across to corporations, especially travel industry players:
1. Don’t get overly reliant on an IT system or online FAQ. They cannot solve problems beyond the ordinary, and is not 100% bug free…. and there is a chance that no human would ever found out about these errors until the problem gets big (aka. the customer writes some mean complaint letter or publish something in the letter-to-the-editor section of a major newspaper). After all, the hospitality industry should be … well, HOSPITABLE! And there are no hospitable values whatsoever in a computer screen that does nothing to you but ask you to fill out forms in an emotionless, robotic, way.
2. Many customers are not internet savvy. Put down your phone and fax numbers!!! Imagine the number of customer questions that are left unanswered simply because you tell them to go to http://www.abcde.com to find an answer, when they may not be able to navigate themselves through the usually non user-friendly websites. This issue could simply be resolved by putting a phone number in your “contact us” page
3. If you do intend to encourage your customers to go through the website for most answers, firstly GET THE TOP EXECUTIVES AND THEIR MOMS to go to that website to try find answers there by themselves. Many top executives are not internet savvy (how many people here have a boss who make their secretary check their blackberry and e-mail? Or have never bought anything online? 🙂 ), let alone their mothers. Companies who wish to get their customers to do online information search, booking and troubleshooting need to make sure that their websites are user-friendly, easy to navigate, quick to download, and is something that won’t stress people out. My parents, by their peer’s standard, is internet savvy. But still they choose not to make any bookings or purchase online because they just can’t figure out how to navigate themselves through various websites, having to put in various login names and passwords, etc.
Although I have my doubts that top executives of travel industry players would be reading this and do something about it (after all, I don’t expect those top executives to know how to blog or do a keyword search …), I do hope that some of their younger, internet savvier staff members who really care about their customers, take notice.