June 08, 2006

Orbitz Just Lost a Customer

Last time I use Orbitz.

The other day I'd used the site to get a hotel in downtown SF. Put in my credit card info, got an email confirmation of the reservation, everything went fine. Also reserved a car at Budget at SJC.

Budget had my reservation and the car; all went fine.

While waiting for a Sand Hill Road meeting to begin yesterday, I called the hotel to confirm that THEY had the reservation. "Sorry, sir, we have no such reservation."

I read them the confirmation code. "Sorry, sir, our confirmation codes start with the number '3'." And, of course, the hotel person had no idea who or what Orbitz was. "You will have to call them, sir."

So I called them. They must use Tellme, which I loathe. Perky happy robot answers the phone, "speak or type your home phone number so that we may retrieve your records" the voice said. This was a business trip. I have no recollection providing my home phone number. I wonder who they sell it to. I typed in my office number.

The perky happy robot lady delightfully starts rattling off WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL about my itinerary. I don't care to hear it, particularly the part about how my rental car has AIR CONDITIONING and AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION. What I want to know is why they screwed up my hotel reservation. But they make me listen to this long description and then finally they provide a menu of options to change or cancel the reservations or talk to customer service. Of course, they don't give you a number to press for customer service, they make you say "customer service." I hate that.

I want to be able to call a company and have the system say, "If you hate robots, press 1. Otherwise, let me rattle on..." At least Southwest and American and other airlines that use Tellme allow you to interrupt the robot and say "Agent!" at which point they connect you to a human (who, unfortunately, is often dummer than the robot, but that's another story).

So now I am on hold for customer service. I wait a few minutes, after being warned every 30 seconds or so that "in an effort to provide superior customer service, this call may be monitored for quality or training purposes." Finally a customer service rep comes on the line. I provide all of my information. I tell the whole story. The rep says, "oh, this is a hotel issue. Let me connect you with a hotels person." Suddenly I'm on hold again.

Eight minutes later, and about 15 reminders that "in an effort to provide superior customer service, this call may be monitored for quality or training purposes," my meeting begins, and I have to hang up the phone.

After the meeting on the drive north to San Francisco, I call the hotel again to see if maybe the Orbitz reservation has gone through. "Sorry, sir."

I call Orbitz. I am now on Third Street, near the hotel in downtown SF. I can see the hotel building in the distance. After dealing with the perky happy robot again I get through to customer service. Strangely, he wants my home phone number. DAMN IT ALL TO HELL, what is with these companies that have their phonebots ask you up front for a piece of information "to retrieve your records," and then once you reach a human, they don't have the info you provided to the robot?

So I give the information to the human. I tell the whole story again. I provide the human with the Orbitz reservation number. I tell the human, "By the way, I am literally pulling into the hotel's entrance as I speak."

The human asks me to hold. I'm now listening to beautiful music and being reminded again that "in an effort to provide superior customer service, this call may be monitored for quality or training purposes."

I think I've finally figured it out. It's ME they're trying to train...

The valet is taking the car. The human comes back on the phone.

"I am walking into the lobby of the hotel," I tell him.

"We sent the email to the hotel. I have the record right here that the email of your order went to the hotel. Let me call the hotel directly. Please hold."

I am now standing in line at the registration counter. On hold, while Orbitz is calling the same registration counter that I am standing at.

Once again, I'm told "in an effort to provide superior customer service, this call may be monitored for quality or training purposes."

Well guess what, Orbitz, in an effort to provide superior customer service this call was BLOGGED so more people would know what an ordeal it is to use Orbitz.

I start thinking about what the Orbitz rep just said. "We sent the email to the hotel." So Orbitz sends emails to hotels when customers use Orbitz to make reservations? How secure are these emails? What details are in them? Is credit card information included? Name, phone, address, and other personally identifiable information? Do they use SSL connections? It sounds very un-secure to me.

I am now the next person in line. I'm standing there, listening to hold music. The people in front are done and walk away. I go to the counter and explain to Lisa Vaenuku (or so her name tag declared) that the reservation was made with Orbitz -- a company she has never heard of, of course.

The registration desk phone rings. Lisa picks it up. The lobby is very noisy, and I can't hear what she's saying exactly. But then she asks, "Reservation for Brian Dear?" It's Orbitz. I'm on hold with the customer service rep from Orbitz while standing in front of the registration desk lady, who's actually now talking to the same customer service rep from Orbitz. She says he's going to fax her proof of the registration. She disappears behind a door to retrieve the fax.

The customer service rep comes on the line, all triumphant, saying, "I just spoke to the hotel and---"

"I know you did. I was standing in front of the lady you just spoke to."

The Orbitz rep is not amused.

"The fax is going through now. I will let you know when transmission is completed."

A moment passes.

"The fax has gone through."

I end the call with Orbitz.

The hotel lady comes out. With a fax. I try to read it upside down. I notice the dollar amounts are MUCH LOWER than what Orbitz charged me.

The lady finishes the registration. I'm in.

As for Orbitz, I'm out.

Posted by brian at June 8, 2006 09:15 AM


That is a fine, fine rant. You should send it to Consumerist! http://consumerist.com

Posted by: Laura at June 8, 2006 08:12 PM

Oy Gevalt. I've also noticed the whole punching in my numbers and then once I get to the human I have to re-give all my information. Bastards!!

You can also try www.yelp.com I LOVE that site!

Posted by: Maulleigh at June 11, 2006 07:04 AM

Yep, we have to do that when we call through for manual auths on debit card transactions. Hella fun typing it in and then repeating it. But then they've been doing system upgrades. For the best part of 2 months.

Posted by: Benj at June 12, 2006 07:56 AM


Posted by: ar at June 12, 2006 03:27 PM

Fine rant? whatever. You shouldn't til just before your meeting to confirm your reservation. The CSR probably gave you a discount for effing up your reservation, but this happens all the time. I hope you feel better ranting about this on your blog. I sure do feel better calling out idiots for being dumber than a company that occasionaly messes things up. "Everyone has two cents, but it's only worth taking from very few people. Most people just drank a couple pennies and expect you not to mind when they come out covered in manure. "

Posted by: art at June 12, 2006 03:30 PM

Here's a good tip - use Orbitz to get the hotel info and prices, but don't bother to book through them - just call the hotel. Quote them the Orbitz price if it's lower and they will often match it.

And sadly the reason you have to deal with call robots is because companies pay very little to hire enough intelligent people actually take the calls. From one who used to take such calls and is now happily in another line of work!

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