In this post I’m not going to talk about Russia and will share my unfortunate experience of dealing with the UK online travel agency and e-tailor Lastminute.com. Firstly, I’d like to clarify that I’m not the type of customer, who enjoys writing long furious letters to customer service departments, expecting long apologies and £10 vouchers from the companies which let them down. I value my time and try to avoid at any cost opportunities of building relationships with overseas customer service representatives. My view is that they are mainly trained to be polite and not helpful. On the other hand, I’m not a credulous person and won’t wait patiently for a response from another brand, spending much more money on marketing activities, rather than genuinely supporting their clients. Unfortunately, sometimes I fight with huge brands for my basic right to get what I have paid for.
The situation is trivial but the hectic nature of the festive season turned it into a quite dramatic occasion. This week I decided to spend New Year’s eve abroad and started planning my journey. After a good few hours of surfing online I found an attractive offer from Lastminute.com. My friend with who I travel used her debit card to make the payment. The money seemed to leave her account immediately but the next day she received an Order Declined email. For some reason the card didn’t pass Lastminute’s security check. At this point I became nervous, because exactly the same thing had happened to me a couple of months ago when I booked a hotel via Lastminute.com. The card I mainly use for online payments didn’t pass a mysterious security check. The money left my account on the 27 Sep 2010 and was refunded on the 8 Nov 2010. It was not easy to get my money back and I had to spend a several hours on hold both with Lastminute’s customer service team and my bank. Eventually, I had to fill out the form provided by my bank, post it back and only then was the money returned.I didn’t find out what was wrong with my card and received no reply to my email sent to email@example.com.
Obviously, this time I couldn’t bear the thought of using any of my cards on this website and we didn’t have much time to wait for Lastminute’s response as hotels sell out much faster during the holiday season. Basically, if we wanted to make the same booking again we would have to pay the same amount , without any guarantees that we wouldn’t receive another Order Declined email the next day. I called a customer service number available on the website. Someone gave me vague explanations of what had happened and promised that the money would be refunded within 10 days. As a victim of their Ten-Days = Two-Months Rule I decided to find a shortcut to the core of the sales department and find a solution asap. This is how Social Media made me a VIP customer in 2 hours.
I went to the Lastminute Facebook page and spoiled their festive mood with my grumpy comment about the misfortune I had suffer.
To increase the volume of my voice in cyberspace, I tweeted about the incident and left a comment on their blog, which was never published. Probably, social media people decided that the fuss I had created on Facebook was enough. That was fine with me, as my aim was to be heard and it worked. After 45 minutes I received a response on the wall. They were experienced enough not to start bickering about it and just gave me an email address to send a complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org. I composed an emotional email called Complaint – Please Act Immediately and sent it to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org at 14.11 pm. In the email I mentioned that I work in social media and will go the extra mile to make my story noticed by as many people as possible. I received a phone call from a VIP Sales and Loyalty Executive at 15.41 along with responses to my email from both addresses. The lady said:”Your card was just pre authed , which means that the payment had only been held and this payment has now been reversed back to your account. To enable us to speed up the refund process please can you provide us with the fax number of your bank”.
I tried to take full advantage of my 15 minutes of fame and asked the lady if she could guarantee that the room could be held for us until we resolved this issue. Her answer was courteous, but not helpful and our booking was cancelled. As you can imagine this solution meant that we had to pay the same amount again by the same card, as Lastminute finally authorised it. This was a very customer unfriendly way of resolving the issue. At this point I lost faith in Lastminute’s ability to handle the booking and contacted the hotel directly.
Moral of the story, social media is an amazing channel of communication which helps individuals to be heard by hardly reachable corporations. I highly recommend people to use any available online platforms to express their concerns and bad customer experiences. Nevertheless, I was left dissatisfied by Lastminute’s custome service but at least they responded quickly enough.
In the meantime, I’ve been speculating about what I could possibly have done if Lastminute didn’t have a presence on Facebook. For instance, with the help of a great tool Social Radar I could identify the most influential websites and blogs where Lastminute has been mentioned recently.
This interactive visual mapping tool retrieves data about requested feeds ( Lastminute.com in this case) as well as the links between these sites which were created within the last 60 days. Nodes highlighted in blue are the sites which have directly linked to Lastminute. It seems that in this case it wouldn’t help me much, as the Thalasso Biarritz blog is in French, scored 1 influence and they have mentioned Lastminute in their post once in the last 60 days.
I can play around with Social Radar functions and make a request for a data to be presented as a list. This time I’ve chosen to sort out the findings of my search by Relevant Posts, which means the number of posts this source made which matched my Lastminute.com query in the last 90 days. This way I can identify where this brand has been mentioned the most in up to 2 years.
A few clicks brought me to this post where the author shares his unpleasant experience with Lastminute. I’m sure if I dug deeper I would have found similar posts.
Also it’s quite easy to find out who handles communications for a particular brand. As you can imagine PR people are much more sensitive to the negative publicity for the company they represent than an overseas customer service team. This should be a good shortcut to the core of the company.
I don’t want to go crazy and spend the rest of the day fantasising about how ro approach the unfortunate brand. The lesson I’ve learnt this time is that a furious customer who’s at ease with digital communications has ample opportunity to damage the reputation of any brand with a strong presence online. In particular, this is relevant to an e-commerce sector where the majority of transactions occur online. Also it’s always better to target social media and PR people in the organization as they should appreciate the danger of the bad publicity.