The subject for this post is pretty much the opposite of what I generally like to put here. It's a rant about a company's customer service. But this is the most readily accessible soapbox at my disposal and the only mechanism I know that will offer some small measure of retribution (thanks to Google) while still offering the possibility to entertain. So I'm going anyway. But I swear the technical content will blossom in the coming weeks.

I'm not an easily angered hillbilly (or Appalachian American, as we prefer to be called). I can withstand a certain level of incompetence in my dealings with service-oriented industries. I do, after all, live in the Bahamas. And have spent the last month in labour-challenged Calgary. But my recent dealings with Expedia have come to a head, the likes of which can only be solved by making it as public as possible in the hopes it gets Slashdotted to the point where I can't be ignored anymore.

The original saga starts here during a now-not-so-recent trip to Miami. To sum up, my paper tickets didn't arrive in time, I had to purchase new ones, Expedia said I'd get a refund, I went about my business.

It is now four months later and my goal has shifted from "get my money back" to "get someone at Expedia to acknowledge me". The last communication they have actively made to me was April 17 in an e-mail claiming the fax I sent to them was unclear. Subsequent faxes and e-mails (including scanned versions of the tickets) by me have gone unanswered.

All of my normal tactics have failed me. I tried being nice to the customer service agents to the point where I am now godfather to two of their children. When that started failing, I tried Justice's variation on the theme and greeted the next CSR with a seductive "what are you wearing?". The agent didn't respond well to that or the ensuing promises of debauchery which was just as well because he couldn't help me either.

Following that was a carefully worded e-mail to them outlining the situation, where they failed, and what I'd like to happen (i.e. "will you please just call me?"). That ruse in itself is fairly useless but I cc'd, which historically, has given me good results, regardless of whether that e-mail address actually exists something I still haven't actually determined.

My current tactic is one I hadn't used in a while. I'm now stalking Expedia. I fax them copies of my tickets daily. I e-mail them just to tell them what I did that day. Y'know, the usual: I had Bran Flakes for breakfast, then I rode the bus to work, then I walked to the building where I work, then I took the elevator, give me my money or I'll find your building and lob Travelocity gnomes through the windows, then I went to my office...

I call them at all hours. Sometimes I go through the whole spiel with them and other times, I just breathe heavy when I get someone on the line. In the latter case, it's best to do it when you're talking to an agent but there's still some degree of satisfaction when the computer voice says, "I'm sorry. I didn't quite get that" while you're hyperventilating.

Alas, my most recent phone calls to them have broken my resolve and I have had to *shudder* raise my voice to the CSR at the other end, especially when he or she recites from the CSR manual verbatim: Your case has been escalated to the next level and someone from that department will be contacting you shortly.

It's an interesting progression from that point. I try explaining, fairly rationally at first, that my sole goal is for someone at Expedia to call me. At one point, I even asked the CSR to call me right back herself just to say hello so I could verify that someone at Expedia was capable of dialling a phone. The agent then assures me that someone will and I tell them that every assurance Expedia has made to me to date has been false, including the one where the tickets would be delivered on time in the first place (despite my protests that they wouldn't).

It is at this point that I have started to wander into tirade-territory which is generally a foreign world to me. And after doing it a couple of times, I wonder why people bother. Because there is a distinct shift in the agent's MO once you start. It's like they shut down completely and their vocabulary consists solely of "I understand, sir" until you are finished. You can almost hear the click when they switch into this mode. And when you're finished, not only can they still not help you, but they're also adding comments to your file like "Customer blew up like Michael Richards at a NAACP meeting. With absolutely no provocation."

Like I said, I can put up with a lot but my patience wears when an organization is showing not only a colossal level of incompetence, but an intense indifference to actually solving what is a fairly simple issue, especially over such a long period of time. I'm an easy guy to satisfy. All I really need is to know that you're taking my problem seriously. Even if it doesn't get resolved they way I want, if the person shows that they did their due diligence and their conclusion follows some logic, I have no qualms going back to them the next time.

Like most service indsutries, online travel companies are differentiated not so much by the service they offer, which is interchangeable, but by how they react when something goes wrong. And even in the case where that experience sucks, I'd like to think I'm objective enough to give it another try when I recognize that the issue could have been the fault of one particular individual.

But with Expedia, the problem appears to be ingrained into their process. Where my issue currently sits, I have no way of contacting the people who can help me. The front-line CSR's can't solve my problem nor can they put me in contact with the people who can.

What's worse, they continue to tell me things are going to happen that they can't personally verify. It started right after I made the reservation when I called them to express my...ummm...reservations that the tickets would arrive on time. I was assured they would. I called back two days before the trip and they again assured me the tickets would arrive the next day by mail, even though the next day was a national holiday in both the US and the Bahamas. Since then, they have all assured me someone would call back with an update.

The whole thing reeks of an inherent culture problem rather than one bad seed. Which isn't a good place to be, especially when air travel in particular is already so stressful. So I suppose Expedia will go on the very short list of companies I won't use, at least until I get some evidence to the contrary. And at this point, it will take more than a cheque for the tickets I had to re-purchase.

Kyle the Betrodden