Advocate To Enemy: ‘I know what you did this summer’

The way a brand communicates to their customers can really make or break them.

You’d think that brands, in particular those in the tourism sector, would be doing everything in their power to strengthen relationships with their customers, knowing that to survive they need their custom and to win their trust.

My experience this summer contradicts this theory and, within days, I went from being an advocate of a particular holiday provider to an enemy.

You need customers for your business to survive

Every business has a brand, a personality, and values. And it’s these that attract customers in the first place, keeps them, and encourages them to tell others about you.

I’m a business owner and I value every single one of my clients. I do everything I can to please them. Sure, difficulties arise, but there is always a way around things to make sure the best possible outcome happens.

It’s widely understood that when you receive great customer service you’re likely to tell your nearest and dearest about it, but when you’re on the receiving end of appalling customer service, you’ll tell three times as many people. I’ve exceeded that statistic.

I won’t leave you hanging any longer – here’s what happened this summer.

The first problem: It was down to me, the customer, to make a simple adjustment.

This June, I wanted to make an amendment to a holiday booking I’d made in January. Three and a half weeks before we were due to fly to Ibiza, I asked if I could add my eldest daughter – the original booking was for myself and her younger sister.

I was now prepared to pay for three people. Surely, they’ll be OK with this given that the number of travellers has substantially decreased this summer and will help me to make the change?

No, I was told that I would have to completely cancel the original booking, start again, and purchase a separate insurance policy.

I took time out to do this, rebooked everything and paid them almost £3000.

The second problem: The communications – too little, too late.

With less than a day to go, the company contacted me to say that our hotel was no longer available and that we had been moved to another hotel. To say that the late appearance of this panic-inducing news set my heart racing is an understatement.

It turned out that this hotel was on the other side of the island. I chose my original hotel because we were meeting up with family – it was kind of a deal breaker that we were close to them.

Now, if this was me, and I was no longer able to meet a client’s requirement which I’d promised to deliver, I’d check the brief and do everything possible to get close to it, or I’d use my initiative and come up with something even better as way of an apology.

With just 12 hours to go, I spent three hours trying to get in touch with the holiday company to tell them that the hotel wouldn’t do. Three sodding hours!

I managed to get through, but the call got cut off.

The third problem: Not being given a choice – it’s their way or no way.

Eventually someone did call back to ask if I was happy with the alternative hotel. And, if I was happy that I’d now have to share a room with my two daughters. The original booking was for two rooms.

If you’re a single dad reading this, would you be happy sharing with your pre-teen daughters? Or more, to the point, do you think your daughters would be happy sharing with you? No, I thought not.

I was told there were no other options.

The fourth problem: They lied to me, the customer.

I contacted the first hotel myself, you know, just to see if they could help.

They told me that they weren’t open and didn’t plan to be for a while. They also told me that the holiday provider had been aware of this for some time. They bloody well knew, but instead of being transparent, they blatantly lied to me, fobbed me off with a crap alternative, took all my money AND left it until a few hours before departure to let me know. What happened to honesty is the best policy?

This hurt the most. I had put my faith in this operator to give me something I wanted – quality time with my family. The trust had gone.

The fifth problem: They provided a ‘lazy’ solution.

With hours to go, I found a hotel which would be OK – not the same star rating, but it was in the right location and there was availability. I found this alternative on … get this … their website.

The cost of the hotel I FOUND was £550 cheaper. And yes, I did ask for a refund, maybe some kind of compensation for the debacle, but nothing was forthcoming.

The sixth problem: They put their bottom line before the customer.

The panic-inducing communication strategy reared its head once again; I received a text a few days into the holiday.

“Your return flight had been changed”.

To two days before we planned to return.

They blamed the change in flight due to the pandemic, when in reality the reason was purely a commercial one. It all boiled down to their financial greed; they clearly put profit before their customers.

Frankly, I’d be embarrassed if this was my company.

I get it, things do go wrong, that’s life. I understand that the pandemic is a massive challenge, but I also understand that when you treat customers poorly you lose them for good, you risk brand damage and potentially be on the receiving end of some negative press coverage.

In all the customer touch-points during 2020 the holiday provider was incredibly unhelpful. This is what should have happened:

They should have done the leg work when asked for an amendment (which was in their favour).

  • They should have told me about the changes as soon as they were aware of them.

  • They should have been available to speak to.

  • They should not have taken my money unless they were sure they could fulfil their promise to me.

  • They should have offered a partial refund or compensation when I found a cheaper and more suitable alternative.

  • They should have been honest.

  • They should have treated me with empathy.

  • They should have shown a human side.

  • They should have provided a suitable solution.

  • They should have put their customers before profit.

  • They should have apologised.

Have you had any nightmare communication experiences this year? Or, have you experienced some great communications which have strengthened your love for a brand?


BTW: This was before the Spanish Islands were on the quarantine list.

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