Thursday, September 29, 2005

everyone is incompetent!

Okay, probably not. But, I've recently encountered several cases of bad customer service that give me reason to believe that the incompetent comprise the vast majority of humankind.

Case 1: Hertz and Auto Europe

Before I left for Europe, I booked car rental through Auto Europe, a travel agency. They booked me a rental with Hertz, charged me in full ($815 USD), and assured me there would be no additional payments necessary.

When I picked up the car in Paris, Hertz calculated my rate at 1100+ EUR (~$1392 USD). I objected, produced supporting documentation, and got the service rep to admit her error. It only took 40 additional minutes for her to wrestle the computer system into submission.

Then, when I dropped off the car in Madrid, the Hertz office there told me that Paris was going to charge me 316 EUR ($400 USD) as a drop fee, even though I had already paid the drop fee to Auto Europe, and in fact I had a printed receipt confirming that the drop fee had already been paid.

I called Auto Europe when I got back, and they agreed to reiumburse me the money, but said it might take a couple of weeks for the credit to appear on my credit card statement. It's only been a week and a half, so I guess I can't complain yet.

Case 2: British Airways

The first time we went to Europe, we flew British Airways, and I had a great experience. So, when I was booking our flights this time around, and I saw a cheap BA flight, I jumped on it.

Unfortunately, things did not go as smoothly this time around. Our return flight arrived on a Tuesday afternoon. At the baggage claim, we recovered one of our bags, but couldn't find the other. After about 30 minutes, we filed a lost baggage report, and went home. The agent reassured us that most luggage was returned within 36 hours, and we had no reason to believe otherwise; when Scandinavain Airlines had lost our luggage last year, it was delivered in 12 hours flat. She also gave us a reference number which could be used to check baggage status online.

Wednesday morning, I checked the website, which reported our bag as "located". I figured it would get delivered within a day.

By Thursday morning, I hadn't heard anything from either BA or SFO, so I called the BA luggage department. She said that the bag had been located. I pointed out that the bag had been "located" 24 hours ago. She agreed that was strange and put a request for the airport to call me, in our file.

By Friday morning, I still hadn't heard anything. The website still insisted the bag had been located. Friday afternoon, the airport called and said the courier would deliver the bag between 7pm and 11pm. 11pm came and went, no bag, no call.

Just after 7am on Saturday morning, the courier service called, saying they would be delivering the bag in ten minutes. Total elapsed time: 87 hours.

Case 3: Palo Alto Superior Court, Traffic Division

On June 23rd, I was cited for speeding. The officer wrote out the ticket, and told me that I would be sent a courtesy notice by mail, that would tell me how to deal with the citation. He wrote down August 16th as the date by which I would receive the courtesy notice.

By August 10th, I was getting worried, since I was leaving the country at the end of the month, and I wanted everything squared away before I left. I called the court, spent 20+ minutes on hold, and finally talked to a woman who told me that my ticket was not yet in the computer system, and I couldn't pay the fine or request traffic school until it was. She also said that I would have two months from the time that the courtesy notice was issued, to pay the fine.

On August 31th, I called again, because I was leaving at the end of the week, and I still hadn't received a courtesy notice. I spent over 30 minutes on hold before giving up and going to work.

I checked my mail again on September 22nd, after my vacation, and still hadn't received a courtesy notice. I called the court again, spent 30+ minutes on hold (I'd learned my lesson and spent most of that time folding laundry) and finally got someone on the line. She initially insisted my ticket wasn't in the system. I pointed out that I was cited on June 23rd, and that that was extremely unlikely. Finally she put me on hold, saying she would "check something else" and returned saying that the courtesy notice had been issued on June 29th, and that my payment was late.

Apparently the court had recently switched from an old system to a new system, and my citation was in the old system. I protested that (a) I had never received a notice, and (b) I had called the court six weeks after the notice had supposedly been issued, and had been informed that the notice hadn't gone out yet. The service rep actually admitted it was entirely possible that I hadn't received the notice, as several people had had similar complaints recently, but that the computer dictated due dates, so my payment was still late, and she couldn't do anything about it. I argued with her for another 20 minutes, and she finally gave me an extension until October 3rd.

I'm still a little worried, because I'm not entirely convinced that she actually was able to give me an extension, and I don't want to get hit with a late fee. I guess I'll keep one eye on my checking account, and the other on the mail.

Case 4: nameless company refacing the courtyard in my condo complex

Sometime before I returned from vacation, a notice was posted informing residents of my condo complex that the courtyard was being refaced. Half of the courtyard would be painted on September 19th, and the other half on September 20th. A few days before I returned, the dates were changed to September 26th and September 27th. I carefully noted down September 26th as the day when I would have to be out of my building by 8am, so that I wouldn't interfere with the painters.

I got home pretty late on the 26th and didn't notice the state of the courtyard, other than that my doormat had disappeared and all the plants had been moved. Imagine my surprise, when, on the morning of the 27th, I walked out of my door, only to see painters working on my half of the courtyard. Well, I had to get to work, so I walked through the wet paint, and likely pissed off the painters. Since when did it become okay to take two days to finish a job which had been scheduled for one day?

I inspected the courtyard after I got home that night, and it appeared fine, so I assume the painters cleaned up the parts that I touched.

Case 5: Delta Airlines, American Airlines, and China Airlines

I bought a flight to Taipei a few months ago, for a trip I'm taking later this year. The flight connects in Los Angeles going outbound, but not on the way back. The San Francisco-Los Angeles leg is an American Airlines flight, but both the Los Angeles-Taipei and the Taipei-San Francisco flights are on Delta, codesharing with China Airlines.

Yesterday I was buying another flight from Taipei to Hong Kong, so I looked up my first flight, just to sanity check the dates. I immediately noticed something had changed; the Los Angeles to Taipei leg, which had originally been scheduled to depart at 3:25pm, had been moved up to 2:00pm, leaving me 17 minutes to connect.

I called up Delta, who called China Airlines, and found out that the schedule had changed (duh), and there was no later flight that day. So, they called American, and successfully moved up the earlier flight. Unfortunately, since the flight was codeshared, I had been issued paper tickets, and I needed to bring the old tickets to a Delta ticket counter to get them reissued. Wanting to get everything squared away, I drove down to SJC that evening, only to spend 50 minutes with the SJC (domestic) service rep waiting for the Atlanta (international) service rep to pick up the phone. I finally did get my tickets at about 10pm, although I got charged $3 for airport parking.

It's alarming to realize that if I had never checked my reservation, I would have flown to Los Angeles, only to have been stranded there overnight. I asked the Delta phone rep how this could have been avoided, and she said that because I had booked through an agency (Orbitz), the airline companies hadn't been forwarded my contact information, but now that they had my phone number, I'd be notified of any further changes. Unfortunately, she didn't know what to do about future Orbitz/agency bookings. Scary, that. Looks like I'll be double and triple checking all my flight reservations from now on.

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