Friday, August 08, 2008

Sid's Shit List

Skip this post. There are no attempts at humor and I’m just using this blog as a forum to rant for a day.

I’m normally a pretty mellow dude, even without the use of prescription, over-the-counter or street drugs. So if Subway forgets to put the banana peppers on my sandwich, I’m not prone to call 911 or throw a brick through the window. If McDonald’s screws up my order, I’m not going to kick their door in or steal one of their garbage can lids. If my flight is delayed because a monsoon is passing through town, I try not to break any kneecaps and instead use the time to write more ballads dedicated to Crystal Bernard. You get the idea. But sometimes a business will be so utterly contemptible that I even I can’t let it slide. It doesn’t happen often, but unfortunately I had three such instances in the last two months. Since I usually travel under the pseudonym Sid Mexico, these unfortunate businesses were unaware that they were dealing with the Sid F’er, who would bring irreparable harm to their businesses through his world-renowned blog. And with that, I present my Wall of Shame:

3. Red Roof Inn

I recently traveled to Columbus, Ohio and wanted to save a few bucks so I took a chance with Red Roof Inn. They branded this particular location with their “Redesigned, Rededicated” logo and I fell for it. I checked in and was assigned my non-smoking, king, all-inclusive room. The all-inclusive didn’t include any food, drink or hookers, but was supposed to get me free Internet through their T-Mobile Hotspot along with an ergonomic workstation.

When I walked in it smelled like a dirty ashtray. In fact, there was an ashtray on the desk. There were two dead flies on the windowsill. They were sitting just under the window that was covered with slime, as if Jerry Lewis had just eaten a giant bag of Lay’s potato chips and then wiped his hands and pressed his greasy hair all over it. I’ve stayed in some crappy places when I was younger – The Biltmore Inn in La Jolla, The Admiral Benbow Inn in Memphis, and The Ramada Inn in Jasper, Texas stand out – but I heard someone once say that the older you get, the more stars you require from your hotel. I was hoping that a national brand like Red Roof might meet minimum standards, but it wasn’t going to happen. I decided to log on to see if there were any other options in town. Most hotels offering Internet access just have you check a box on a welcome screen saying you accept their terms and conditions and then you can have at it. At most a password might have to be entered. But Red Roof decided it would be much more guest focused to have to go through a lengthy registration process with their provider T-Mobile. After which one finds out that the wireless signal is so week that it would have taken a fortnight to load Google. And I was not staying in that room for that long. I packed up my stuff and politely asked the front desk to cancel my reservation. They insisted it was a non-smoking room, apologized for the Internet, and offered to move me to a smaller room. I declined, and they earned a little respect for honoring their Satisfaction Guarantee and getting me the hell out of there without much of a hassle.

I sent an email to their guest relations and got a nice form letter reply from a GM apologizing and thanking me for my feedback. She signed it “Sincerely” but I’m not sure she was all that sincere. Here’s a tip to the Guest Relations department if you really want people to believe the “sincere” thing: Don’t send a generic email from a tech support address with a copy of the email to the GM from whom the email is supposed to be sent. I’ll be over at a Marriott or Hilton property if you need to reach me.

2. Ed Napleton Honda

Always start out by saying something nice, right? Okay, they made me a great deal on the car I bought. So what’s the problem? I would have gladly paid a premium over the sticker price to avoid the clusterfuck that the transaction turned out to be.

They either lie more than your average dealership or they are the most operationally incompetent organization I’ve dealt with in a long time. I’m not sure which one is worse, but neither one should be high on your list of people with whom to do business.

Furthermore, I think I would have preferred a form letter from the GM since every time we spoke with him he only managed to make the situation worse. Obviously a graduate of the Barry Bonds Institute of Customer Service.

We love the car – Honda rocks! Just don’t buy one here.

And the winner is…..

1. Continental Airlines

They had the pleasure of taking me to Costa Rica since I like monkeys more than people. Even though they occasionally toss some poop at you, I’ve never had a monkey try to run me over on my bike, make me work overtime, or spill a drink on me. I’ve learned to set my standards pretty low for the airlines, so if they get me to my destination without crashing I consider it a success. I asked Continental to return me to Chicago on Sunday after my week was up. But there was a change of plans so I called them up a couple weeks before the trip and asked if they would return me to Las Vegas instead. It wasn’t my choice because Vegas frightens and confuses me, but work insisted I go there. The agent said that would be cool as long as I paid the fare difference of a couple hundred dollars. No problemo. And there would be a $100 change fee. Understood. Put it all on my Where’s Waldo Visa card. They sent me a confirmation in email, I checked it out and it said Vegas, Baby, so I stashed it in my fanny pack and carried on.

So after a week of taunting monkeys and licking poison dart frogs I returned to the airport on Sunday. The Mrs. checked in for her flight to Chicago, but I was told that my reservation was not until the following day. Oh, those nutty Ticos and their crazy sense of humor! Unfortunately she wasn’t joking. I whipped my confirmation from my fanny pack and discovered that in addition to changing my destination to Vegas, the agent also inexplicably changed my return date to Monday. Oh, those nutty reservation agents and their little practical jokes. But again it wasn’t a joke. There was a seat left on that day’s flight, but I would lose my upgrade and have to pay another $100 change fee. Unfortunately, unless I wanted to miss my flight and two days of meetings for work, I had to pony up another $100 to correct their error. The agent said I could have it resolved later. Right.

I emailed the ironically named Customer Care group with all my details. I didn’t even digress. Stuck to facts. They ignored the part of my story about the change being made to correct their error and said the change fee was valid.

I politely explained that it didn’t seem nice of them to charge me $100 to fix their error. The politely explained that they don’t care about being nice... they’re an airline. And they needed my money to pay for fuel. Haven’t I been watching the news? And they don’t have time to be processing refunds for their mistakes because employees need to be making sure they’re collecting all the new fees from people that have the nerve to bring luggage with them when they travel.

I tried to remind them that it was their mistake that caused this fee to be charged. They reminded me that they don’t give a shit and that it was my fault for not catching their mistake on the confirmation they sent. Technically, I did, when I tried to check in for my flight. I had no reason to believe or check that the agent would randomly change my departure date when all I asked was to change my destination.

I asked them one last time to consider doing the right thing. They told me one last time to go fuck myself. But since I was being a pain in the ass, they’d offer me a travel voucher for $100 even though it was really my fault. I rarely fly Continental and now had even less reason to do so, so a travel voucher would hold the same value to me as that KC & the Sunshine Band 8-track that I can’t seem to get rid of. I declined and insisted on a refund of the fee.

I had a slow day at work, so I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. This prompted a real live “Customer Care” associate to call me and tell me that she didn’t have any way of knowing whether it was my mistake or the agent’s mistake, so she further supports Continental’s position to go fuck myself. And how about a $50 travel voucher. Right, I wouldn’t accept a $100 voucher, so how about $50?

I had another slow day at work, so I tracked down the Continental executive in charge of “customer experience”. Really. Like a flight is supposed to be a day at fucking Disney World. I sent a letter, explaining my position and also recognizing that the time and expense I was spending trying to resolve this by now exceeded any possible benefit. He forwarded my letter to a lackey in charge of making pests like me go away, and again I was told that it was my fault, that I need to quit being a pest, and that the corporate department in charge of customer experience supports the decision of customer care. At this point, I really wasn’t having a good experience and wasn’t really getting the impression they cared.

I’m guessing they probably sent me about eight emails, two letters, and made two phone calls, plus all the time of their employees to get out of refunding me $100 for their mistake. They had already collected approximately $800 on my original ticket, fare difference, and the first legitimate change fee.

Now, in case you didn’t get it, they really didn’t tell me to “go fuck myself” or that they didn’t “give a shit”. But that accurately describes what it felt like after reading the minimally customized form letter responses that I received at every stage of my quest.

I suppose if you did read this far despite my attempt to discourage you, I should provide something of use, so here are the lessons I learned:

Take your age, double it, and add twenty. If you’re paying less than that per night at a hotel, you’re just asking for trouble. This just a rule of thumb… you might have to multiply further for certain cities… like a factor of 2.5 for Manhattan.

There really is truth to the joke, “How do you know a salesman is lying?” His lips are moving. Get everything in writing and hold them to it. Don’t forget you’re the customer. He needs your sale more than you need whatever crap he’s trying to sell you. Unless you’re a drug addict. Then just go steal something, pawn it and pay what he’s asking.

When you do get stuff in writing, actually read it. Don’t assume that they wrote down what was actually agreed upon.

You’d think I’d have learned all this by now. After all, I’m at that point in life where I shouldn’t be paying less than $170 a night for a hotel.

1 comment:

keysunset said...

You rant so well, darlin'! You've been practicing, haven't you?! Maybe the next Olympics ...

I hope when these businesses post poor quarterly earnings they'll be able to realize that it was because they crossed the line drawn in the sand by El Sid!

Hey, what kinda of Honda did you get? We love Hondas at the keysunset house!