It isn’t often that I write about a brand that I dislike or has failed me in some way or another. However my recent experience with Booking.com has changed my opinion on this general rule I have followed during my career. So consider this blog post to outline two main objectives:
- how brands should treat the customers that they value
- the many reasons why I recommend you stay clear of Booking.com for your travel needs
Some Background On My Booking.com Experience
First, I want to explain that I was once a huge fan of Booking.com. I have used them exclusively for over 3 years and have booked nearly a hundred reservations and thousands of dollars in travel and hotel stays with them for the Oregon coast and across the Pacific Northwest. Mind you, these were not huge vacations with air, hotel and car rentals, but rather 1-4 day short getaways to driveable business trips in Oregon and Washington.
Over the time I have used Booking.com for all of my travel accommodations, I regularly referred friends, family and business acquaintances to their service and have even written client blog posts that included their brand as an option for booking travel. I had very few issues over the three-year timeframe and generally had a positive view of the brand and its service.
I was a “genius” member on booking.com, which afforded me additional discounts and benefits, and had also be awarded a “destination guru” status for Lincoln City, Oregon in their system, due to how frequently we had booked for the area and conducted reviews, etc. So simply put, I was a frequent flyer of Booking.com and their services.
Booking.com Lack Of Clarity Invites Service Issues
My positive feelings toward the brand all changed in February when my family decided to take a short Oregon Coast weekend trip to celebrate my father, wife and son’s March birthdays. Time to just get away to be together as a family and enjoy one another. What was supposed to be an exciting thing to look forward to, quickly became a $200 nightmare.
Here’s the sequence of events that transpired:
1 – We found accommodations that had two bedrooms and a full kitchen that would be perfect for our entire family. The price of the room was shown as $195 for two nights. Seemed like an amazing deal and we decided to jump on it.
2 – Immediately following the booking, we received the email confirmation as normal, however the amount charged to the credit card was almost double what the room was displayed as on the website. Upon reviewing the email there were substantial “cleaning deposit” charges that were never clearly shown when checking out on the booking.com website.
3 – As anyone would, I felt cheated and taken advantage of. There was nothing during my check out process that clearly noted this additional massive cost, which made the price for the accommodations not at all a great deal.
4 – Based on the cancel link within the email, I immediately set out to cancel the reservation and find something else. Going through the cancellation process, the wording of the dollar amount of the cancellation led me to believe that the original amount of $195 would be refunded to me, which seemed accurate as that was the original cost that I had expected. Furthermore, the way that booking.com phrased this statement there was no indication to me that I would be charged anything for cancelling, but rather would be getting a total refund. Mind you, it had been less than 10 minutes since I booked the reservation.
5 – After completing the cancellation, I received the confirmation email that now was clearly explaining me that this 10 minutes of my time and lack of clear communication through the Booking.com website had just COST me $195.00, not refunding me the entire amount.
Booking.com A Series Of Customer Service Failures
Now I would like to point out here that I am certainly not perfect and could have skipped important booking information here. I am human after all. However, this is where the customer service lesson begins and where brands should pay attention to how a bad situation can become much worse when your policies and procedures for customer service do not take extenuating circumstances into account. This is where customer service failures become extremely damaging to a brand. The story continues…
This is where I immediately picked up the phone to call customer service to get help rectifying the problem. Here’s an outline of the continual customer service failures which followed:
1 – I got through to a person at Booking.com and explained the scenario that occurred just about 10 minutes earlier. After the customer service representative reviewed the information contained in the reservation, they explained that there’s a cancellation fee on this booking, regardless of whether their system didn’t clearly indicate the additional cleaning fee and subsequent cancellation fee.
2 – The representative then said that he would try to call the property contact to see if they would be willing to remove the fee and placed me on hold. After approximately 10 minutes he came back and asked me to continue to hold, this happened a few times. After some series of conversations with him and his inability to get to the proper person, he said they would continue to work on it the following day and update me via email.
3 – After more than 24 hours without a resolution with Booking.com, I called again and essentially encountered the same scenario of the representative attempting to call the property contact without success, followed by a promise to get back to me via phone or email shortly. During each of these conversations I explained the details of their system not being clear, that we were talking about a total of 10 minutes between the reservation and the cancellation and also how I have been a long time customer who has not only spent thousands of dollars with them, but referred many to their service.
4 – I had enough when hit 3 days with no communication, resolution or a refund, co I called one final time to customer service. When an agent answered, I asked to speak to a supervisor immediately. The agent said sure, but asked for details about the issue first, so I obliged her with the required confirmation numbers. She asked a few questions and I not only answered them, but also reiterated the story, the timeline and my longtime faithful use of their service as a customer. I was again put on hold as she stated she was going to attempt again to reach the property.
5 – After being on hold for some time, she came back to inform me that the property had declined my refund request and that’s it. There was nothing they could or would do about it. I reminded her that I had asked for a supervisor to which she said that her supervisor had already looked at everything and told her to tell me what she was telling me.
6 – After 3 days of my social media campaign to highlight my experience and warn others, the Twitter Booking.com account decided to respond to one of my tweets by publicly reiterating their refund policy and how it’s my problem. Clearly wisdom is lacking in all areas of their customer service.
Needless to say at this point, I was convinced that at Booking.com you are valued as a customer as long as you were paying and didn’t have any problems. When a problem arises, you are simply a number and your past and future with them hardly matter. I then took to social media to air my grievances and embarked on a campaign to educate others on my newly uncovered facts about the brand, in order to prevent any of my friends and followers from getting burned as well.
You need to understand that with Booking.com, you are NOT the customer. Just like being a user on Facebook, you are the product, not the customer. The customers of Booking.com are the properties that list their rooms and facilities on Booking, not YOU. Once you understand that you are the product and not the customer, you can make better choices of the travel sites you use to protect yourself. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say…
I also decided to take the matter of principle up for myself to ensure that I got my $195 back. It was clear that Booking was not going to look out for me, and I would have to look out for myself. My plan was to focus on two areas to see this through. 1) Going to the property directly and 2) eventually reversing charges through my bank.
I added to my social media campaign against Booking.com, an effort against the actual property itself. Through a few tagged posts on social media and a comment on the property’s Facebook page, I was able to communicate with someone who immediately took up my issue and ultimately resolved it quickly. They stated that they had no record of being contacted about the issue by Booking.com and nobody at the property who had authorization has indicated that they were unwilling to refund. They further explained that because it was clearly only a few minute timeframe, they were not only willing to refund the entire amount, but had already begun the process.
Booking.com had clearly failed a loyal customer and the resulting costs for those failures will be infinitely more expensive than the cost of doing customer service well in the first place!
Lessons From The Booking.com Failures
Rocket science isn’t really needed to understand the failings of this situation with Booking.com, however there are a few lessons that every brand, big or small should learn from it.
1 – The customer isn’t always right, however if you value a longtime loyal customer with a large social following, you might want to take care of them.
2 – The cost of taking care of a valued customer correctly at the start of an issue, is far less than the costs associated with showing you don’t care.
3 – Fight for your customers. If they are harmed by a vendor you work with, fight to make it right for the customer.
4 – Always do what you say you will do. If you tell a customer you will follow-up with them, do it. Especially when there is a problem that needs to be resolved.
5 – A customer service culture is required in business today. Without it, your customers will be left feeling like a number and not only go somewhere else, they’ll tell a lot of people on and offline that your customer service isn’t good.
6 – Proactively prevent customer service issues by ensuring that your checkout and cancellation process is extremely clear so you don’t end up in a situation where you harm your customers and end up failing them in the first place.
7 – Don’t be penny wise and dollar foolish.
8 – When your brand is at risk, you must escalate customer issues to a supervisor or even a manager to ensure that the customer knows their issue is real and important. Not doing say leaves the perception of your brand in the hands of a frontline representative that may not have your company’s future as a priority.
9 – Doing nothing is bad customer service. Always!
Do Not Use Booking.com
Needless to say, this experience has left me with only one thing to do. I not only do not recommend Booking.com to any of my friends and followers, I feel a responsibility to suggest that you never use them either. Since I have promoted the brand in the past, I have an obligation to those who trust my recommendations to give honest truth about a brand I have worked with. Booking.com is not a brand you should trust with your travel accommodations, your money or your credit card information.