A lesson in how to piss off customers

Stress and I are bosom buddies right now. The last few weeks have been a real low point in my relationship – I’m quite looking forward to having the wedding over, work wrapped up and the house packed up. I’m trying NOT to freak out about things that really don’t matter, particularly as the two top of mind items are ridiculous and are things I would NEVER have imagined to be a problem: a) bridesmaid dress and b) flowers. Lord knows there are plenty of other, bigger, non-wedding related things to worry about.

But let’s not dwell on that. On the plus side, one thing that’s been plaguing me for the past month or so has finally been resolved. Let me walk you through Exhibit 1 of How Not To Do Business.

We’ll set the scene. One of the countries I’m set on visiting in Europe is Greece. I’ve even booked flights already from Italy. I figure we’ll carve out a day or two in Athens and spend the rest of the time on Santorini. Knowing that it’ll be a busy time in the Mediterranean, I book a lovely lodge through Hostelbookers, one that’s named after the proprietor (who shares a moniker with the main Soprano).

A few days later, I get an email from an employee on behalf of the owner.

“There seems to have been a mistake on the web site when you booked. It should have been €20 per person per night. [name redacted] is willing to split the difference with you and to let you have the room at €15 per person per night.  I hope that this is agreeable and we will be able to greet you on sunny Santorini this summer. Please let [name redacted] know when and how you are arriving and he will pick you up at the port or airport. We are very sorry for the misunderstanding.”

Well, that’s not thrilling news, but it’s not an outrageous rate. I ask for confirmation of what the new balance payable would be at that price (it’s all complicated slightly by the fact I’ve already paid 10% of the original booking price, in NZD rather than euros).

I don’t hear back that week. That’s fine, it’s Easter. But THREE weeks pass without a peep. Amidst the rest of wedding + travel planning, I dash off another email asking for a reply.

On Friday last week, I received this:

“Sorry about that mix up. Of course we will honour the original price of €10 a night.

We are looking forward to greeting you on sunny Santorini.”

followed by this on Sunday (this time from the owner himself):

“hallo.the new prices  is 39 euro the night.and no tranfer…sorry about that”

At this stage, quite frankly, I’m pissed. The lack of communication, the back and forth between the person supposedly handling the booking and the proprietor jumping in like a loose cannon, and the jacking up of the price … I’ve wasted enough time and headspace on this debacle.

I’m not sure what the usual policy for operators is when prices are wrongly advertised, but if I’d been able to get a straight answer from the beginning, I might have been okay with paying full price – the originals were outrageously low. Unfortunately, the entire thing put me off. I’ve written off my 10% deposit and booked us a room at another lodge, which will hopefully NOT result in a repeat experience, or I may just lose it.

I get the concept of ‘island time’. It was drilled into us while we were over at Rarotonga a couple of years ago. Things move slower. Stress and rushing about just don’t happen.

I’m sure it’s the same on other idyllic islands around the world. But I don’t think that’s any excuse to neglect the basics of business and customer service.

Got any bad business/customer service stories to get off your chest?

16 thoughts on “A lesson in how to piss off customers

    1. Like I wrote, I’ve cancelled it and booked us a place elsewhere (and hoping they’re not going to do the same thing to me!) Nope, haven’t really travelled very much at all before.

  1. Wow that is quite shocking, I’ve never encountered anything like that on my travels.
    It kind of reminds me of an episode my brother and I had in Chile. We’d come off an overnight bus at about 6am, both very tired and hungry. For the first time ever I hadn’t booked us any accommodation, so when we arrived I did a quick Hostel World search on my app and found a place in our budget, within walking distance. According to the app there were multiple rooms free and the place had 24 hour reception so I was confident that despite the ungodly hour, we had found a great place.
    Fast-forward 20 minutes and we find this place on a quite suburban street and press the doorbell several times, to no avail. We waited about 10 minutes and then just as we were thinking we’d flag it, a very unkempt (obviously just awoken) French guy who seemed very irritated to see us opened the door.
    He informed us there was no space and despite my showing him the app that suggested there was plenty of space, he stood his ground. We were very angry, if there was no space they should update their systems to save us walking all this way.
    So we wandered off again, huge packs in tow and with wonderful serendipity we walked past two travelers who were obviously saying goodbye to their host at the door. Mark and I looked at each and without saying a word we both walked over to the gentleman and in my best Spanish, asked politely if he had any space for two.
    I nearly burst into tears when he said, in that unmistakable Kiwi twang- “Of course love, we’ve got heaps of beds but lets worry about that later. Come inside and take your bags off, we’re just having breakfast you must be starving.”
    Inside the house was something like out of my grandmother’s living room. Kiwi memorabilia everywhere. It was like we were in a parallel universe. As it turned out, we got chatting to a couple who had the misfortune of staying at the Frenchman’s hostel. They said the French guy was taking care of the place while the owner was on holiday and it was a shambles. There was no kitchen as advertised, the place was disgustingly dirty and upon check in the guy lead them to some beds that hadn’t even been made yet! They said the Frenchman was often asleep and so , they said with some guilt, they packed their bags and left without paying and had come here instead.
    It was a lucky escape and I still laugh about it!

  2. That sounds like a business you really don’t want to so business with! Wow.

    I recently went to a non profit event where the suggested donation was $20. I only had $15 in cash so I decided that would have to be enough. The person in charge told me $15 was not enough and that I’d have to find $5 more. I kind of laughed at them and told them they could either take my $15 or I was happy to take my donation elsewhere. They caved at the prospect of me walking away, but I just thought it was awful customer Service! Who refuses a donation?

  3. This makes me a little nervous to be honest. My sister has decided she wants to get married on Santorini next year, and I was hoping to hostel for a portion of the trip. Could you possible e-mail me the name of the hostel that screwed you around so that I don’t end up booking with them and experiencing the same thing? I’d be equally pissed as you are at them.

  4. Oh yeah, things are done totally differently in the Greek Islands! If you complain to Hostelbookers, you should be able to get your deposit back – worth doing, they were awesome to deal with the one time I had to do that.

    When you get off the ferry, expect crowds everywhere, with lots of people with signs shilling rooms. Just be alert as to which place you’re staying in (lots of them have similar names). Don’t be surprised if you end up in another place (as long as it’s the same standard, of course!) – lots of them have agreements, and will deliberately overbook due to people not turning up.

    Hang in there, it’s all close now and will be so worth it!

  5. Sounds like an awful experience. Hope you enjoy it regardless! Interestingly, it seems that the most frustrating part of your story is the lack of communication, as opposed to the price itself. Maybe this goes to show that a business can get away with quite a bit, as long as they are punctual and up front.

  6. A word to the wise. Get everything in writing. Print out the emails. Create a paper trail. You might still be p.o.’d and inconvenienced, but at least you’ll have a leg to stand on if you are able to communicate with the Mother Ship (i.e. Hostel Bookers or similar service).

  7. That would irritate me. That is definitely not the way to do business. If a website that you advertise on has the wrong price, then it should be honored with no issues. If you are running a business , then you shouldn’t be on Island time. People expect answers and if they pay you, then you need to provide them.

  8. I hope you get your deposit back, I’d hate for ANY such badly run service to get a dime.

    I’d recently bought a new phone and changed my cell phone plan but only after spending HOURS on the phone wrestling with idiot CSRs who insisted there was absolutely no way they could help me with accessing my account over the phone because they didn’t remove a password I didn’t set on the account, so I couldn’t get into it either. They insisted that I had to go into the actual B&M store to reset or remove a password I didn’t create. As it turns out, the T-mobile Twitter was just as useless, insisting the same thing. Which was all untrue. I finally found a CSR who knew what he was doing and got things sorted but ugh! what a huge waste of time.

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