Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hotwire Customer Service 2.0

Here is a real-time example of why the traditional customer service model is dead. I just tweeted "Totally disappointed with Hotwire. Have to blog it because it's too long to tweet." Within a few minutes they responded via @ message: "We're interested in your experience! love to have u follow + DM us w/details, if you care to share! itin #/email would be great"

Kudos to them for their responsiveness; rather than email them the details I'll blog the story then update later so you can see how it was resolved.

It's Patrick and my 2nd anniversary on August 14. To celebrate, we figured rather than go out of town we'd do the DC tourist thing even though we live in a DC suburb. Having had success with Hotwire in the past as far as good room deals, I went to their site and saw a room at a 4.5 star hotel in DC for $119 a night. Bargain, right?

As soon as I receive my confirmation the name of the hotel is revealed: The Madison. Nice, huh? Wondering how much I saved I went to check out the room rates. They have a package--room, $50 food credit and free parking--for $149 a night. Hold up--I just paid MORE THAN THAT on Hotwire--$119 for the room and parking is $40 a night--and no $50 food credit included. Thanks a lot for the bargain, Hotwire.

I went back to Hotwire and clicked "contact us" and got the old-fashioned contact form. I told them exactly what I'm writing here--and that I wanted a refund so I can go get the same room for less on the hotel's website.

This was the response they emailed me:
Dear Margaret,

Thank you for contacting us regarding your hotel reservation at the The Madison - a Loews Hotel, check in August 14, 2009, Hotwire Itinerary Number XXXXX.

I understand you found a lower rate on the hotels site. I have some information below on this type of find.

Our Low Price Guarantee promises that within 48 hours of booking, if you find a lower rate for your entire stay, in an equivalent room type at the same hotel on the same dates, we will offer to double the difference in rates.

The conditions of our Guarantee are as follows:

- The lower rate must be available for booking. Please note some sites display rates not actually available when you try to buy.
- Only one refund under the Guarantee will be granted per household per six-week period.
If you would like to apply for a refund, under the Low Price Guarantee, follow these simple steps:
To submit a refund request, first go to the "My Account" page.
- When you have logged into your account, identify the hotel booking for which you would like a refund. On the details page for the booking, click on the link in the Low-Price Guarantee box, near the top of the page.
- Fill out the request form completely and submit.

Once we receive your request, we will confirm the availability of the lower rate you found. Then, within 10 business days of verifying the lower rate, we will issue a refund in an amount equal to double the difference of your Hotwire rate and the lower rate. The credit will be issued to the card used for your original Hotwire booking.

Rates not available to the general public (AARP, AAA, group rates, corporate rates, convention rates, etc.) are not eligible for the Guarantee. The Low-Price Guarantee also does not apply to rates made available on Hotwire after your booking. You can get more information about our Low Price Guarantee from our Help Center by:

- Clicking on the Help Center link at the top of any page, then

- Click on Hotels / After Booking

- Click on Low-Price Guarantee, then How do I qualify for the Low-Price Guarantee?

If we can be of further assistance, please feel free to reply to this email or contact us directly at 1-866-HOTWIRE (468-9473). Thank you for choosing Hotwire.

Here's the thing, Hotwire. That's a lot of hoops for me to have to jump through. First of all, the 14th is less than 10 days away--I don't have time wait to see if you grant me a refund before I've already had to shell out $40 for parking. Second of all, I'm almost positive you're going to tell me that the actual room rate is not less--that because it's a special offer it doesn't apply. But the bottom line is that it should apply: I booked a room on Hotwire and will end up paying MORE for the same room plus parking. Semantics? Maybe. But is it worth losing a repeat customer over? Had I known ahead of time exactly what hotel I was booking of course this would be a non-issue because it would be my own fault for not checking this out first. But I had checked out the prices for 4.5 star hotels in that area and room rates were all well over $200 so I just figured I'd be getting a great deal.

Here are my suggestions:

1) The world works in real-time now, as you obviously realize given that you are monitoring mentions of your brand on Twitter and responding almost immediately. Score one point for Hotwire.

2) Making a customer sit on pins and needles for 10 days while you mull over whether or not to issue a refund: lose one point. Surely you are going to need to do better than this to continue to compete in a real-time world.

I'll update when I hear back from Hotwire.

I'm still waiting to hear back from Hotwire--again, kudos to them on their responsiveness on Twitter. But I finally found the link to a post I wanted to reference yesterday when I wrote this--Why and How to Hire a Social Media Responder.

BTW, my point with this post isn't to do a re-enactment of the Crocs/blackmail thing at BlogHer; my intent was really to illustrate the point of the "Why and How" post.

**Update 2**
Alas, while Hotwire did provide great customer service--got back to me the next day via Twitter DM telling me that unfortunately the hotel rate counts as a special rate and therefore is excluded from their guarantee--I guess we'll be paying more rather than less this trip. In fairness, I can't really fault them--policy is policy--but maybe this will pave the way for some improvements in their policy. If nothing else, it does demonstrate that it's a lot easier to stomach a "sorry but no refund" one day later via Twitter than to have to go through a bunch of hoops on their website, wait 10 days then get a "sorry but no refund."

The upshot is kudos to Hotwire for great customer service, but I can't say I'll ever use the service again to make reservations.

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