Happy endings: Two stories of terrific customer service

Let’s take a break from the seemingly never-ending stories of customer service failure to recognize a few companies who did the right thing without being asked.

Here are two standouts from a week of otherwise downbeat posts. Thomas Johnson booked a hotel room in Vancouver through Hotwire a few months ago. And all was well with the reservation until he tried to check in.

When we arrived at the hotel, the desk clerk called up the manager on duty, who told us that there had been a computer mix-up and that they did not have a room for us.

“But,” he said, “our bellman will walk you right next door and they have a room for you.”

Problem is, the hotel next door was a little run down and it had fewer “stars” than the property he’d booked online.

When we got home, I emailed Hotwire and informed them of what happened, and asked that they consider refunding me the difference between the rack rate of the hotel we booked, and that of the inferior hotel where we ended up.

After several days, I received a very polite response, informing me that they would refund the entire amount of my hotel purchase (which they have) and that they were giving me a $25 credit in my Hotwire account to use against a future booking.

This was much more than I ever expected, and I will always use Hotwire for my bookings in the future.

I agree. That was outstanding service from Hotwire.

Our second story comes from Michael Shaikun, who was scheduled to take a Princess cruise until he developed a serious back condition a few weeks ago.

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“I kept hoping it would improve, but five days pre-cruise I notified Princess that I had to cancel,” he says. “I was told that my agent needed to cancel the trip.”

And then he got lucky.

Before I could reach my agent, Princess called to say the cruise was oversold and if I confirmed cancellation I would get a full refund! My agent called me and I confirmed.

I was not concerned as I had trip insurance but the paperwork could be a hassle. I figured that Princess would just resell the room and keep the money. I was surprised, shocked even, that Princess on its own without urging from me did the right thing.

So often travel companies stick with their refund policies even if they are able to resell the seat, cabin or room. When was the last time an airline or hotel said that it was oversold and refunded a nonrefundable fare or room payment?

Princess has certainly earned my loyalty even though the sole financial beneficiary of its generosity was my trip insurer. Delta, too, gets a big thank you as I was flying on frequent flier miles and it waived $300 in redeposit fees.

Again, agreed. Even under the best of circumstances, Princess and Delta might have delayed a refund. They gave it to Shaikun right away.

So what do these stories tell us? That customer service is still alive and well in the travel industry, despite all the things that I write here? Sure. That Delta, Hotwire and Princess can get it right? Yes.

As I read both of these accounts, I’m amazed that my readers find them noteworthy in the first place. Maybe my standards are too high, but I expect excellent customer service from a travel company every time. That’s their implied promise. That’s why they call it the hospitality industry.

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My hat’s off to the companies who did the right thing without prompting. I’m happy to recognize you, and hope you keep it up.

(Photo: Duane Storey/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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