8 reasons your travel complaint is being ignored
It isn’t your imagination. Your travel company is giving you the cold shoulder.
As the number of travel complaints takes off — airline gripes jumped nearly 60 percent to 13,168 complaints in 2007 from a year before, for example — companies aren’t necessarily scrambling to add more customer service agents.
On the contrary, many have reduced their staff, automated the process or outsourced it to a foreign call center in a misguided effort to cut costs. It’s happening everywhere: at large travel agencies, hotels, car rental companies and cruise lines.
The departments dedicated to answering customer complaints are not only being asked to do more with less, thanks to strict new policies imposed by corporate bean counters, they’re less inclined to do more. Which is probably why your complaint is more likely than ever to be met with a form letter, a delay — or even ignored.
But that may not be the only reason. A lot of travelers are complaint-impaired. No two ways about it: their phone calls are irrational and their letters are ineffective.
I know because I read complaint letters. Lots of them. As National Geographic Traveler’s reader advocate, I review a bundle of complaint letters every day. And just like a customer service department, I have to sort through them.
Seems lately I’ve been sending out a lot of form responses. You know, the ones that say, “Thank you for your note. Let me review your complaint, and if it’s something I can help with, I’ll be in touch.” (Or I might not be in touch.) I hate having to say “no” in such an oblique way, but a straight rejection often provokes a response so unbelievably hostile that I wish I’d never gone to journalism school.
Trust me, it’s better this way.
Here are the eight biggest mistakes made by travelers when they complain. Avoid these errors and you’ll probably get a prompt answer — if not a resolution — from your travel company.
1. Frivolous grievances
So the hot water in your hotel room ran lukewarm? Sorry, but you’re not entitled to a free week in a suite. Did a flight attendant get a little short with you on your last trip? Your request for a first-class seat anywhere the airline flies is unlikely to be met. Complaints are sent to the proverbial circular file almost immediately when they’re not legitimate, and that’s almost certainly where yours will end up. How do you determine if your complaint is for real? I recommend checking out the company’s terms and conditions (for example, the airline’s contract of carriage or the cruise line’s cruise contract, both of which are available from the company’s Web site). If your problem is addressed there, it’s probably the real deal. For the rest, use common sense.
2. Calling instead of writing
Even though a phone offers an instant way of communicating with a travel company, you shouldn’t expect too much from it. A representative may or may not respond to your oral request (in my experience, usually not) and since phone calls disappear into the digital ether once you hang up, there’s no surefire way of holding a company to its word. Besides, how can you be certain they understood a word you said? Unfortunately, more travelers are running into a formidable language barrier when dealing with overseas call centers. The agents often don’t get it.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I get e-mails from disgruntled passengers who say they’ve spent “hours” on the phone and have gotten nowhere. But when they put their complaint in writing and send an e-mail to the company, the case is often solved quickly. Note: for some odd reason, Southwest Airlines still prefers real paper letters. It’s not the greenest practice, but the airline is typically very responsive.
3. Making a laundry list
Let’s face it; a long list of complaints makes you look like a whiner. And no one takes a whiner seriously. Laundry lists are most common to cruise passengers. The air conditioning in my berth didn’t work right, we didn’t get the dinner seating we wanted, our shore excursion left without us — and we want a full refund. No can do. I usually stop reading after the third bullet point and send my form letter. I’m not sure if the customer service agents even get that far. Did I mention no one likes a whiner?
4. Wasting their time
Couldn’t get an aisle seat on your flight because the airline had to change planes? Did you specify a beach view room but only saw part of the shore? These time-wasting complaints automatically are met with form letters. Believe me, I’ve seen the form letters.