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summer holidays

Worst customer service award of 2012 so far? Thomas Cook

I hate poor customer service – it’s one of those things which drives me completely mad.

This personal story, which is currently unfolding, smacks of everything that’s wrong about companies taking customers for granted.

And it reminds me of a little saying I’ve often shared with SMEs  – treat all customers well, you never know if one could be a journalist….oh dear!

Last year, we had a fantastic family holiday booked through Thomas Cook – with the invaluable help of an agent in a shop. This year we visited the same agent, who was lovely, but couldn’t match the prices quoted online at www.thomascook.com.

So we started booking through the website. At some point though we needed to call in as we couldn’t add baggage to our flights without making a telephone call. This is where the problems began – we called the number on the Thomas Cook website and spoke to a call centre operative.

She then proceeded with our booking and all went well until we got to the confirmation of credit card payment when she suddenly, without explanation, transferred us to someone different.

This person then wanted all of our details again.

Panicked we questioned this man – but he insisted that no booking had been made. What about our credit card payment? It hadn’t gone through.

We asked to speak to a supervisor. Eventually we got through to someone who said we couldn’t speak to the original woman as she was ‘in a meeting’ and we needed to go through the process again. We were then told we couldn’t have that package as the airline couldn’t confirm the flights. Deflated we cancelled. That had taken over an hour.

We then got several telephone calls – our credit card would show two payments requested and not taken. We could have the booking as the airline had confirmed but the price had gone up – by £6. Did we want to go ahead? With some reservations we agreed. We were promised a confirmation e-mail that evening.

Today (Monday) guess what? No confirmation e-mail. We called the same Thomas Cook number and spoke to someone who told us they hadn’t dealt with us at all. It wasn’t them. Panic is really setting in now.

No, new woman said,  we had spoken to Expedia – put through by the Thomas Cook switchboard. At no point until this time had the name Expedia been mentioned at all. Our booking reference number (which thankfully I had taken) wasn’t recognised by Thomas Cook.

So they  couldn’t help me in any way to deal with my queries. WHAT THE HELL? If I buy a PC from a high street retailer, they don’t make the PC, but they are responsible and so, in my book, is Thomas Cook.

Tonight we have spent more than two hours on hold trying to get the correct booking numbers, confirmation e-mails, weblinks to Easyjet to try to make sure that our holiday is going to happen.

Booking a family holiday should be a positive experience, leaving you looking forward to the time away. Now we are deeply worried that the whole thing will be a disaster with missing paperwork and bookings. 

And what about transparency? Where on Thomas Cook’s website does it say – ‘we may pass you, without warning, on to another company and, if anything goes wrong, refuse to help you out’. Or ‘We might say sorry a lot but in the end it’s down to you to fight your way through it’. This is what’s happening to us. A second evening wasted trying to sort out something which should be easy.

 

When is Thomas Cook not Thomas Cook?

If I behaved like that with my clients I know where I would soon be – without work.

So first tip of the year, if you are thinking of Don’t Just Book It, Thomas Cook it – swap that catchphrase in your head to this one Thomas Cook Dot Com – Don’t Bother Dot Com…..

Summer holidays which cost loadsa money!!!!

Where would you draw the line in paying for kids' activities?

Parents are now dealing with the summer holiday season and with that comes the cost of having children off school.
I’m not talking about the speed at which food is hoovered up (I bought six big yoghurts and they were gone within a few hours) or the amount of extra washing. (Anyone with teenage girls will know how children dump perfectly clean clothes into a washing basket to change into the ‘appropriate’ outfit for that particular minute).

 
No, it’s the almost visible rubbing of hands for those businesses who rely on children and families for their income. It’s not just holidays that cost more during school holidays, it’s any type of entertainment.

It’s our modern need to continually give our kids ‘things to do, places to go, people to see’. Why is this?

When I was a kid, we went on a week’s holiday no more than 100 miles away and then I was at home day after day, week after week.

 

Entertainment was self-generated. Imagination was key, as were friendships.

The biggest outing was to the local corner shop with 10p to buy lots of sweets. My parents didn’t have the money for day-trips or extras which we now take for granted.
This was brought home to me this week when my son, who’s 4, desperately wanted to go to a soft play area which had moved premises to a larger site, closer to our house.
Okay, I thought, let’s go. We walked in behind a couple, probably grandparents, with two children, one in a pushchair. They were complaining about the fact that they had to pay for the baby because she was over six months.
So I looked at the price list, which frankly I hadn’t considered. At other similar sites in Swindon, you can pay per half hour, so you can control the cost and keep it within reason.

 

No more, the fees here were flat – so £5.95 for each of my daughters and £3.95 for my son, oh and 75p for me to take up a seat within the premises. Total cost, almost £17. That’s before buying any drinks or refreshments.

Disappointing my son, I just turned and said that it was too much money. Even if we’d gone in and I bought four drinks, we’d be looking at probably £25 for that entertainment.
As a business person, I understand that costs might need to go up but surely there needs to be some moderation. What about more flexible terms – per half hour costs for example? Or a loyalty card scheme?

As a customer, it seemed I was paying through the nose for a new venue and I employed the simplest tactic in the book – I walked out.

 
Even if refreshments prices had risen a little – at least that’s an expense that I choose to make. Also what extras are on offer to justify more money? Is there free internet access? An internet cafe facility?

 
It’s a cheek to charge parents 75p for simply taking up space within a space that was alarmingly empty anyway.

 
I’m afraid this business has priced itself out of the its own market. It’s only been open for a few weeks but who’s going to go there often with prices like that?

 
As a working mum, I know that at it’s previous location, groups of childminders would sometimes go there as a treat for their young charges. I can guarantee that they won’t go now – the cost would be far too high.

 

If you ever want to know what’s good value for money for entertaining children – ask your local childminders, they are experts in value for money.

 
Let’s hope that this small business does some serious market research around its own competitors and adjusts accordingly. Lower your prices or offer something extra and shout about it.

If it doesn’t, I give it a year at the outside.

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