A Lesson From Expedia On Sales Chutzpah
OK, we all have bad customer service experiences. I get it. But when the bad experiences go across four Expedia service phone conversations (that lasted about three plus hours over two days) and another six back and forth Twitter direct tweets and the customer who is spending over $5,000 on the trip is still unsatisfied (that’s me), there must be something wrong with how Expedia runs the humanbeing (vs. digital) sales service side of its business.
No, This Post Is Not About Expedia. It Is About Your Ad, PR, Digital, etc. Agency
Stick with me because this blog post is actually about a way to grow your agency – a way that requires a bit of chutzpah. However, before I get to your agency and an unignorable sales tactic, I have to share a tiny bit of customer service related background to set up the chutzpah recommendation.
A few weeks ago, I used Expedia to book two tickets from Mexico City to Budapest for a summer trip to see the Hungarian F1 Grand Prix race. This week, I called Expedia to change the trip by adding a few days up front and move the original first destination from Budapest to Vienna. I knew about and was willing to spend the extra $500 flight change charge and, before I called, I had also looked at all of the available flight options. I was prepared for the service rep call. But, I was not prepared for the following:
Expedia’s phone system could never recognize my itinerary number or phone number (the ones that are listed on Expedia’s original flight plan document). I knew I was in the system because when I finally got to a rep, she recognized the numbers. What’s up with Expedia’s automated phone system and the interface with its database?
While it took me about 30 seconds to get to the Iberia Airlines and Expedia sites to find my reservation detail, it took the multiple Expedia reps I talked to at around two minutes.
I was repeatedly asked if Mexico City was my origination airport (I live in Mexico) and if I was to change flights in Madrid as stated on my reservation. Um, yes.
The reps took forever to find alternative flights although I was helping them find the alternatives. And on. I won’t bore you with more including the third rep who apologized for how sloooooow Expedia’s computer was working.
Taken individually, these don’t appear to be too onerous. However, in aggregate, they were and I gave up without making the flight change.
OK, two more points.
I was so pissed off that I sent LinkedIn InMails to three Expedia marketing execs gently complaining about the service and asking them if they ever sat in on customer calls – consider this action an internal “Store-Check”. It’s been four days since I sent the emails. Any response? No. Sure these folks get lots of emails. But, I used attention-getting customer-centric subject lines.
I also complained on Twitter using an #expedia tag. Though I received “can we help you” feedback in a few minutes, the back and forth via direct Twitter messaging abruptly stopped without anyone really helping. Expedia… either seek resolution or don’t bother. This is especially true when people complain using social media. Lame in 2017.
Remember…. This Post Is Not About Expedia. It Is About Your Ad, PR, Digital, etc. Agency
At Expedia, we believe travel has the power to change the world, one person at a time. It’s why we exist and why we are committed to getting more people traveling. Because when we travel, we make the world a better place.
LOL. Hey, I like corporate mission statements. But, deliver on it.
Expedia is huge. I bet you did not know what Expedia, Inc. owns in addition to the Expedia brand. From the Expedia corporate page…
Expedia, Inc. (NASDAQ: EXPE) is the largest online travel company in the world, with an extensive brand portfolio that includes some of the world’s leading online travel brands, including:
- Expedia.com, the world’s largest full-service online travel agency, with localized sites in 31 countries
- Hotels.com, the hotel specialist with sites in more than 60 countries
- Hotwire, a leading discount travel site that offers opaque deals in 13 countries on its 12 sites in North America, Europe, and Asia
- Egencia, the world’s fifth-largest corporate travel management company
- eLong, the second largest online travel company in China
- Venere.com, the online hotel reservation specialist in Europe
- trivago, a leading online hotel search company with sites in 39 countries
- Expedia Local Expert, a provider of in-market concierge services, activities and experiences in 18 markets worldwide
- Classic Vacations, a top luxury travel specialist
- Expedia® CruiseShipCenters, one of North America’s leading retail cruise vacation experts
So as not to distract you from my main thought (and yes it is coming soon), I put their 180LA produced 60-second commercial below. It’s sure nice and well produced – and delivers on the corporate mission statement. I like advertising and this commercial is well produced. But, Expedia, use the money to fix your service first.
Why? I am not sure what the cost of travel customer acquisition is, but, Expedia just lost one. Worse, one who has over 6,000 blog, newsletter, Twitter and LinkedIn followers – some of whom will read this rant.
Finally, My Point: Store Checks and Chutzpah And The British
Since I worked in advertising in the 1980’s and 90’s (New York and London) I am often asked what the Good Old Days were like. Well, if you think those days were different that today’s biz, take a look at the photo on the left of Peter Marsh of London’s Allen, Brady & Marsh and his Rolls. I bet it is larger than the average ad agency desk. From his newspaper obit:
He was one of the great ad men in the latter half of the last century and a founder of ad agency Allen Brady & Marsh (ABM) becoming chairman of the firm in 1974. Marsh was a flamboyant self-publicist but one who brought a huge joie de vivre to his work.
The Brits call it joie de vivre. I also call it chutzpah. Here is one of the great ad world anecdotes c/o Campaign Magazine about Peter and his pitch for British Rail.
The agency was also known for its theatrical approach to pitching. One of the most famous stories is when Allen Brady & Marsh purposely turned up late for a British Rail pitch, where the client waited at a table with half-empty coffee cups and overflowing ashtrays.
Just as the client was about to leave, Marsh appeared and said: “You’ve just seen what the public think of British Rail. Now let’s see what we can do to put it right.” The agency won the business.
This is what I call chutzpah. Peter had the nerve to use his agency’s reception area, nail filing receptionist and shitty in-agency service experience to demonstrate, in real time, to the British Rail execs just how shitty their service was and how their travelers feel about the British Rail experience. How’d it do? Remember, the agency won the business.
OK, what’s in it for your agency? When you experience bad service or unearth a business related insight through a personal experience, don’t just fume, use it as leverage with a prospective client. Three approaches to Expedia based on Peter Marsh’s chutzpah…
If I still owned my ad agency, I would have figured out a way to use my personal service experience and insights and recommendations to get the attention of Expedia or its many partner companies. I’d pitch something realted.
I’d use my experience and related thought leadership ideas to get the attention of other travel-related accounts.
Or — even better, I would consider customer related insights an element of my agency’s master biz dev plan. I’d leverage the power of consumer insights that come directly from planned personal experiences (imagine a service related “Store-Check” insight built on your agency’s research), to get the attention of marketers. You know, the ones you want to work with but need some agency chutzpah to get past the barrage of very ignorable incoming advertising agency outreach. This isn’t a brand new idea since what you are really doing is finding and pointing out the client’s pain points – pain ponts that will get their attention. However, I know that your competitior agencies are not doing this.
Let’s face it. Sometimes really bad news (like recreating the British Rail experience) will work harder for you than say, just sending your nice case histories to prospective clients.
The goal is to be unignorable. Allen, Brady & Mash certainly was.
Oh, as promised, Expedia’s nice commercial.