Want better customer service? Look to your inner journalist

The ticket agent just threw the book in your face. The hotel clerk gave you a firm “no.” The rental agent shook his head when you asked for a car.

Do you:

1. Call your travel agent.
2. Phone the toll-free reservation number and tattle on the employee.
3. Whip out your cell phone camera.

If you answered “3” then meet Pat Siefe, who has looked to his inner journalist a time or two for better customer service.

For example, let’s say you were sent to a fleabag motel after your hotel ran out of rooms, a problem I described in yesterday’s MSNBC column.

Photograph everything and everyone. This assures the hotel that you can ID the people you dealt with, can show the hotel that you were suppose to be in, and the quality of it, and the flea trap you were put in and the quality of that.

You need say nothing.

No employee wants to be associated with the pictures, and they will do anything to keep from being, including assuring that you have a better room. If cheap tickets wants to compare the quality of the hotels, and know who did it, you have the pics. If later you want to contest the charge with Visa, or sue the hotel in small claims, you can prove your case.

It helps to get a few specifics. Trying to secure that information often encourages an employee to do the right thing.

Most cameras, and phones now days will also record. Set it between the two of you, announce the person’s name that you are talking to, than ask them if they mind your recording the conversation (this also works for airlines and other groups).

Saying “I do not want to be recorded” looks horrible, and most people know that if the tape of them refusing to be recorded is played for a supervisor or the courts, they will lose. Further, if they get mean, or obnoxious the recording will get them fired.

Usually this means that you are treated politely and with respect and the problem is solved. They know that if this is than played to their boss, it will show the boss that they are doing a good job. Trust me, it works.

It’s a shame that such tactics are necessary. But at a time when customer service scores are circling the drain in the travel industry, what else can we do?

The reservations numbers are staffed by script-reading drones, so no luck there. If you booked through an online travel agency, their 800-numbers are also staffed by employees who sometimes don’t even have the authority to make a phone call or send an e-mail.

Citizen journalism is your last, best hope of getting what you deserve when you travel.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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