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February 7th, 2005 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

The other day I had a bit of a dispute with eBookers and I think I won!

Jayne and I intended to get away for a couple of days while the kids are away, and were thinking of going to North Wales. I’m not sure that our car is reliable enough for the 300-mile journey, so it would have involved hiring a car. With the cost of hiring a car, petrol for the journey and hotel rooms, I figured it would be no more expensive to go abroad, so I looked up a few things on the internet.

While I was at work I found a package for BA flights from Gatwick and 3 nights at a hotel in Ansterdam, which looked like a good deal. It wasn’t the cheapest by a long way, but the hotel is one I know to be very good, and immediately opposite Central Station. In fact the hotel has a Michelin-starred restaurant, so its pretty classy.

When I got home I checked with Jayne that she was OK going abroad and I checked the web site again. This time the hotel came up at a higher price. Not good news, but you have to expect that with the way these sites work – the prices can fluctuate according to demand. Anyway, I selected all the options I wanted and went to the payment screen. At the point where I put in credit card details the same screen kept coming back. Nothing I could do would make the system accept my details, so I called the 24-hour booking number.

At this point I found myself talking to one of those infamous India-based call centres and it was like hitting my head against a brick wall. Not because it was India, but because of the call centre mentality. I told the chap what happened and he said that this sometimes happened when your PC crashes. I said that my PC has not crashed as I would have noticed if it had. I gave him all the details of flights and hotel and he said he could book it for me and gave me a price £125 higher than the web site gave me. I pointed this out, and he said that the web information must have been out-of-date. He said that I could never get rooms at that particular hotel for such a low price – but I told him thats what the web site said.

He then said that just because the web site had that price 6 or 8 days ago, it didn’t mean it was still valid. I said that I was talking about 10 minutes ago and not 6 days. He tried to blame it on technology, not being aware that I probably know a lot more than him about how it all works and I asked if I could speak to him manager.

“My manager will only tell you the same thing” he said, so I suggested that it might be better for the manager to tell me himself, rather than for the person I was talking to to put words in his mouth. After being on hold for a bit I found myself speaking to the manager, Roger. Or possibly Raja.

Anyway, the manager said that perhaps my computer had an old, out-of-date page in its memory. In the meantime I had fired up a different browser, ran a search and found the package I wanted, at the price I wanted, so explained that a different browser, with a different cache, gave the same details. If the database had been updated between my starting my transaction and completing it, the new web search should not do that. After much discussion I said not to bother booking, and after hanging up I managed to successfully book what I wanted, at the price the first call centre drone said was impossible, and had a confirmation number.

About half an hour later the phone rang. It was eBookers. They asked if I still wanted to proceed with the booking I had talked to them about, because after discussing it with management they could do it at the price I wanted. I had the pleasure of telling them that I had already managed to do that online. I gave him the confirmation number and he was very surprised to find that it was all correct, and positively lost for words when I pointed out that, at no point in my conversation before, did I give him my telephone number.

So I think I won two ways. First of all I managed to book what I wanted, even after being told their system could not do it. Secondly, even if I had not been able to do that, the call centre people had given up and would have done it for me. I like to think that they listened to the phone call, or got a senior person to listen to it, and noticed that I used a lot of words like ‘transaction’, ‘ecommerce’, ‘advertised price’ in the right context and sounded like the sort of person who would be onto trading standards or Watchdog the next morning.

I quite enjoyed the experience actually. Every argument the call centre put forward I shot down. My favourite was probably when I was told that since running my search, the hotel must have become fully-booked, and I asked why, if that was the case, they could still offer me the same place for £125 more…

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