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Passing the Buck, and its Impact on Brand Reputation

December 1, 2017

Heron Island WreckAnother recent ‘bumpy’ travel experience gave me an opportunity to reflect further on brand experience. This one relates more to the way brands should respond to negative feedback. The irony is that if I had received an adequate response to my complaints, I wouldn’t be airing the experience in public now.

To give context, I need to refer to the companies involved and, unfortunately, Qantas is once again in the mix.

Earlier this year, we made a snap decision to visit a friend in Gladstone, Queensland and used the opportunity to book two nights on Heron Island while we were in the area. The whole travel experience – from the booking process to the Heron Island stay – was poor, and I followed up both with the booking provider (Qantas Hotels) and the resort operator (Delaware North) taking them through the whole debacle.

I wasn’t asking for any sort of refund. My email concluded simply with a request that “I expect a full and considered response to the complaints raised.”

  1. A timely first response

The first expectation you have as a disgruntled customer is a timely response to your complaint, especially when that expectation is set by the automated email response. This is what I received from Qantas (via Hooroo):

“Thank you for contacting Qantas Group Hotels,

We have received your email and will be in touch within 48 hours.”

It only magnifies the issue when you have to follow up on your email when you don’t get the promised response.

  1. Follow through on your promise

Your second expectation is that when a promise is made in response to a complaint, that promise is followed up:

After chasing Qantas, I received an email from the general manager of Heron Island Resort:

“I am very concerned that your experience was so disappointing and am currently reviewing your complaint with my management team.

I will revert back to you shortly when I have explored fully exactly why we failed to meet your expectations.”

That was the last I heard from them.

  1. Take ownership: don’t pass the buck

If you are providing a service under your brand, take complete ownership for that service. As a customer, there is nothing worse than a brand passing the blame onto another provider. This happened twice during this experience.

First, Qantas put the whole thing on to the resort operator, even though the original booking problem should have been acknowledged as their issue. If you are providing the booking service, as a customer I expect the service provider to take ownership of the problem, not blame someone at the back end:

“With regards to handling your hotel accommodations, we do apologise for the confusions specifically in the room type. Please be advised that whatever informations provided to you before came from the hotel since they were the ones who has the actual inventories of their rooms.”

Second, Delaware North apparently shifted the responsibility onto the new owner of Heron Island Resort, Aldesta Hotel Group. I say “apparently” because I had this quoted to me via Qantas from an email received by them:

“Heron Island Resort was purchased in January, 2017 by the Aldesta Group and while the Aldesta Group were establishing their business and management team within Australia, Delaware North retained management of the property. From the 1st of December, 2017 Heron Island Resort will be 100% owned and operated by the Aldesta Group with our management and team committed to providing the best experience possible for guests.”

  1. Ensure open (and working) communication channels

If you are advertising ‘contact us’ information, make sure that you are actively managing it, setting response times and following up on each channel you are using. To this date, I still haven’t received any response to my original email to Delaware North. The escalation only came when I tweeted about it. I’m assuming that the general email (travel@delawarenorth.com) is not being properly monitored.

After finding out that Aldesta Hotel Group now owns Heron Island Resort. All I could find was an info@aldestahotels.com address on its website. So I emailed this:

“Just to let you know, there is some serious buck-passing happening with regards to my complaint about our travel experience on Heron Island, and it’s not making me any happier.”

And the response?

“Your message couldn’t be delivered to info@aldestahotels.com because the remote server is misconfigured. See technical details below for more information.”

At least I found out that the email didn’t get through to anyone …

The upshot? Reputational damage and loss of business

Despite numerous follow ups with resort management, to date I still have had no response. So I sent this email today:

“This is very poor. Still no response to my complaint. I’ll be letting everyone know about the experience, and suggesting they travel to other locations if they are looking for an island holiday.”

I sent a similarly-worded email to Qantas (Hooroo):

“Just to let you know, that owing to the continued poor response from all concerned, I have just chosen to fly to LA return next month with Virgin.”

And I just did both.

 

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