When Vacations Go Bad…

Expired Passport

Expired passport with no renewal notification? Oh no!

Normally, I talk about Marketing on my blog, but today I’m going to talk about Customer Service. You see, my family and I are supposed to be in the Dominican Republic right now enjoying our vacation with friends. So why am I writing this blog post? Well, when you travel internationally you need this thing called a passport. And it needs to not have expired…and that’s the part that tripped us up.

I try to be an organized traveler. I check out the destination and resort reviews and even ask my friends on Facebook for recommendations on where to visit and which hotels/resorts are best for our stay. I read all the travel checklists and make sure I’ve got the right documentation for my itinerary – whether it’s hotel confirmation information, airline tickets/boarding passes, round-trip airport-to-hotel transfer or rental car paperwork. Then I confirm the transportation arrangements and check-in at the airlines in advance.

I was checking in Friday for our Saturday flight and entered the passport info for my husband with no problems, entered my passport data, too, then as I got to the field for the kids’ passports, I looked at the expiration date – WHAT??? How could they possibly be expired??? My passport isn’t expired and we all got them at the same time. Oh, wait, I remember that the kids’ passports are valid for a shorter time than adults. But it hasn’t been that long, has it? Besides I never got a notification that their passports needed to be renewed…

Did you know that no one notifies you when your passport is about to expire? I get renewal notifications for my drivers license, or my car registration, or even to renew magazine subscriptions, so you would think in this technologically-advanced age, someone, somewhere would send out a postcard or an email, or even make an automated phone call when you need to renew your passport. Apparently not.

After several frantic calls to the State Department, Customs and Immigration, even the Dominican Embassy, I resigned myself that we weren’t going to make Saturday’s flight and if we wanted any hope at all of joining our friends on the trip that we would need help to expedite the kids’ passport renewal. I started making calls and found that many passport expediters were closed on the weekend since they can only process the renewals Monday through Friday. I left messages for several companies and finally one called me back and walked me through the process of how to renew an expired passport.

In the words of my husband (at 1AM – three and a half hours before we were supposed to leave for the airport), “It’s like a nightmare and you just can’t wake up.”

Since the kids were under 16 when their passports were issued, they actually needed to apply for new “adult” passports instead of a standard renewal. That meant we needed to find a passport acceptance location that a) was open on Saturday, b) would take an emergency walk-in to verify the passport application information and c) we could get passport pictures there as well. My husband and I both started calling everywhere in a 10-mile radius and we got all the way to “W” in the alphabet before we found one that fit the criteria and would fit us in if we got there before the post office closed. I’d like to give a HUGE “thank you” to Darnell F. who refused to take me up on my offer to write a letter to his boss telling them about how he went above and beyond to get the paperwork done!

The fantastic customer service we received by people like Darnell who worked so hard to help us get the kids’ passports processed almost makes up for the dozens of calls that went unanswered or voicemail messages not returned by other agencies and locations. Now all we need is for the passports to be processed so we can try to take another international vacation before the kids have to go back to school. Wish me luck!

New Year’s Eve Customer Service Done Right

Rustic Cottage at Will O' The Wisp
“Rustic Cottage” at Will O The Wisp

Our 2009 New Year’s Eve destination was local skiing so that my husband, T2, could try out the “new knee” before planning a trip out West later in the season.

We made reservations at Will O’ The Wisp, on Deep Creek Lake in Oakland, MD. We had stayed in their condos before, so we knew that a 3BR/2BA suite would give us plenty of room to relax after a day on the slopes of Wisp Resort. We were to arrive on New Year’s Eve 2009 and depart on Sunday, January 3, 2010, but here’s how our weekend went:

12/30/09 7P – phone call from Will O’ The Wisp to our home telling us that there was a plumbing problem in the unit we rented. T2 spoke with the customer service rep and told them that they had 24 hours, so they needed to fix it before we got there.

12/31/09 11:30A – email from Will O’ The Wisp that there is still a problem and asking us to call. (Unread until 1/1/10.)

12/31/09 12:30P (as we’re driving there) – phone call from Will O’ The Wisp to T2’s cell phone letting us know that the problem was unable to be fixed and they couldn’t rent the unit due to health department regulations. The lodge was sold out, but they could put us up in one of the “rustic cottages” instead. Since we were about an hour from our destination, we agreed to check it out.

12/31/09 3P – After a nice (and inexpensive) lunch at Casselman Inn we arrived at Will O’ The Wisp ready to check in. We were shown the “rustic cottage” which was clean…smaller (only one bathroom), without a working fireplace…and, well, rustic. At the “right” price (free) and since there was nothing else with 3 beds available in a 20+ mile radius, we took it. The manager was even kind enough to give us a complimentary dinner at the Four Seasons Dining Room at Will O’ The Wisp if we stayed the second night (New Year’s Eve was booked solid). Wow, am I ever glad they did!

1/1/10 5P – Even though the accommodations were not as we expected, the dinner was amazing!!! Although we had stayed at Will O’ The Wisp in the past, we hadn’t eaten in the restaurant there and most likely wouldn’t have visited the restaurant on this trip either, but now that we’ve tried the food there, we were amazed! Perfectly cooked steaks and seafood, plus desserts that melt in your mouth!

1/2/10 12N – Partly due to the accommodations, partly due to the weather (7 degrees Farenheit and 40 mph winds), we checked out a day early and came home to get some real rest in our own beds.

Overall, the customer service people at Will O’ The Wisp did everything right – consistent, clear communication; offering the customer an available alternative; and adding something of value to make up for their inconvenience. We still weren’t thrilled with the room substitution, but we appreciated the lengths that the customer service and management at Will O’ The Wisp went to in order to make us happy. We’ll be back — if not for a place to stay, then definitely for another meal in the restaurant.

Have you had a similar customer service experience? Better? Worse? Please leave a comment below and let me know about it. And don’t forget to check out my post Almost Nuts About Southwest Airlines for more customer service suggestions.

You’re In Good Hands…

Our son got his driving learner’s permit this month so it was time to call the insurance agency. Automobile insurance is often a commodity purchased from whoever provides the lowest price. Not in our case. Our Allstate® agent, Michael Torr, provides amazing customer service and we haven’t gone price shopping in years (but don’t tell him that!).  Michael waited an hour after closing so it would be convenient for us to have him meet with our son to talk about insurance policies.  He spent more than 30 minutes after we arrived talking about teen driving and explaining how “getting behind the wheel of the car means you’re putting the financial security of your family at risk.”  He showed our son how much extra it will cost if he drinks and drives, gets in an accident, gets a speeding ticket, or even if he gets bad grades!  Going above and beyond the call of duty like that is why Michael has serviced our family’s life, auto, and health insurance needs for nearly 20 years. How can doing what Michael Torr does increase your word of mouth marketing?

  • Develop a relationship with your customers – be personable and personal.
  • Send emails or other greetings for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc.
  • Optimize visitor website experience based on their prior actions on your site.
  • Offer options and upsells that are relevant for your users.
  • Make sure your customer service effort keeps your product from becoming a commodity.

There was a Tweet today from several people attending PubCon of a quote attributed to Mike Arauz who said, “If I tell my friends about your brand, it’s not because I like your brand, but rather because I like my friends.” I’ve told you about Michael Torr at Allstate® because of his customer service, what makes you tell your friends?  Please leave a comment below to let me know!

Allstate® is a registered trademark of the ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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