Don't treat YOUR customers like Thomson do.

Don’t treat YOUR customers like Thomson do.

Don’t worry. I’m not hawking a thing today.

I just want to talk about what Thomson Holidays promise on their website.

“What could it be?” you may wonder.

In my case, a nightmare of incompetence arrogance and downright stupidity.

But also a valuable business lesson.

Let tell you the whole sorry story …

I don’t know how you feel about your annual vacation – those few precious days with your family.

Do you dream about it, plan in advance, look forward to every year?

I do.

The day after I got back from holiday in September, I went to the travel agents.

And booked for next summer.

Same dates … same hotel … even the same Sunday flights from the same (local to me) airport, at the same decent time of day – important when you’ve children in tow.

At the beginning of November some friends said they might like to come too.

But when they checked Thomson’s website, the flights I’d booked weren’t available.

What’s more, there were no Sunday flights at all during the whole season.

And the flights being offered were at dreadful times of the night. Not ideal for a family at all.

Worried I rang the agents. They weren’t sure and called Head Office.

Nothing to worry about came the reply. Just some price restructuring, that’s all.

But 2 days ago everything changed …

Thomson sent me an email:

Subject: Important news about a change to your holiday Departure date

Dear Mr Woodgate,

RE: Your holiday to ******

Departure date **/**/2014. Reference Number *******

We need to tell you about a change that affects your flight to *******

As you may be aware, our flying programme is planned far in advance and as a result, its sometimes necessary to review the schedule of flights and make changes. Following such a review, weve been advised that unfortunately your flight has been cancelled. We understand this will be disappointing and were sorry for any inconvenience caused.

We know that you choose your holidays based on a number of personal factors. Therefore, although we have selected an alternative flight as detailed below, if you have another flight in mind or would like us to look at other alternatives and availability, please call us on the number below and well try our best to help.

Ive secured you an alternative flight on the same day departing from a different airport and the flight details are shown below. A new invoice will be sent to you separately in the post.

This different airport is almost 2 hours from me – my original one just 20 minutes away.

And the flight times were at silly o’clock too.

What on earth are they playing at?

I can’t think of another industry where you’d get away with treating your customers like this. Imagine buying a car …

You’d pay for it. Then a few days later get a call from the dealer:

I’ve sold the one you were buying to somebody else.You can’t complain. I’m allowed to – it’s in my 46 page terms and conditions.

But don’t worry you can have one which is 2 years older and in worse condition.

Wouldn’t happen would it?

So I called Thomson on the number they’d given in the email. After all, they did say they’d try our best to help.

Their best was far from helpful … dreadful more like.

It basically amounted to you need to call your branch. But if you want to complain here’s an email address.

After all it would never do to actually let people phone and complain now, would it?

I mean, they’re fed up with you and your company already. Why not annoy them all the more.

Or is the truth more you couldn’t care a fig about your customers?

So I sent an email to the address I’d been given asking them to call me. Here’s Thomson’s reply:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. Here at Thomson we aim to respond to you as quickly as possible. To give you an idea of timescales, our current response time is 2 days .

Please be assured we are in receipt of your details and our Pre Travel Communications Team will be in touch with you shortly.

Your customer service enquiry number is 580020-1387462631.

Thank you once again for contacting Thomson.

Hang on.

They’re going to take 2 days to respond – to a complaint. This just gets better doesn’t it. The useless muppets.

Exasperated I reached for Google. To my delight I found an email address for Thomsons’ Directors Office.

Naturally I wrote to them. And …

Finally some customer service – called within 10 minutes of sending the email.

I’m not in the clear yet. But at least I know someone at Thomson does actually care about their customers.

– Shame you have to rummage around on Google to find them though.

So what can you learn from this?

Here are 5 things. Maybe you can think of more:

Are you using the right medium?

A holiday is a very important to people. Something they save for – and look forward to – for a long time.

After all they’re not cheap are they?

Thomson’s TV ads last summer even played on spending quality, irreplaceable time with your family.

So when you cancel their holiday, wouldn’t it be better to call not email?

Don’t make it hard for people to get in touch with you.

Your customers want to be able to call, write and email you. Make sure they can.

Even when they want to complain.

… and make sure you’re giving the right details for the right person.

Especially important when you give a number to call if there’s a problem.

No point saying call this person for help – when they can’t.

Don’t send stupid automated replies.

There’s no harm in automatically telling people you’ve received their email.

But think about what the email should say.

The last thing somebody complaining wants to hear is: our current response time is 2 days.

What’s it like being one of your customers?

The easiest – and cheapest – way to find out is to pretend to be a customer.

If you can’t do it yourself, get someone to be a customer for you.

The results – good, or bad – might startle you.

I’ll leave you with a final thought …

If you do something good, a customer will recommend you to 5 people.

Mess up and they’ll tell 12.