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Is self-service all it’s cut out to be?

I find it amusing to think about this age of self-service, where we take it for granted that it’s cheaper, easier and more personalised to your own wishes if you book it yourself.  And, for most of the time, that works well.  Except when you mess things up, like booking non-refundable flights on the wrong dates or ordering that big shiny outfit on eBay that turns out to be designed for your Barbie doll.

I was reminded of this when three incidents occurred in the last few days, each of which made me more and more frustrated with this digital world.

The first was a note from my laundrette, saying they’d just dropped off my suits and I owed them £23.90p.  I send the money.  Later on, I actually read the text in full – I had been travelling and only saw the first part.  The second half said: “Oh and by the way, I’ve split up with Shawn so please send the money directly to my bank account below, love Cheryl”.  Shoot.  I text her back and say that I’ve already sent the money to usual account.  Turns out that’s Shawn’s account, her ex’s.  He won’t talk to her.  Messy.

I ring the bank and explain that I’ve sent some money via faster payments to the wrong account, can they get it back.  “No sir.  Once you make a payment via faster payments it is irrevocable.”  Thank goodness it was only £23.90 and not £23,900.00.

Eventually we get the thing unravelled – Shawn pays Cheryl – but it could have been difficult.

The second thing happened a day or two later.  We have a holiday booked in August where you have to pre-book and pay for any additions, such as hiring bicycles, buggies, dinners, spa treatments, etc.  I add a load on to the booking and notice that there are no bikes booked.  Strange, as I thought I’d booked them.  So, I add on two bikes to the order only to find that they were already booked the last time I went on the website.  They just don’t show these items on the main booking area but at the very bottom of the screen.  Darnit.  I cancel the two extra bikes booked, and get charged £5.70 for cancelling two credit card payments.  Bummer.  Especially as I think it’s their website which is at fault here.

But the third incident takes the prize for worst experience ever.  I use TripAdvisor a lot and quite often their hotel offers are cheaper than other online services, so I use their booking system.  In a recent incident, I was booking online and they referred me to something called Tingo.  All well and good until I see the confirmation screen, and I see that I’ve booked a non-refundable room for two nights when I wanted only one night.  I ring Tingo.  They tell me this has to be referred to the escalations team, and they’ll come back to me.

Bearing in mind that I rang them the minute that I saw the confirmation screen, I was surprised when they came back four days later to say that the booking stands firm for two nights, because it was non-refundable.

I’m fuming and call the credit card company to challenge the payment and reject it.  I also send a nasty email to the hotel, telling them that they’re rip-off merchants and that they won’t have a happy customer.

The hotel calls me and says that they’re happy to make it a one night booking, but can’t do that because it has to be done by Tingo.  I tell Tingo this, and they go “ok”, and change it to a one night booking.

Wahey.  Life is cool again.

Oh no.  The next day I get an email from Tingo saying that, because the credit card company are investigating the payment, they have to cancel the whole booking.  I’m annoyed by this but hey, life moves on so I book another hotel for one night on another website.

A week later, I get a note from the credit card company that says the website have proof that I made the booking, so the charge stands.  Irritation levels boil over again.  Even more so, when I see that the original payment for two nights was taken, and yet Tingo only reimbursed half the charge.

I call them, and tell them that they cancelled the booking so why are they only reimbursing half the amount.  “Oh, because it was a non-refundable booking”, the call centre oik tells me.

Now I could go on (and on and on and on and on and …) about this, but the net:net is that it’s a great age of self-service until you screw up online.  Then it’s a great world of pain and torture, hanging on telephones and endless musical wait cycles, trying to get a simple 1-second mistake rectified.  Typically, I find those mistakes cost me two hours or more each of telephone calls and emails.

So a brief word from the iditol who doesn’t check his online booking info well enough: caveat emptor, buyer beware.  Always check the I’s and T’s to make sure they’re dotted before you press pay now.  Just in case.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here…

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  • Tabitha

    I think you have to have the right plan for self investing today. I stumbled on a newsletter geared toward a patient, risk-aware self investor. It’s called fractalerts. Their tech gives you the right moves about 2-3 days before a recommended trade. It has worked well for many of