Airport Parking Complaint Correspondence: Where blame culture rules and system improvements are ignored

Masks

This correspondence was generated following a simple error whilst using a car park at a major airport in the UK. You will see that there is little understanding or empathy towards the error, there is a strong desire to establish who is at fault, and there is little recognition of system improvements that could stop this problem happening to other people in the future.

All the names have been replaced by made-up names.

Could they have handled this situation better, not just for this customer but for customers in the long term? How does your organisation handle error? Does it find who is at fault or does it fix underlying problems that many people suffer from?


25 February 2013

Dear Sir/Madam,

It is with regret that I am writing this letter of complaint as it’s not something I usually do but I feel the way we were treated by your staff was unacceptable. I feel we’ve fallen victim to a simple honest mistake that could have been handled more compassionately rather than saying just pay and “stop wasting my time”. I hope this letter isn’t wasting your time and that you might 1) listen to what we have to say, 2) respond in a considered manner, and 3) look to improve your systems so other customers don’t have the same unpleasant experience we’ve had. I suppose I was expecting something like these three things yesterday from your staff but as you’ll see in the details below this did not materialise.

These are the details of our experience, which happened yesterday (24.02.13):

  1. We picked up our car and tried to exit the car park at [airport] at about 1.30 in the afternoon. We were confused at the barrier as it said we needed to pay £19.80. We had paid until two so we didn’t know what the problem was. We pressed the button to call for assistance. This rang and rang but there was no response. I reversed the car and we went to the customer service office.
  2. There was someone in front of us in the office so we queued. Whilst in the queue my partner said that she thought she might have booked until two in the morning as the confirmation said 02:00. I said it wasn’t clear and we should wait to see what they have to say. In any case I said it was an honest mistake and the information could be clearer.
  3. We got to the front and handed the guy sitting down our booking confirmation and merely said the machine is asking us to pay an extra £19.80 (his name was later given as [DAVE] but we’re not confident that was his name). He looked at the sheet, then looked at the clock and he didn’t know what was going on either as he said we had until two o’clock.
  4. A guy standing up then interjected and said you’ve only paid until two in the morning (his name was later given as [Bob] but we’re not confident that was his name either). Dave and Bob then explained how it was clear and that we needed to pay the excess.
  5. I tried to explain that the information was not clear as Dave had made the same mistake as we had done (see III), and that it was an honest mistake. I did not want to pay the elevated daily charge when we honestly thought our pre-booking was in order and wanted some acknowledgment that the information could have been clearer.
  6. In the subsequent discussion:
    1. Dave said just pay and “stop wasting my time,” which we thought was really rude and no way to speak to customers.
    2. When I said that it could be clearer by supplementing the time with either AM or PM Bob replied, “It is clearer.” This didn’t make sense to me. Surely, it could only be clear or not clear in its current state. This made me feel that they were being antagonistic rather than understanding.
    3. Bob then said that he had done plenty of bookings and that sometimes they have AM and PM and sometimes not, ours did not, and that we would have to pay anyway. This left me further confused: why didn’t ours have AM and PM as then we wouldn’t have made the mistake!? Why is it different for different bookings?
    4. I reiterated that this was an honest mistake and they should understand why we’re frustrated – with the information the way it is I said that I would not expect this to be an uncommon problem. Bob again seeming to be antagonistic but perhaps not understanding what I had said replied that it was a common problem. Dave backed this up and said it wasn’t just us, and that this happens to others too. Nevertheless we would still have to pay. This left us further confused – if it was a common problem that people are aware of why doesn’t the company make simple changes to improve the situation?
    5. Despite saying that the information was clear and obvious in a quite patronising way Dave and Bob had also misread the information themselves, said that sometimes the information has AM and PM but on ours it wasn’t there, and had been clear that this is a common mistake that many customers make. They made it clear that there was nothing that we could do but pay.
  7. Feeling quite agitated in the manner Dave and Bob were handling our case I asked if there was anyone else that I could speak to. Bob said that we could speak to customer services and gave us their number. I asked if we could talk to them now and he said yes, dialled the number and handed me the phone. I then had the pleasure of listening to a recorded message saying that customer services was closed. Dave and Bob realised it was Sunday and that they’d be shut – the fact that I had to ask for someone else to talk to, rather than them being forthcoming about how to escalate the complaint if they could not help us, and then get handed a phone saying that customer services is shut further eroded my confidence in how this was being dealt with.
  8. There was no other choice left for us other than to pay and take the matter up later on (hence this email). I asked if I could pay the amount by card and asked for the gentlemen’s names so I knew who I was speaking to. Bob wrote “Dave” and “Bob” on our booking confirmation. I do hope these are their real names as I would be even more disappointed if they had made them up; however, with how they interacted with us we would also not be surprised.
  9. I handed my credit card to Dave who took it, did something on his system, then handed me back my card, my receipt and 20p change. Why did I have 20p change from a credit card transaction?? Joe pointed out that he had done a cash transaction by mistake. I signed a receipt as requested, I presume to indicate that I had acknowledged their mistake. I then handed my card back to Dave, who did some more processing and then handed me my card and another receipt. At no time did I have to enter my pin or sign which I found confusing. I wanted the money taken from the card I handed them and not the one that I booked with – they said it came from that card and that their systems don’t need a pin which I thought was strange. I didn’t seem to be able to see any numbers on the receipt to identify my card as the method of payment rather than my pre-booking payment details. The best they could say was ‘check your statements’. This again did not seem very professional and as of this morning I still cannot identify where the money has gone from.

This whole interaction left my partner and I feeling very agitated and upset. My partner said she felt intimidated by the pair and that she was glad I was there – not a good sign for females who are on their own. We use the [X] parking services regularly and have had no cause for complaint before. When we went into the customer service centre we wanted someone to listen to us, to respond in a considered manner, and to be interested in improving the situation and service for others. This is not what happened.

After what has happened above, we’d like a response to the following:

  1. Can our excess charge be waived considering: it was an honest mistake, a similar mistake that was made by your own employee, we did not have AM and PM on our information sheet but apparently you do on some sheets, and it is a common mistake acknowledged by both Dave and Bob?
  2. So others are less likely to make this ‘common mistake’ could you clarify times in your system so it says [AM] for all times in the morning, [PM] for all times in the afternoon, [midnight] for 00:00 and [noon] for 12:00? This seems like a simple change that would have stopped us and others from making the same mistake again.
  3. Are you happy with the customer service we received and how we were treated?
  4. If our excess charge is not waived can you confirm that the money is coming from the card that I handed to your employees and not the account where the pre-booking was made?

Thanks in anticipation,

Eric


28 February 2013

Dear Eric,

Thank you for your email.

I am sorry to hear of your experience.

I have passed this onto the car park management who will investigate this and contact you directly.

Please contact me if I can be of any further help.

Kind regards

Joe


12 March 2013

Dear Joe

I haven’t heard anything since your last email which was over 10 days ago now. Could you give me some expectation about when I will get a response and/or some acknowledgement that it is being dealt with by the people you have passed it on to?

Thank-you,

Eric


13 March 2013

Dear Eric,

The car park manager has looked into this and below is the findings:

Bob is the Service Delivery Manager for the [x] car park.  Dave is the receptionist.

My colleagues have been questioned and can clearly remember the incident.

Dave served the customer.  Eric handed over the ticket to Dave and he inserted the ticket into the machine and the car park till confirmed that the passenger had exceeded his booking period and that the overstay fee would apply.   At the time Dave was confused and he could not figure out why over stay charge was applicable.   Bob intervened and checked the booking and immediately identified that Eric booked until 02.00am.

Eric made a request to waive the over stay fee.  Eric stated that he did not know the booking was calculated on a 24hr clock.  We explained that it was not only pre-booking that worked on a 24 hour clock, but that airline flight times were also 24hours.

The customers repeatedly asked to waive the over stay fee.  We explained that the booking was made with [x] and that the tariff would apply.  The customers insisted on speaking to the booking company, unfortunately there was no response from [x] because it was a Sunday.

The customers finally decided to pay the amount due.  Payment was made via a credit card transaction through the receptionists till.  Whenever a payment is made using cash or card the till drawer automatically opens.  Unfortunately, Dave made a genuine mistake in attempting to hand the customer 20p change from the till.  Bob advised that the transaction was made using a credit card, placed the 20p back in the till and issued a receipt to the customer.

In summary although the customers may have made a mistake in the booking the overstay tariff still applies.

I can confirm payment can only be taken from the card you have provided at the time as they do not have access to any other details.

Please contact me if I can be of any further help.

Kind regards

Joe


13 March 2013

Dear Joe,

I would be grateful if I could have a response to the 4 specific points made in my original email which I took time and effort to articulate. You can now ignore point 4 as I know where the money has come from. I might stress, if it is not obvious, that this is not just about the money but improving the usability of the booking system and customer service we received.

There are certain discrepancies between our account of the ‘explanation’ Dave and Bob gave to us and their account, needless to say I would maintain that the detail in ours is accurate.

Eric


18 March 2013

Dear Eric,

Thank you for your email.

I have passed your response onto the car park manager.

Please contact me if I can be of further help.

Kind regards

Joe


18 March 2013

Hi Joe,

Thanks for forwarding my email. I had a quick question:

Does the car park manager also manage the website and booking system?

Eric


20 March 2013

Dear Eric,

Thank you for your email.

I had referred your situation and feedback to my senior manager at our head office. He has advised of the following.

  • The booking was made with a 0200 return time & as such paid for 4 days.
  • Had they put 1400 as their actual return time as they meant to do then they would have been charged 5 days.
  • The car park were correct to charge the overstay as they had gone over 4 days and cannot access tariffs to amend otherwise.

As a good will gesture he has advised that a refund can be arranged. It will be refund of the overstay fee minus the difference of what would have been the 5 day price. The price for 5 days would have been £49.60, the amount paid was £42.2 plus £19.80 overstay a total of £62. the difference being £12.40.

Please can you confirm the £12.40 can be refunded to the same card used for the pre-booking?

Kind regards

Joe


21 March 2013

Hi Joe,

Thank-you for dealing with this matter. The money can be refunded to that card and I appreciate the gesture.

I will stop bothering you now but I am still dissatisfied as:

  • You are the only one that has said ‘sorry for your experience’.
  • There has been no acknowledgement of the poor customer service we received.
  • There has been no acknowledgement of the usability ideas to stop this ‘common problem’ in the future.

It would have been nice to hear from one of the managers that they were sorry for our experience, that we should have received better customer service and they will look at our experience seriously to see what could have been done better, it would have been nice to hear that the interaction design ideas would be discussed and considered by the web development team or similar.

I work as a researcher in interaction design, usability and human error and I really think the addition of AM, PM, noon and midnight would be a good idea.

Eric


25 March 2013

Dear Eric,

Thank you for your email.

I can confirm that the amount of £12.40 has been refunded to your card. This will show in the account in 3-4 days.

I have also passed your comments and feedback to my management.

Please contact me if I can be of further help.

Kind regards

Joe

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