Travelodge Customer Service - the good, the bad and the ugly

This weekend I am off down to London to see a football match at Wembley Stadium. I  booked my hotel (Wembley Travelodge) several months ago in order to secure the best possible price.
This week I looked at my travel schedule and realised that it would be very useful to be able to check-in to the hotel a few hours earlier than normal. This is an option that is offered by Travelodge for £10 extra, so I went online and logged into my account.
What happened next illustrated the best and also the worst of customer service centres today, and it got me thinking that some companies do customer service very well in some departments but very badly in others.
So, first of all I clicked on the button saying “Amend your booking” and then filled in my details so that I could pay extra for the early check-in.
But, to borrow a famous punchline from the ‘Little Britain’ TV show: “COMPUTER SAYS NO!!!”
So I tried again. And again. And again.
But the Travelodge computer system just kept saying that I was not able to amend my booking. And this is me trying to GIVE them extra money!!
So the next step was to call their helpline number. It’s a premium rate number, and when called from a mobile phone it is flipping expensive! I’m sure that by now you have guessed the outcome. “Press Option 1 for this, Press option 2 for that, Press Option 3 for…etc, etc.”
I eventually got round to the option I needed and I pressed the relevant button. Then I was put on hold. For nearly five minutes.
This call was costing me a lot of money, so I hung-up and waited a while. Then I called again. Same problem. Again I was put on hold for an inordinately long time on a premium rate number. And all I am trying to do is pay them ten quid for early check-in.
Eventually I got through to a human being and (Hallelujah!) it’s even someone in a British call centre, not someone half way round the world who doesn’t speak very good English. Now that’s a bonus in itself.
And what did this “customer service” person say? He said he wasn’t able to help me and I should call the hotel direct. And it’s another premium rate phone number. Thanks mate.
So he gives me the hotel’s direct number (which incidentally isn’t advertised anywhere on their website) and I call it. And you’ve guessed it - after going through a long list of options, I was put on hold yet again!
This time I was waiting for what seemed like a decade, with the phone just continually ringing and no one at the hotel answering it.
By this point I had had enough. I was tearing my hair out. I estimated that I’d now spent about £6 in phone charges, just for trying to give Travelodge some extra money for early check-in.
My faith in Travelodge’s customer service operation was at breaking point.
Then a thought occurred to me. Why not try their online advisers instead? So I went back to the website and clicked on the button that says: “Chat with an adviser online”.
A few seconds after clicking the button, a chap called Ben appeared online. Below is an exact transcript of our online conversation:

Ben: Hello, my name is Ben. How can I help you today?
Darren: Hello - my booking reference is 1325643961 - I am trying to amend my booking to add early check-in. I am not able to do this online. I have spoken to one of your colleagues who told me to call the hotel direct. I have tried doing this but no one is answering. This has now cost me over £6 in phone charges, in waiting on hold on your premium rate number. Could you help please?
Ben: OK, please bear with me while I check our system.
Ben: OK, due to the problems you have had I have added this to your booking free of charge.
Ben: Is there anything else that I can help you with?
Darren: No, that's fantastic thanks. Will the hotel know automatically that this has been added?
Ben: Yes, this will appear on their systems.
Darren: Great, thanks Ben.
Ben: No problem, thank you for contacting us and have a nice day.

The entire problem was solved efficiently and effectively in just a couple of minutes - and with no expensive phone charges. The result? A happy customer who will never call the Travelodge customer service phone line again, when it is so much cheaper and easier to 'speak' to an adviser online.
So I will conclude by posing an interesting question: is it just coincidence, or have Travelodge deliberately made it really difficult (and expensive) for customers to use their phone line, so that people will use the online system instead? 

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