Booked two tickets through Viator to a Las Vegas show, one my wife had been wanting to see for over a year. We flew out there, showed up, and guess what? The show was dark. For two weeks, in fact. And this was not a surprise to the ticket counter. Viator travel just never bothered to verify the show dates when they sold me the tickets. It was wrong on their website, too. But mistakes like this can happen, right? Surely they would make things right. Perhaps comp me tickets to a different show.
Wrong. It only got worse.
First, the kind gentleman at the ticket counter told me that had I purchased the tickets directly through them, I could have chosen almost any show in Las Vegas that night. But because I purchased through a third party (Viator), I would have to seek my solution through the third party. Great! Just a simple phone call to Viator and all should be well, right?
Wrong. It only got worse. I contacted the local Vegas Viator rep and she told me there was nothing she could do. She said she was sorry but quickly reminded me she didn't make the mistake, it was Viator. I had no other show options and she would email Viator to get a refund request started.
Started? Email? Oh no. It was about to get even worse.
I could not reach Viator by phone so sent a support request to their email account. But a day later, still received no response. So I tweeted about my experience on Twitter. THEN I got a response. But not a good one. Said they would spend up to 36 hours to investigate my situation. Investigate? Seriously? You mean then still didn't know the show schedule? Couldn't they just look up my account, see that I paid for tickets to a show that wasn't even supposed to be sold to me in the first place, then refund the money?
No. And you guessed it, only got worse.
Still no one called. No one apologized. And still no refund. Finally, six days later, the refund arrived along with a somewhat snarky email. It basically said, we've decided to grant your request for a refund for a show that did not run. Grant? You took money from me that you never should have taken in the first place! Saying you "granted" me a refund is a little like me robbing a guy on the subway, then later returning his money. And expecting him to be really happy about it.
And "a show that did not run?" That's almost accurate. But it was never even scheduled to run. And Viator could have and should have known this. After all, that's the business they're in. So what's the point of all of this?
Four things stand out to me.
1. All companies make mistakes. But not all care when the do. And even fewer still are those that sincerely try to make amends afterwards. And as a business school teacher once told me, you can tell how remorseful a company truly is for making a mistake by how they treat you after making it. When they simply offer pat comments, glib apologies, and a simple refund, they're not really sorry. They just want you to walk away.
2. It's not about the money, it's about the experience. Getting the money back was fine. And obviously, expected. But they took from two people an experience that can never be replaced. A long-anticipated show trip that was not to be. Had we been given accurate information, we would have gone and seen another show. Or if Viator would have responded with a similar offer that night, all would have been well. But they didn't.
3. It is about connection. You'll find study after study that shows when people feel connected to a person or business, they are less likely to be bothered by any mistakes. This simple truth, in fact, is the largest determining factor in whether patients sue their doctors when they otherwise would have every right to do so. Connection. Viator kept the "people" side of their business as far away from me as possible, hiding behind Twitter, 3rd Party Vendors, and email contact request forms. This had the affect of ensuring there was absolutely no connection with the customer whatsoever. And it really made the whole thing worse.
4. So the question becomes, what would a good company do in a situation like this? I've considered what I would do if I owned Viator and we did a couple wrong like this. Since I can't go back and redo that evening, I would try to set them up to enjoy a similar evening at some point in the future. In their home town. "Sir/Ma'am, I apologize for the mistake that ruined your evening. Please have a better evening - on us - in the future. Enclosed you will find a $xxx voucher to show tickets in your area. We hope you will give us another chance in the future." There. Simple as that. But that is above and beyond and not too many companies will step up to that level.
Viator has not offered to make things right, outside of the refund. They have apparently moved on and written me off. No connection, no apology, no ownership, and no responsibility. I will not use them again. But you can help others from making the same mistake by sharing this experience. I certainly plan to do so.