Ctrip Trouble: Beware “Free Cancellation”

Ctrip.com is one of the most popular sites for booking travel in Asia and my experiences with it have generally been positive. Unfortunately, I learned that hotel rooms advertised with “free cancellation” policies may leave the purchaser without the protection sought. I also learned that Ctrip’s customer service needs serious improvement.

I was booking a room for 5 people for a tentative stay in Haikou, Hainan. Seeing that the Tienyow Hotel offered some rooms with free cancellation, I booked one of those rooms and then prepaid. The listing with free cancellation had a higher price than the same kind of room without free cancellation, but the extra price was worth the security of having free cancellation if our plans were to change.

On the payment page, the listing continued to show the words “free cancellation” (I didn’t pay much attention to that at the time, actually, but have since verified this behavior on similar listings at the hotel) — but also had a confusing message about not being able to make changes once an order is confirmed. I figured that was standard verbiage that had not been updated to reflect the free cancellation that I was paying for. After all, I was paying extra for the free cancellation service.

When I completed payment, I received an email from Ctrip that said I had paid and that everything was nonrefundable in case I wanted to change. So I called customer service and was told that there was no free cancellation and they couldn’t do anything about it. The representative didn’t seem to get that it was a pretty disturbing, actually illegal, thing to advertise a service or benefit (free cancellation), charge extra for it, and then withhold the service. I asked to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor was too busy, I was told, but would call me back. He or she did not.

I later went to Ctrip’s live chat and explained the problem and asked for the email of the Legal Department and the CEO so I could register my complaint. They refused to give me that information, after repeated requests, and simply said that “We would inform the staff.” Huh? It took a while to get them to explain what they meant by that, but it was that they would ask a customer service person to call me. Other than that, the chat rep would not answer anything, in spite of my other questions about how they could offer free cancellation and not provide it.

Finally I did get a call from a supervisor in customer service who wanted to argue and tell me that they “had clearly” given notice that there was no free cancellation because of the conflicting message on the second page. They could not change my order because this was their policy, and they cannot change their policy.

At this point a native-Chinese speaking lawyer in my office jumped in and argued with the rep. After about 30 minutes, they offered to try to cancel the reservation for me. But that failed because the hotel refused to cooperate. Later, however, Ctrip did kindly acknowledge that there was something of a problem here and offered to cover 50% of my loss if we have to change or cancel the reservation that I’ve paid for. They also offered 100 RMB, later upped to 200 RMB, as Ctrip-bucks if we do complete the reservation. OK, that’s an improvement, but it took a lot of time and energy to get Ctrip to budge, and they still have a credibility gap when it comes to their offerings. They claim they will fix that soon. I hope so.

By | October 20th, 2016|Categories: China, Consumers, Shopping, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

Customer Service in China: China Telecom Busts Another Western Myth

I commonly hear Western businessmen stating that China doesn’t get innovation and customer service. I’ve discussed the myth of China’s lack of innovation on the Innovation Fatigue blog. Today I’ll share my experiences with China Telecom that convince me that the West has a few things to learn about the new world of customer service in China.

Some of the worst customer service I’ve ever experienced involved internet and cable TV service — in the United States. When we had technical problems, the hassles we faced when working with Time Warner in particular put real strains on my endurance. It took forever to reach someone, and then getting help to come fix a problem when that was needed was a real pain. Required advanced scheduling with no knowledge of when the people would show up. Coming to China, I expected things to be even worse. What a surprise that has been!

Two days ago I bought a new router for our home, worried that the signal strength of our old Apple Airport router was too low. But the new router, with instructions only in Chinese, wasn’t working right even after I thought I had done everything properly. I called China Telecom after 9 PM, reached an English speaking agent in about 2 minutes, and they said they would send someone out the next morning. I asked if they could make it around 6 PM when I would be back from work. They said OK, 6 PM or later. The next day at 6:05 PM, a friendly tech support man showed up. Big smile, very polite and kind. He understood exactly what I needed, went to the router, looked at the router page on my computer, clicked one area and immediately spotted an error in my set up. Within 2 minutes the problem was fixed. He then tested the connection, gave me his number in case I had any other trouble, smiled again, shook my hand, and was off. Then 5 minutes later, I got a call from China Telecom to ask how things went, if the problem was fixed, and if the service man had a good attitude and had given me his phone number, etc. Wow.

Rapid access to support, rapid scheduling of service, prompt arrival, quick resolution of trouble, and follow up. What a great lesson for American businesses. China Telecom is a large state-owned enterprise that represents mainstream Chinese business in this new era. China gets customer service. Sure, there are plenty of cases of bureaucracy in the way and lazy employees who don’t care, problems that abound in the West as well. But China Telecom’s fantastic customer service should be the gold standard that the West tries to copy and imitate, before it’s too late. Likewise, the burgeoning spirit of innovation and intellectual property support in China is something the West should learn from, though China has much to do in this area still. But don’t discount the competitiveness of China because you think they don’t get customer service or innovation. Time to start relearning what you think you knew about China, and relearning what you know and do about customer service.

By | April 22nd, 2014|Categories: Business, China, Industry, Internet|Tags: |Comments Off on Customer Service in China: China Telecom Busts Another Western Myth