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Customer in a Bind: The Broadway Box

If you’ve been reading my posts about service, then you know that I bestow both compliments and critiques and that I typically name the recipients of praise and keep the pans anonymous. (You can check out these posts about D’Angelo’s Ristorante and Winthrop University Hospital, and these about lack of communication and ineffective procedures.)

When I’m criticizing, I make the point clear, but I don’t see the need to publicize a particular company’s flaws. I’m not interested in their public castigation. I usually attribute service lapses to poor execution of good intent or to true mistakes — but that was not the case with the service problem I experienced last weekend.

Scene I

As a belated gift to Daughter, and somewhat on the spur of the moment, I ordered two tickets to a popular show.

The tickets are expensive and relatively scarce. A friend recommended that I use a discount ticket seller,, and indeed, it had tickets that were not listed on the regular Ticketmaster site.

You never know what you’re dealing with when you buy from a discount reseller, so I actually read the terms and conditions, including the explicit “no refund” provision, and looked very carefully at the seat selection options before I clicked on the choice of Row S, Seats 2-8. We were hoping for Seats 2 and 4, to be on the aisle close to the performers who parade past during several numbers, but we agreed that we would be perfectly happy with Seats 6 and 8.

Then I unchecked the little pre-checked box signing me up for ticket insurance, said a little prayer to the gods of Consumer Protection, and entered my contact and credit card information.

Scene 2

I wasn’t surprised when the automatic confirmation email specified Row S with no seats designated. It was still 24 hours before the performance, and for all I knew, the other two seats in the group would be offered at a higher price, and if someone took them at the higher price they’d get Seats 2 and 4 and we’d get Seats 6 and 8. Fine. If you want the discount, then you have to agree to give up perfect control.

I was surprised the next morning, though, when a second email confirmation arrived, followed by the email with the printable tickets, which specified Row S, Seats 14 and 16. With that sinking feeling that comes when you know you’re already in some kind of bind, I called the “Customer Care” line with exceedingly low expectations.

Scene 3

At least I got a blog out of it.

The Rep’s tone communicated a flat, “Don’t even bother, Lady, because you’re certainly not going to bother me.” She sounded unbelievably experienced in having this exact conversation. We ran through the same basic dialogue three times.

I expressed my surprise at not receiving what I believed I’d ordered, and she did not in any way suggest that the fault was mine or that I’d ordered incorrectly; instead, she reinforced that what I got was what was available and there was nothing further that she could (or should) do for me.

In the last iteration, I said specifically that I was very unhappy with the outcome and that I would not have placed the order if I had understood that it would be fulfilled with seats other than those in the specific group I had designated.

Rep: This is what the seller had.

LK: Is it your policy — which I did not understand from reading the terms and conditions — to actually sell seats outside the group advertised?

Rep: Yes.

Period. So I thanked her and got off the phone.

Scene 4

I was even unhappier, although no more surprised, when I checked my phone after we had settled into Seats 14 and 16 on the far aisle and found an email with the subject line “Your Event Ticket Protector Request” containing the “information on the Event Ticket Insurance plan you purchased from Allianz Global Assistance.”

Curtain Call

Earlier in my career, I served on the Direct Marketing Association’s Committee for Ethical Business Practice for six years. We evaluated consumer complaints about marketing promotions. Part of what we looked for was the overall impression — not the way the promotion for a product or service would be perceived by the most gullible or optimistic consumer, but how it would look to a reasonable, even somewhat educated consumer. If the overall impression was clearly misleading — in other words, if the consumer was likely to form an inaccurate perception of material facts — then we would find the promotion in violation of our guidelines.

The outcome of Broadway Box’s promotion certainly appeared to violate the DMA guidelines, but I couldn’t find a way to get back to the terms and conditions to review them without placing another order and I couldn’t bring myself to spend more time on that site.

Editorial comment, 8/30/2012: Please read below for an update on the events that took place after this post went live.

Onward and upward,

Update, 8/24: The founder of Broadway Box emailed me in response to this post, clearly concerned, and I’m very appreciative. I’ve gotten one voicemail (not at the number I asked for, but a least it’s an effort) from someone at TicketsNow. Perhaps, after a bit of phone tag, we’ll have a meeting of the minds. I’ll post another update when I’ve got one.

Update, 8/27: Over the weekend, a very pleasant rep at TicketsNow researched my situation and proposed a resolution that seemed reasonable: a refund for all ticket service charges and a small gift card good for a future purchase — with the assurance that I could book through her directly instead of through the web site. Even more important to me, though, was this paragraph from her email, which gave me hope that the company wasn’t just trying to placate a public complainer:

“I have forwarded all the information I found in regards to this seat mix up to our IT department to get this rectified. I have also forwarded all information you have provided in regards to your Customer Service Experience to the appropriate Supervisor. Further steps should have been taken that day. Thank you for bringing this to our attention for TicketsNow does strive to provide excellent Customer Service and when we do not we do like to be told about it to fix in the future.”

I expressed my appreciation to the TicketsNow rep, and also to the Team at Broadway Box — the founder had actually emailed me after hearing about the resolution from TicketsNow to verify that I was, in fact, satisfied with the outcome.

This was a very interesting experience for me: the feelings of being “wronged;” the ambivalence about going public; the relief of knowing that someone cared; the customer’s satisfaction at receiving some restitution; the consultant’s intuiting about some of the backstory. I suspect the whole incident will be an ongoing source of material about “the customer experience” and what happens inside organizations as they try to manage infrastructure and humans.

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