My Own Private Odyssey

Facebook, being actually useful and not just a procrastination device for once, has laid an incredible opportunity at our door – apartment swapping for two weeks with a couple from one of the greatest cities on earth. So this upcoming Friday, we’re going to London for two weeks, just in time for the massive tourists’ money-pumping machine that is the Olympics.

Anticipating high volumes of people practically anywhere you go, and being the planning-freak that I am (four years as PMO can’t be this easily forgotten), I started research as soon as I was sure we were going. This was a few months too late for my taste (my NYC trip was planned three months in advance) but I was still able to find a couple of gems.

I didn’t expect to encounter a barrier more formidable than time – customer service. A misnomer if there ever was one. The following is a tale that has kept me up at night feeling discouraged and miserable. But have no fear – the ending is a happy one.

London, being the culture center that it is, is going to be the home to a number of festivals during the Olympics. Theatre, art, music, film, the list goes on and on. The one that peaked my interest – Playing the Games, is a comedy-oriented festival held at the Criterion Theatre boasting to have the best Britain can offer. I won’t delve into that statement, because after I read the name Stephen Fry I didn’t feel the need to look further.

If you don’t know who that is, shame on you. For two reasons: A. The man is brilliant, not just in the comedic sense, but in the vast array of knowledge he harbors in that large head of his. B. You have ignored at least one of the posts I’ve previously written.

Back to the point, I opened ticketmaster UK, henceforth known as “Purgatory”, and tried ordering tickets to “Sporting Stories Before Bedtime“. Miraculously, the event hasn’t sold out, but all that were left were restricted-view tickets or premium ones. Deciding it’s ok to splurge cause it’s our vacation, I went ahead and chose two tickets at 35 pounds a pop. After the whole “making sure you’re not a robot” and “answer inane security questions so we’ll verify you credit card”, meanwhile being threatened by a ticking clock at the side of the screen reminding me that every second that goes by means Purgatory will soon stop reserving me the tickets and just give them away to the next person in line, I get a short message – processing error and a link to customer service.

Apparently, customer service is a synonym to FAQ in Purgatory’s world, so all you can do is search for questions similar to yours. Searching for “error message” yields this:

“If you receive an error message at the end of your online booking it may be that your booking has not been successful. To verify please first check your order by logging in to your My Ticketmaster account.  If you are still unable to determine if your order has been processed, you should contact our call centre on 0844 248 5055. International Customers please call +44(0)161 425 8777.”

My order had obviously not been processed. So I tried again with another credit card. And then a second time with each of them, just to check that I have typed everything correctly. And then I tried the bf’s credit card. Nothing worked. (Meanwhile my brain is yelling – what if it’s actually charging every time you get an error?)

Calling them was not an option at the moment, I didn’t want to open a Skype account and pay 10 Euros just so I could call them. So I went to the soap box of our age and passive-aggressively tweeted Purgatory:

The link tells to either call them up or ask a question. So I asked not one, but two questions:

July 12th : I can’t order, every time I try it says at the end that there was an error processing my request. I tried 2 different credit cards.

And

July 15th : I can’t book tickets. Please contact ASAP as tickets are running out. Tried different credit cards to no avail. Keep getting “processing problem”.

I also let the twitter-verse know about it:

I won’t bother with the detailed answers that I got on July 16th and July 18th (great response time, Purgatory). But they both basically told me that there are tickets available to the event and “should you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us”. And I was left wondering “Am I not contacting you now???”

Finally, I broke down and borrowed a friend’s phone, who by switching to a different carrier now has international phone calls at a ridiculous price. We met up for lunch and once we had our food, dialed the international number. The unintelligible voice on the line kept telling us that they’re very busy but that they’ll soon answer us, all the while bombarding us with music that can be described as shitty-pop-dance-being-heard-through-the-wall. Suddenly, after twenty minutes of waiting (and simultaneously googling Purgatory Sucks So Hard) we were told that we should call back later and were abruptly disconnected.

Having exhausted all other options, I laughed. They were trying to drive me insane. And so far they were closer to achieving their goal than I was to mine.

On Wednesday, an idea came to mind. Maybe, just maybe, I can order the tickets from the theatre itself? So I got on a bus to my friend’s house, and dialed Criterion’s number. Misfortune would have it, Purgatory also run the theatre’s phone-line. So after you press 3, because you would like to order tickets, you’re redirected to the menu you’ve just heard. Pressing 1, which was hailed as customer service, leads you to a message that the call center is very busy and that you should try again later.

Try later I did, three minutes later. I pressed 1 and was rendered speechless when I unexpectedly heard an actual human voice on the other end. The woman was extremely nice but my heart dropped to my knees when she said she doesn’t have this event in her system. It was all for naught. I urged her to look online and check again. Same result. Thank the heavens that I was dealing with an intelligent creature, because the lovely woman went and looked at her supervisor’s computer. And lo and behold, in the supervisor’s system – the holy grail. She went back and forth from her phone to the supervisor, filled all the necessary details (my name and address proved an excellent opportunity to practice phonetic alphabet), and twenty minutes in, I had a confirmation code.

It probably would not have felt as frustrating had it not been a war fought on two fronts. As all the aforementioned was happening I was also trying to get my hands on tickets to an Olympic event. But I’m not going to write about that (I have already complained enough in this post), let’s just say that Issta is going to make a lot of money off Israelis’ backs this summer.

Fry, you better live up to my expectations. Otherwise, you’re also getting a thousand-plus post damning you for all eternity. I’m not worried for dear Mr. Fry.

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