Another support call and e-commerce nightmare: This time, it's Ticketmaster

Summary:Compared to the debacle of a support call that I had with T-Mobile, at least the one thing positive I can say about today's support call with Ticketmaster to overcome a ticket purchasing problem with its Web site (which I've recorded for your listening pleasure) is how pleasant everybody was that I spoke to, even though they were ultimately unable to resolve the problem to my satisfaction.

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Compared to the debacle of a support call that I had with T-Mobile, at least the one thing positive I can say about today's support call with Ticketmaster to overcome a ticket purchasing problem with its Web site (which I've recorded for your listening pleasure) is how pleasant everybody was that I spoke to, even though they were ultimately unable to resolve the problem to my satisfaction. You can download a recording of the call, or it's streamable with the built-in player above, or, of you're subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, it will automatically get downloaded to your computer and/or MP3 player. 

She tells me to keep refreshing the page because the missing option might suddenly appear if she's successful in contacting the right people.

This morning started like most mornings.  A 5:30 AM swim at the Y.  Breakfast with the kids (Honey-Nut Cheerios).  A check of my e-mail inbox (all four of them). Only this morning, thanks to my subscription to Ticketmaster's alert service, there was an update that caught my attention.  The Rolling Stones are apparently coming back to Boston (I missed their first swing through the neighborhood).  I've seen Pink Floyd and the Who.  But the Stones are still on the list of British Invasion bands (along with the Beatles and the Kinks) that I never got to see (despite all of them being intact when I was old enough to start going to rock concerts).  Neither my wife nor my 16 year old son have seen the Stones live either. 

A visit to Ticketmaster's Web site (partial screen shot below) revealed that a special class of tickets -- presale tickets -- would go on sale today at 10AM ET.  This, I thought, was my golden opportunity.  My expectation wasn't that I'd get first row or anything like that.  It was just that I'd be one of many early birds that would get some decent seats that would probably be gone by 10:10.  What is "presale?"  To participate in the presale, you need to be a member of the Rollingstones.com fan club.  I'm not a member.  But the ticket selection page on Ticketmaster's Web site very clearly states the following:

Not a Fan Club Member Yet? You can purchase tickets before the general public by ordering a RollingStones.com Fan Club Membership during the presale as part of your ticket purchase transaction, which will cost another $100 USD. In approximately 10 business days, RollingStones.com will send you an email so that you can then activate your membership.

Here's a partial screen shot with the right-most 5 pixels cut off (due to width limitations):

ticketmaster.JPG

Even though the tickets to see the Stones are pretty steep, I was willing to pay $100 extra to get access to the presale.  After all, this could be the last tour for Mick & crew and it's not often that we (as a family) treat ourselves to something so special.  So, this offer from Ticketmaster was perfect for me.  As you can tell from the text, if you're not already a member, Ticketmaster can wrap the cost of becoming one right into the presale of the tickets. What makes this great is that I don't have to drop $100 to become a member in the event that I don't like the seats that Ticketmaster offers me.  If, for example, I join the fan club through RollingStones.com, my $100 is gone whether I like the seats Ticketmaster has to offer, or not.

So, at about 9:50 AM, I made sure I was logged into Ticketmaster with my user ID and password, I tee'd up the Stones ticket selection page (which was "inactive" for the next 10 minutes) and popped up a seating chart in another browser window in case I had to make some quick decisions.  Then, after the clocked ticked 9:59, I started pressing the refresh button and sure enough, the option to by tickets appeared on the page after about the 5th refresh.  Only there was one problem.  There was no  apparent way to take advantage of what the page was still advertising -- the ability to wrap the cost of Rollingstones.com fan club membership right into the ticket sale.  I was stuck.  And the clock was ticking (in other words, the good seats were being sold as I stared at my computer screen seemingly powerless to do much about it). 

"The phone!" I thought.  I'll do it by phone.  And here's the second problem: Finding Ticketmaster's phone number was easier through Yahoo's online directory than it was on Ticketmaster's Web site.  You'd think Ticketmaster would have an 800 number plastered on every page.  Or, maybe, on the page for the show in Boston, it could show the phone number for the Boston office (you know... that special Web technique they call "contextual linkage").  But no.

It gets worse.  

As the minutes ticked by and the better seats were probably slipping away and I finally made phone contact with Ticketmaster, the company's Interactive Voice Response (IVR) takes over.  Press 1 to buy tickets, 2 if your inquiry has to do with an existing order. Door #1 is obviously the path I need to head and I do.  Unfortunately, as you can hear in the recording, after being read the event date and time twice  (each time, very slowly, as the click is ticking),  I'm first notified of when tickets will be made available for purchase to the general public (not "presale") and then, it hangs up on me with no option to speak to a human (I pressed zero just in case.  It didn't "zero me out" to an operator).

So, I called back and this time I pretended that I had a pre-existing order by going through door #2 and, given the limited set of IVR options, I successfully intuit the path that's most likely to get me to a human. Kim, the first human I encounter eventually finds her way to the same page that I did and ends up just as confounded as I did. She decides to take matters into her own hands and puts me on hold while she tries to contact the Ticketmasters webmasters (at this point, I'm losing confidence in Ticketmaster's ability to master tickets or the Web).  She tells me to keep refreshing the page because the missing option might suddenly appear if she's successful in contacting the right people.

But Kim's efforts are to no avail at which point I ask if there's some higher authority to which I can complain.  Is there a number for headquarters? How about your PR department? I end up on hold (a goodly portion of the call is me, on hold, trying to entertain you).  Instead of Kim coming back to me with phone numbers, Michael picks up the phone.  I explain the situation to him and he puts me on hold.  And then, instead of Michael coming back to me with the information I wanted, Francie, the fraud and loss prevention representative takes over the line. 

At one point in our conversation, it seems like progress is going to be made (even though it's about 11:00 and 1 hour has passed since tickets first went on sale).  Francie says she's going to try to get in touch with the client service representative: the person in charge of interfacing with The Rolling Stones.  "Cool!" I think.  Now we're getting somewhere. Maybe I'll get special dispensation for all my pain and suffering. Front row seats will do.

But, this time, instead of being passed along to the client service rep, Francie comes on the line to tell me that the missing option will appear tomorrow (7/27) at noon. 

The number of failures in this case are what turned something that should have been very simple into a nightmare.  The Web site that very clearly stated the options that were open to me, even though they weren't open to me.  The difficulty in finding Ticketmaster's phone number. The IVR system that had no way of making a presale purchase like the one the Web site was supposed to offer.  The IVR system that many people in my situation would probably give up on in an attempt to reach a human.  A string of humans that I eventually reached (under false pretenses of having a pre-existing order), none of which could help me make the buy that the Web site advertised I could make.  The string of humans and a Web site, none of which could furnish me with the phone number of someone at Ticketmaster's executive offices.  The customer who wasted a significant amount of time and effort only to come up empty handed.

What a mess.  But don't take my word for it.  Listen to the phone call and judge for yourselves. 

Topics: Mobility

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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