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

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.

TOPICS: Mobility

tmLogo.jpgCompared 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 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 Fan Club Membership during the presale as part of your ticket purchase transaction, which will cost another $100 USD. In approximately 10 business days, 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):


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, 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 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. 

Topic: Mobility

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  • Of course they suck

    Of course they suck, they are practically a monopoly. They have no motivation not to suck.
    You probably would have had better luck if you had gone directly to and signed up there.
    • There's a good reason

      ...they are called Ticketbastard. Consider filing a complaint with the Attorney General, since they put their fraud person on the line, they must be aware of the potential consequences of such a screwup.
      big red one
      • Correct that last message!

        No, "...they must be aware of the potential consequences..." should be "...they MUST BE MADE AWARE of the consequences..."
      • my kingdom for a ticket

        Now you know why people camp out in line overnight to buy rock concert tickets. Involves the laws of supply, demand, and culpability I presume.

        Ticket-vending technology on the cheap, orchestrated by profit-minded resellers, just does not do the job.

        Attention scalpers: your business model has yet to be breached.
  • Need to see the benefit first

    The advantage of wrapping membership into the transaction is that you don't part with your money until after you get to see what seats are being made available to you. If you go to first, and part with your money, and then realize you would be no worse off if you just wait until the date that the tickets are made available to the general public, you just wasted your $100.

    • did you actually need the membership number?

      Did you actually need the Rolling Stones membership number to complete the transaction, or would it have worked without verification of membership?

      It occurs to me that if they forgot to link the ability to get a Rolling Stones membership, they may well have forgotton to link the need to have that membership.
    • In the Imortal Words of Former President Clinton

      David, I feel your pain. Thanks for publishing that pod cast - gave me something to do while shredding and filling - a CEO's work is never done. LOL
  • Making phone number difficult to find on one's website is a standard trick

    [I am sure you realize this already] the fact that it is easier to find TicketMaster's telephone number outside its website is extremely likely to be a deliberate decision to drive people to use the "cheaper", email option.

    Of course, for a very significant number of cases where people uses ticketmaster, like your case, email will not help at all since their immediate attention is needed.

    Another thing that surprise me is why didn't they just process your order (manually if need be) on the call itself, since they admitted they have a problem.
    • I wish I knew the answer...

      to that last question.

      • Because

        Their reps are probably using the same web page you are.
        • Or maybe...

          I would bet it's because they don't want to encourage people to call them (much more expensive to process) by getting a reputation for having an efficient call centre? Next time DB has a problem with his Ticketmaster order, you can bet he's not picking up the phone...
    • 50% of tickets are passed to scalpers

      by the ticket agency insiders who get a cut of the cash made on the transaction.

      Only way to stop this is biometic ID that will only allow you to buy 2 tickets and the buyer must attend with his friend.

      Buying 10 or 100 for scalpers will not be possible.
      When you attend the event one of each pair sold will need a biometrically approved entry.

      WHo cares? every $250 ticket scalped for $500 = huge unearned profits to scalpers and their food chain as well as untaxed income.

      So the IRS cares and in time a stronger system will be forced onto the industry.
      You should also care, as the system doubles the cost you pay for tickets
      • Biometric authentication ...

        ... better known during the last 2,000 years as "The Mark of the Beast."

        Are you crazy? Are you willing to sell your soul--oh wait, that's crazy talk in these parts--sell your liberty, privacy, freedom, Constitutionally-granted rights (that's that little document our judges re-write every 5 years and our lawmakers ignore) to private property for a stupid CONCERT TICKET?

        I wouldn't sell my soul to Satan for anything less than an HDTV 60" 1080p purchase. Geez, get a clue. SERIOUSLY, you're scaring me.
    • Not an excuse, just an explanation

      I used to work at Ticketmaster many years ago. So I have some sense of what was going on from their end. It was, in my guess, not averice by any individual - the people you spoke to were probably trying to do a good job - but the organizational structure that got them in trouble here and prevented the transaction.

      What follows are my guesses (I have no specific knowledge of how they are currently handling web transactions.)

      First: The client service rep is the liason to the concert promoter. (Note: the concert promoter is Ticketmaster's client, not the ticket buyer.) This person "built" the event into the database and is responsible for the particulars of the event. This person is likely in Boston - possibly New York - for the Boston concert. This person reports to the General Manager (or VP) of the local office.

      Second: There is a marketing/PR person coordinating promotion of the local concert. This person is likely in Boston. This marketing function reports to the Boston GM/VP and is parallel to the client service rep. While they know each other and talk, it is very likely the PR person is working deals with the Promoter (like the Rolling Stones Fan club promotion) more or less independent of the client service rep's management of the event.

      But: The Rolling Stones Club membership gets entered into the Ticketmaster database as an event ticket (as that is the only thing the database is structured to do.) So, the client service rep has to build a "dummy" event for club memberships, and manage that event in parallel with the real concert. But she only knows to do this if PR has passed the info on to her correctly (and she remembers to do it.)

      When I was at TM, there was no (reasonable) way to automatically associate the two events in the database - you had to manage the live and dummy event in parallel.

      My guess is that the client service rep forgot to set the club membership "event" to go live and in the rush of the moment, it just didn't happen. It wasn't "her" event (it belonged to PR) and she wasn't focused on it.

      The client service rep likely had the authority to get you a good seat. But you never got to speak to that person (not really a surprise to me - I've been a client service rep among other jobs and I wouldn't speak to a phone room customer; I'd do what seems to have happened: relay my answer via the phone customer service rep.) No one else in the system that you spoke to would have had the authority (or the access rights on the Ticketmaster system) to do what you wanted done.

      Phone Room: When I was at TM, the Boston phone room was actually in Manhattan. Since then, I understand that they've moved all of their phone operations to middle america (to achieve lower costs, friendlier service, and neutral accents -- they actually care about the latter two as well as the former.) So, your Boston phone call went to some location way out of state (say Omaha or something like that.) Phone customer service is likely located with the phone room.

      So, when you called phone customer service, you were speaking with people who don't know (or barely know) the Boston client rep and the Boston PR manager. There is no personal relationship there, and likely little understanding of the specifics of how they do their jobs.

      In short: everyone was trying; no one had the tools to give you a solution. You may jump on the fact the client service rep wouldn't speak to you, but doing so (over many cases a day) would eat up this person's time. The phone customer service rep has the job to do this.

      Hope this helps to explain.
      • Love the explanation

        It never ceases to amaze me as to the number of people who work
        for a company don't even try to figure out how things really work
        there. If the phone room supervisor knew how things worked they
        could have gotten the persons responsible alerted. By knowing
        these things in advance AND thinking of ways to keep the end
        consumer happy, the phone room supervisor could have a plan
        about how to handle such a situation as painlessly as possible for
        all involved.
  • From a sales and service representative

    There are standards, and bad reps do give a lot of us the bad name, but keep in mind the rep is only as good as the information in front of them. If the company doesn't give them that information, they really can't tell you, even if they _do_ know the answer from other sources.
  • I expect answers in good English...

    "Currently our channels are combine into selective packages and any programs changes made, customers are notify 30 prior to any updates."

    This was a response from Cablevision. We live in America, and speak and write English here!!
    • Could be worse: This could be your medical record

      Medical transcription outsourced to India over 8 years ago. This could be your medical record. You know, your medicolegal record. (I proofread the Indian "doctors" that transcribed U.S. medical records).

      Challenge every word in your medical record. Even if they say an "American" company transcribed it... Many still have been sent to India.
      • get over it...

        Indians or somebodies from another country will become better at speaking English. Outsourcing won?t stop it will rather increase more and more, jobs will continue to fly out, in more areas. Maybe Spanish will become Idioma #1 in the usa in 10-20 years. The americans taking in consideration that maybe America will become less and less powerful in all aspect will succeed, but the ones staying self-centered will be the losers.
        • Holy Crap!

          Please tell me you're an import, and not the product of our current education system.
          Dr. John