Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Final Mariden Update

OK, friends, here is one final Mariden USA update. After this, I promise I will extricate my teeth from this tasty flesh and move on to other topics.

Recall from my previous post that my friend Mark Friese in the DC area had a similar encounter with the unscrupulous Mariden folks--he actually went on his trip to Spain but--like our experience--that wasn't the end of his troubles with Mariden. Here's Mark's tale of woe.

First I want to thank you. Your contacts helped me talk to many other people that have had to deal with the poor management of Mariden. I did strong arm them to get me tickets at the last second. I had to visit Augustine at his home and leave messages on Nina’s door. As with some others when we arrived in Spain no arrangements for hotels had been made. In fact the hotel they first sent me to had dealt with Mariden in the past but wanted nothing to do with them in the future. After calling our guide I was directed to another hotel that was supposed to be paid for. The reservations had been made but no payment sent to the travel guide. He said that he could not help me until Nina approved the expenditure. Nina had evidently made some kind of side deal with the rest of our group coming from a different location. They had to pay for travel because she did not have the money and she would cover the hotel, meals and excursions, unbelievable! They bailed at the last moment. I never found out what happened.

In my international email correspondence with Nina to get my hotels and guide paid for she told me she was mad at the other group for bailing on her and that she had to pay all kinds of penalty payments (THAT sounds familiar). Payment was finally made by Nina and our guide proceeded with our tour. Having just two clients rather that 13 it was abbreviated. He did not travel with us, go on tours or dinners with us (except once). I would imagine that he was expecting a big group and the equivalent big tip rate of 7 euros a day( 1,000 euros in total), instead he just had us.

I thought you would enjoy the story. Hopefully Mariden is done. There were murmurs from Augustine of bankruptcy. I know they are being sued in Virginia by the other families that we were originally suppose to travel with. I have been asked to testify. Because of you I had at least ten conversations with others that have been treated poorly by Mariden. Many are willing to write letters or perhaps testify. I applaud you for your persistence and continuing to get the word out to others. Many of these trips were paid for with hard earned sweat by the kids that were supposed to attend. The entire situation is just sad.

So you see, friends, online reviews work. Social media connects us in ways never before possible, and forces companies to be accountable to their customers. Those that aren't... perish. And that's for the better, for all consumers.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mariden Update (or, The Power of Online Reviews... Proven Again!)

If you read my post from 5/1/12, you're familiar with my crusade to bring Mariden USA to justice (if you didn't, please read it--you'll be amazed and appalled).

Yes, I'm like a pitbull. I continue to fight Mariden because they destroy kids' dreams. I continue to fight Mariden because it proves a point--online reviews ARE powerful and DO make a difference. Plus, as I declared in a recent job interview: "I was in the Army. I don't quit, and I don't lose."

This latest update is more positive for the victims of unscrupulous travel operators like Mariden--and one which underscores the power of social media.

I was contacted recently by Mark, the father of a student who had invested in a Mariden trip to Spain--which Mariden canceled at the last minute (no surprise)--without communication to Mark or his family. Mark had read my review of Mariden on Yelp and reached out for some advice on how to proceed. Sadly, the saga he related wasn't surprising.

Thankfully, Mark is a tenacious fellow (takes one to know one). As he lives in the same city where our nemesis, Mariden, is based, and he wasn't getting any response from Mariden, Mark visited Augustine (the Mariden rep) at HOME!

Here's the scoop, as Mark relayed it to me via email:

"I met with Augustine today. I looked up his address and surprised him at home because no one will return my calls email, etc. The owner is Nina with her husband they both own 50% of Mariden and Mariden Canada. They are in the middle of a bad divorce. The woman named Dagmar is the sister of Nina. They have not filed Chapter 11 yet but are considering it. I will mention on a positive note that you were mentioned as someone that had substantially damaged their incoming business. I am suppose to hear tomorrow if the trip will happen. If not I have been referred to their attorney. Hopefully it will not come to that but we will see."

Naturally, I am helping Mark strengthen our legitimate campaign against Mariden International, by providing him not only my own correspondence, but that of others who were similarly exploited by Mariden.

The key line in Mark's synopsis is "I will mention on a positive note that you were mentioned as someone that had substantially damaged their incoming business."

Let this be a lesson to ALL businesses operating deceitfully: You WILL be discovered. Your deceit WILL be disclosed. Your business WILL suffer. Your only solution is to apologize, compensate the victims of your perfidy, and pledge henceforth to be transparent. Go on the attack and you'll be vilified. The world is a small place; people communicate.

If you've been a victim of unscrupulous business owners, share your story online. Share it widely. It DOES make a difference.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

JetBlue Succeeds in Social Media: A Case Study

There's a lot of clutter in the social media world, and--although "the experts" say consumers can pick and choose the feeds they want--it's increasingly confusing to sort through the social media static. But when a stream stands out, it's worth stating.

Such was my Twitter experience yesterday with JetBlue. Whoever's in charge of JetBlue's Twitter feed should be commended for their responsiveness and customer service... And other companies should learn a lesson from how JetBlue does it.

Our flight to Boston was delayed out of BWI; we finally landed about 90 minutes past our scheduled arrival time. In my rush to deplane, I left behind my Nook. I didn't realize I was reader-less until I was on the Silver Line into South Station.

I immediately called JetBlue; they gave me the number for the Lost and Found office at their Logan headquarters. I left a message with all the details. Standard approach.

Enter social media: At 10:24 PM yesterday night I tweeted, "Without my #Nook I am readerless! #JetBlue please find it and return it!(Lost tonight on flight 1326, BWI-BOS)". Less than 15 minutes later, at 10:37 PM, JetBlue Direct Messaged me: "@brm90 Please speak with the Baggage Services office in BOS before you leave the airport, or call the lost and found at 617-716-3549."

Of course, I'd already called and left a message. That's the "old media" approach.

As a "new media" pro, what matters to me is how quickly JetBlue responded to my plaintive cry, and how they provided clear, specific instructions in 133 characters. That's the takeaway for brands that seek to use Twitter to connect meaningfully with customers. JetBlue’s brand page on Twitter shows that they use Twitter as a customer service platform. Almost every tweet is an @ reply.

I did some further research and discovered that JetBlue has a dedicated person who continually interacts with social media, especially Twitter. With almost 2 million followers, that's a challenging job.

Here's the lesson for brands: If your brand is on Twitter for customer service, it’s important to be committed. According to JetBlue,

“Our goal would be to make ourselves available, help whenever possible, and to show that our brand is built by real people who care about our customers.”

JetBlue goes to where their customers are and they're helping customers resolve issues. They're not flogging their brand by routinely pushing press releases. On Twitter (I can't speak for their other social media platforms) JetBlue promotes their brand--and builds brand allegiance--by having great customer service.

JetBlue may not find my Nook, but they certainly found a follower.