Jumping monkeys or how to reach a technical point of contact at an online or tech company

Do you know this situation where you have some domain specific knowledge about a problem but first level support at a company blocks you from getting to a knowledgeable person? An example would be tech support at an internet company where you have already restarted your modem and computer yet first level support insists on you restarting the modem yet again.

Online companies and tech companies often either have no support at all or only provide first level non-technical customer support. Google is a good example, even if you are a customer there's now way for you to reach a technical person if you run into a bug or problem with your installation. There are many reasons for companies to follow such a procedure, mostly to reduce unnecessary down time of engineers with non-technical user problems. Yet, sometimes a problem that is reported from the outside should be escalated but isn't.

I recently ran into a similar problem and am now asking myself how I can make my voice heard as someone who does not work at that company.

So, I've been using Expedia.com for a while to book hotels and considered making them my primary booking engine for hotels. Recently, they updated their homepage and rewards system so that you get 25$ coupons off future bookings which is a nice idea. Unfortunately, I cannot access the rewards page ( http://expedia.com/user/rewards ). If I'm logged in I get the following error message: "An Internal Error has occurred" as shown in the following picture:

image0

The first time a I came upon the error (early July) I disabled my Firefox AdBlocker and found the same error. I then opened an incognito window and tried again, same error. I figured I'd be a nice guy and sent customer support an email, telling them that they had an error on their homepage. I got a reply from their support roughly 1 day later that told me that they are working on the page and it'll work soon again.

Three weeks later (and a couple of hotel bookings later) I tried to access the rewards page again with the same error. This time I got a little suspicious about what was going on and tested the page both on Chrome and Firefox (on Ubuntu 14.04) both with and without AdBlock, same result in all 4 cases. I sent customer support another email:

Hi there,

since several weeks (at least 3) I consistently cannot access the rewards page on expedia ( https://www.expedia.com/user/rewards ). Every time I access the site with my account Firefox reports "An Internal Error has occurred". Is my account broken or are you still upgrading?

Thanks, Mathias

I got a standard reply that they are upgrading and that they are sorry for my inconvenience. I figured that they assumed I was just another monkey customer who misconfigured his computer, so I replied with more explicit information:

Hi there,

I don't know if I made my point clear: I cannot access https://www.expedia.com/user/rewards

I've been trying to browse to that page using two different browsers (Firefox and Chrome) repeatedly over the span of 3 weeks. Every time I access the page an "Internal error" from your web server is returned!

The problem appears to be on your side and persists for several weeks now. I can access the rest of the expedia page without problems.

Please escalate this problem to web development as there appears to be a bug somewhere in your programming.

Thanks, Mathias

Again, I got the same reply from 1st level support with an apology for my inconvenience but no further help. So I waited for roughly one month (travelling in Europe and setting up camp at Purdue) and tried again. Still the same error. This time I reproduced the error on two desktops, both running Ubuntu 14.04.1, one a fresh installation, both on Firefox and Chromium (the open-source version of Google Chrome). I also verified the bug using Windows 7 and IE7 (using an old VM I had lying around). Every single time I hit the same bug when browsing to the rewards page. I assume that there's some bug in their web logic that is triggered by some weird configuration error in my profile. I wanted to be nice again and sent another email to their support:

Hi there,

you're rewards page is broken for some customers! This is the 3rd time I'm contacting you regarding this issue; the first two times (roughly 1 month ago) I got an answer from 1st level customer support that you are upgrading your website. I've waited for a while and the rewards page ( https://www.expedia.com/user/rewards ) still results in an "Internal Server Error" for me. I've tried to access the page using two different browsers (Chrome and Firefox) under Ubuntu and two browsers (Firefox and IE) under Windows7 always with the same result.

I assume that it has something to do with my account or a broken upgrade/misconfiguration in the database for my user name.

I need you to forward this message to the development team or 2nd level support so that they can FIX the problem! Something is broken on YOUR side and I'm getting seriously annoyed. I'm being nice by telling you about a bug on YOUR site. It is highly likely that other customers are affected as well!

Best, Mathias

This resulted in a very quick reply (<20min) with the following answer:

... We do understand your concerns and should you wish to get in touch with a supervisor then we would need to have you on the line and kindly provide the information to expedite the process. ...

I got stonewalled. I tried to reply two more times but got the same answer. Now the super frustrating thing is: I know that their web page contains a bug but there is no way for me to reach their development team or escalate the question to the development team.

I bet I'm not the only one with this problem. To evade such problems with services like email, calendar, or rss reader (e.g., formerly offered by Google) I just run my own cloud on my own server where I have complete control over all data. But you cannot do this for travel reservations and there are way too many online-only companies that have no (technical) point of contact (Amazon, or any other shipping company comes to mind as well).

Are there any best practices or suggestions on how to reach competent persons for such tech companies? Would it help to drop titles? I wanted to be nice and help Expedia but when they stonewall their customers (when it's their fault and a bug on their side) there's not much you can do than switch to a different company. Please share your thoughts and drop me a note via email or twitter.

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