Vail Resorts CEO apologizes for ’unacceptable’ customer service waits
In a letter to passholders, Rob Katz says: ’It is my fault for not ensuring we were better prepared’
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, in an email to passholders Friday, apologized for what he called “unacceptable” wait times for customers seeking help.
“Weighing heavily on my mind is the frustration I have heard from too many passholders and guests regarding their customer service experience with our call centers,” Katz wrote. “If you are included amongst those who have been unable to reach a customer service agent for help, or encountered long call center or chat wait times, I want you to know we have heard you loud and clear. And we agree. It is unacceptable, and I personally apologize to you for your experience.”
Katz took personal blame for underestimating the volume of calls that would result from the company issuing pass credits for a shortened season last winter as well as its new reservation system and its rollout of Epic Coverage. The new pass insurance option provides refunds in the event of certain resort closures for COVID-19, giving passholders a refund for any portion of the season that is lost.
Katz wrote that calls to customer service agents had increased fourfold in the run up to the current North American season.
“Despite doubling our staffing and introducing new online chat functionality and other features, our infrastructure was ultimately not designed to handle the volume,” he wrote. “It is a huge miss on our part, especially for a company that tries to be an out-front leader within our industry. This is certainly not the fault of our call center agents, who have tried their best to provide great service under difficult circumstances. It is my fault for not ensuring we were better prepared.”
Going forward, Katz wrote that the company is “on it,” from implementing new back-end systems to leveraging demand forecasting, but said the changes will take time to implement.
“I wish I could say it will all improve overnight, but candidly, this is going to take some time to get up and running,” he wrote.
Reaction from pass holders
Jon Lindseth, of Ohio, who has been skiing at Vail for more than 30 years after he and his wife purchased a second home in East Vail in 1988, wrote an email to the Vail Daily on Friday calling out Katz.
“Include me in the group that says Vail has made a terrible mess of things,” he wrote. “Your Epic Pass customers and all who ski in Vail spend serious money to do so and expect value and a seamless experience.”
Lindseth, 86, an engineer by trade, cited a book by another engineer who preceded him at Cornell, Dr. Laurence J Peter, titled: “The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong” in his letter.
“The principle is ‘people rise in an organization until they reach their level of incompetence at which point they do enormous damage to their institution.’”
When reached at his Ohio home on Friday afternoon, Lindseth said the people involved in Vail Resorts’ decision process to go to a reservation system “would be happier in another line of work.”
“They’ve never been through this before, sure, but that’s an excuse, not a reason,” he said.
Greg Petry, a longtime passholder from Waukegen, Illinois, who said he’s been skiing at Vail for more than two decades, relayed the ordeal he underwent to receive a credit of more than $400 after last season’s shutdown.
Petry has ventured to Vail for years with friends to ski in December, followed by a trip near the end of the season. That spring trip got canceled last season after all of Colorado’s ski resorts shut down in mid-March.
Petry said he initially didn’t receive his pass credit despite signing a waiver he’d received via email, which led to him calling into Vail Resorts’ call centers to get an answer. He eventually resorted to hunting down the numbers of Vail Resorts’ executives, but kept finding that there was no access to voicemail.
“All the calls to executives, the calls would drop,” said Petry, who is the former executive director of the Waukegen Park District. “There was no access to the voicemail. This is purposely done. This isn’t a conspiracy theory, this was orchestrated. You don’t have a corporation of this size that all your calls drop from all your executives.”
Petry said he eventually got his pass credit, and said he plans to ski at Vail this year, as well as at nearby Wilmot in Wisconsin, which Vail Resorts also owns.
But he remains unimpressed with how the company treated its loyal customers like him.
“Their call center people are nice, when you finally get through,” he said. “They’re not the problem. It’s the company. They’re more worried about the bottom line than serving people. That’s not how you make money. There’s an inverse relation there.”
Here’s Katz’s full letter:
Within the next few weeks, we will have successfully opened all 34 of our North American resorts from Whistler Blackcomb to Vail to Stowe. So many of our employees across Vail Resorts have spent countless hours helping to prepare for a re-imagined mountain experience this winter, with safety as our collective priority. We developed a new enterprise-wide reservation system to ensure you have the space needed to spread out and stay safe; we implemented extensive safety protocols, including strict face covering and physical distancing requirements; and we debuted free Epic Coverage pass protection to provide a peace of mind during times of great uncertainty.
But for all we got right, I would be remiss to ignore where we clearly fell short.
Weighing heavily on my mind is the frustration I have heard from too many pass holders and guests regarding their customer service experience with our call centers. If you are included amongst those who have been unable to reach a customer service agent for help, or encountered long call center or chat wait times, I want you to know we have heard you loud and clear. And we agree. It is unacceptable, and I personally apologize to you for your experience.
Due to the pandemic, we introduced a lot of changes this season — including pass credits, a reservation system and Epic Coverage — and our call center experienced a more than fourfold increase in the number of guests needing assistance. Despite doubling our staffing and introducing new online chat functionality and other features, our infrastructure was ultimately not designed to handle the volume. It is a huge miss on our part, especially for a company that tries to be an out-front leader within our industry. This is certainly not the fault of our call center agents, who have tried their best to provide great service under difficult circumstances. It is my fault for not ensuring we were better prepared.
Here’s what I want you to know moving forward.
We are on it. From implementing new back-end systems to leveraging demand forecasting, we are committed to upgrading our customer service operation so it meets the standard of our mission to deliver an Experience of a Lifetime to our guests. I wish I could say it will all improve overnight, but candidly, this is going to take some time to get up and running.
While we work on this transformation, I want to be transparent that our call center and chat wait times may continue to be longer than normal for the immediate future. Please bear with us, and know that our hardworking team of representatives will get to you as soon as they are able. We have also created several FAQ sites with quick answers to many questions related to reservations, Epic Coverage and resort safety.
There is no doubt that 2020 has been a uniquely challenging year, but the joy of skiing and riding in fresh mountain air and wide-open spaces remains unchanged. I speak on behalf of the entire Vail Resorts team when I say we are grateful for your continued patience, loyalty and support.
Wishing you all a safe holiday season and a happy New Year.
CEO of Vail Resorts
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