7 Service Marketing Lessons: Cancellation Experience of a Flight and Hotel

Unexpected disruptions can transform an anticipated trip into a logistical challenge. My recent experience with Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Morerooms highlighted several lessons in service marketing that I believe are worth sharing.

My wife and I had a few days free in March 2024, so we decided to embark on a bonding trip from Manila to nearby Hong Kong and reacquaint ourselves with the city and its “street food.” This visit would have marked our return to Hong Kong since the Covid lockdown, but it didn’t push through.

Our Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight scheduled for 7:50 am on March 15 was canceled due to maintenance issues. Fortunately, we were informed four days before our outbound schedule, and we appreciated PAL for promptly keeping passengers informed about changes, delays, or cancellations. Unfortunately, we were placed on two different subsequent flights, undermining the purpose of our trip. Perhaps our flight had two payment types; I paid in full while my wife used earned reward points. When we called PAL to attempt to be on the same flight, we discovered that we wouldn’t be refunded the difference if we downgraded to economy class for synchronization, even if there were no more business class seats available on our preferred next schedule. Consequently, we opted to cancel our trip since the alternative of booking through another airline, as indicated in the email sent to us, required approval from higher-ups and wasn’t automatic. 

Wanting to cancel a hotel booking made through Morerooms, we found no visible features in the email, unlike Agoda or Booking.com. We attempted the self-service option on the Morerooms website, but it required a booking reference number different from the one indicated in the email, leading to inability for me to proceed. I then had to call a foreign number to cancel and endured close to a 10-minute wait for the cancellation process. It was a hassle—from the absence of the email feature to the website and a different booking reference number, to the need for a call. I suddenly found myself missing Agoda and Booking.com.

Reflecting on the service marketing lessons, I realize 7 lessons companies can learn from: 

  1. The business of service involves inconveniencing oneself for customer convenience. My attempt to align flights with my wife, while seemingly straightforward, turned into a puzzle when faced with PAL’s rigid policies, rather than a customer-centric seamless approach. The email advice letter from PAL was well-written and admirable, but the execution was entirely different.
  2. Managing service experience is managing memories. Managing memories aims to create strong emotional connections with customers to foster a lifetime business relationship. Unfortunately, our recent encounters with both the airline and hotel booking platforms left us with less-than-pleasant memories. This underscores the critical importance of ensuring that each interaction, especially in challenging situations like flight cancellations, contributes positively to the overall customer experience.
  3. When customers encounter dissatisfaction or face challenges during interactions, it can evoke various involuntary negative emotions. These emotional experiences have the potential to reshape thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors linked to a specific situation. Worst of all, it may have an unintended spillover effect, where others unaffected may be influenced as well with their usage, attitude, and image of a brand.
  4. Humans naturally employ a fight-or-flight response to survive perceived threats. Behaviorally, responding to these emotions is more conducive to overall well-being than suppressing them. In customer service engagement, companies need to understand six basic emotions. Positively, they can aim for happiness and surprise. Conversely, negative emotions may coexist, such as sadness (e.g., a new flight schedule preventing attendance at dinner plans with friends abroad set months before), fear (uncertainty about rebooking on the same flight), anger (the need for a long-distance, middle-of-the-night call to cancel a hotel reservation), and disgust (unclear pricing structures revealed during the rebooking process).
  5. Agoda and Booking.com offer convenient and easy-to-spot cancellation features in their confirmation emails. In contrast, the relative newcomer Morerooms (founded in 2021) makes it difficult to cancel. The resulting dissatisfaction highlights the critical role of user-friendly cancellation processes in enhancing customer experience and leaving a positive impression. To be fair to Morerooms, refunds were swift once the room was cancelled. In contrast, my previous experience with Singapore Airlines was remarkably different and pleasantly surprising. When faced with a similar situation of trip cancellation due to a medical emergency, Singapore Airlines provided seamless cancellation and assured a full refund, despite the tickets being bought during a sale period and with less than 24 hours notice. In the digital age, the best customer experience may not necessitate the presence of customer service people, as long as the technology and features function properly and consistently.
  6. Price reflects the value of the service. Business class is priced much higher because it offers a more extensive range of services, while economy class is priced lower because it provides basic services. Providing a fair price resolution, instead of causing buyer’s remorse, considers customers from a lifetime value perspective. Prioritizing revenue generation short-term over customer satisfaction ultimately erodes trust, damages brand and management reputation, and jeopardizes long-term success in the market.
  7. Competently trained and empowered employees, carefully chosen for their empathetic behavior, are crucial for customer recovery when digital options are unavailable. Empowered employees, equipped with the necessary knowledge, tools, and authority, can actively contribute to positive customer experiences. Equally important are digital tools for hotel cancellations, providing an alternative to relying on costly and time-consuming voice calls. However, ensuring an ample number of qualified service personnel is basic.

As we navigate the complexities of modern travel, it becomes clear that service firms must avoid supply side thinking, prioritize customer convenience, carefully manage the memories they create, and transparently communicate the value embedded in their pricing. Ultimately, it’s the seamless and positive experiences that leave a lasting impression on travelers, fostering loyalty and trust in the service industry.


Josiah Go is chair and chief innovation strategist of consulting firm Mansmith and Fielders Inc. He is the author of 19 bestselling books on marketing and entrepreneurship. 

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