We’ve been members of Thousand Trails, a nation-wide membership campground system, for almost 20 years now. We’ve been to most of the campgrounds on the west coast, from Cultus Lake, an hour west of Vancouver, BC, to Pio Pico, less than 2 miles north of the Mexican border, close to San Diego.
It’s an interesting collection of properties. Each one has its own distictive character and feel. The staff are generally pretty nice and genuinely ready to help out. I mean, you can always run into a grouch or ne’er-do-well every now and then.
Our kids grew up in the system. Their camping has had them slip-and-sliding down the rolling hillside at Cultus Lake, climbing trees in Washington state forests, canoeing the river at Bend, Oregon, collecting seashells along the Oregon coast, climbing cliffs at Yosemite, and tracking families of raccoons at Rancho Oso, California (right next door to where Ranch Dressing was invented).
Unfortunately, the system is governed by an ever-changing barely-comprehensible corporate system that is so far removed from the camping experience that I doubt anyone at “corporate” can even comprehend what that means. Even worse, the corporate/member relations system is modelled on a bureaucratic structure that would make a top-heavy third-world government green with envy.
We found this out when Margaret decided to call them because our annual dues statement had not been sent to us this year and the friendly third-party financial-institutional web-based version was anything but.
While we were camped at Pio Pico at the time, the campground staff is not equipped to deal with membership issues or anything else even vaguely hinting of “corporate”.
First, she found that the member’s phone that has been in the lodge ever since we can remember was now gone. The 800 number for Member Services could not, she discovered, be called from a pay phone. Luckily, she found a sweet spot where her cell phone would work – displaying a couple of bars, anyway.
“Thank you for calling… All [crackle-crackle] busy… Your call is important… Please hold for the next….”
[Hold… Hold… Hold…]
“Hello, membership number please.”
She rattled it off.
“Please confirm your address and phone number.”
“How can I help you?”
“Well, we didn’t get our bill this year and….”
“We couldn’t send it out because we don’t have your address.”
Margaret looked puzzled. “Then why did you ask to confirm our address and phone number?”
“I didn’t ask you to confirm your address and phone number. Anyway, when we sent it out it was returned because you moved.”
“We haven’t moved for ten years.”
“Yes, but you haven’t phoned us since 2008.”
The conversation went downhill from there.
Our cell-phone sweet spot was on the road directly in front of our campsite. During the call, passers-by stopped, looked over, listened, cringed, chuckled, nodded their heads knowingly.
Margaret finally got a direct number for a supervisor.
“Thank you for calling… Your call is important… Please leave a message….”