I can’t get there from here

I just spent about an hour on the phone with my local daily newspaper trying to work through a simple billing error.  The printed daily newspaper is a dying industry so I am not surprised that the commercial infrastructure of this publishing company is antiquated, the focus of the organization is internal (i.e., how long can we survive?), and the employees are under trained.  I’m just old school enough that I still enjoy a printed copy of the paper in my hands with a cup of coffee in the morning.  So in spite of the service lapses I’ve stuck with this paper for over 20 years as I’ve watched them slowly disintegrate jettisoning assets and journalists along the way.  A little sad really, but it’s hard to maintain the status quo and you either evolve or you  die.

Here is what stood out to me today.  The person to whom my billing problem was escalated doesn’t have a direct phone number.  So when he wasn’t able resolve my problem today we agreed to speak again tomorrow.  I asked him what number I could use to reach him and he told me he didn’t have one.  He said to call the general 800 number and ask for him.  To me this meant that I can’t get there from here.  Because to reach him on the phone I would have to:

  • Call the general 800 number
  • Wait on hold because they are “experiencing unusually high call volumes”
  • Ask the Rep that answered to transfer me to the supervisor
  • Explain to that rep why I was asking to be transferred
  • Wait on hold to be connected to what I found out was a totally different call center in a different state
  • Listen again to the maddening 1960’s era techno music on hold
  • Hope a rep answered before I ripped my ears off
  • Ask for the supervisor by name
  • Explain why I needed to speak with him
  • Wait for the transfer
  • End up in a general mailbox because the supervisor doesn’t have his own phone number (or one that he is willing to give out) because he was out getting a cup of coffee

I can’t get there from here.

When I described my recent experience which was pretty much the litany of steps that I’ve described above the supervisor relented and gave me the phone number of his call center which was different than where the general 800 number is answered.   This of course made me feel like a very special customer because I can now skip steps 1 through 5.

I’ve run small and large call centers over the years.  I understand call routing, call queueing, staffing, roles, responsibilities, and – oh yeah – the customer.  Not having a direct phone number for a customer to call you on to speak about an existing service issues is not a technical limitation.  It’s an organizational limitation.  Or it’s a process design limitation.  Or worse, it’s a “we’re dying on the vine” limitation and a “we just want you to go away and let us die in peace” limitation.

So if I want a piece of newsprint in my hand while I have my morning cup I guess I’ll have to take the long way around.  Because I can’t get there from here…

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