Custimer Survice, Part 2

CEnquirer2Carolyn Washburn, editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, and former editor of the Des Moines Register, reprimanded her staff for an apparent increase in errors in the newspaper lately. “Getting slammed by readers on sloppy copy,” she informed them.

This follows by several months the elimination of all of the Enquirer’s copy editors, a move that Ms. Washburn endorsed and implemented. Her latest memo exhorted reporters to do a better job of getting their facts, spelling, and punctuation in order before sending copy to “producers” and “coaches.” (Back in the 20th century, we called them “editors.”)

Ms. Washburn once proposed hiring an English professor to go over a week’s worth of Enquirer stories, flagging the most common errors made by the staff. Presumably her intention was to educate reporters on the basics of English language usage, as if shaming them would counteract the effects of firing experienced reporters and editors and replacing them with younger, cheaper and less-experienced staffers who are chronically overworked.

Readers are customers. Customers perceive a quantifiable decline in the product’s quality, a decline that is directly traceable to reduction in quality control and an increase in production quotas. Telling workers under those circumstances to “do the best you can” reveals what is at best a cavalier attitude toward customers, and at worst a corporate mandate to sacrifice quality for profits.

UPDATE Feb. 12: This headline appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer today. Notice that all of the words are spelled correctly. Congratulations, Ms. Washburn!

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Oderint dum metuant

Gaius Julius Caesar (Caligula)
Gaius Julius Caesar (Caligula)

Comcast is often credited with having the World’s Worst Customer Support. This is probably unfair. Surely Comcast’s customer service could not be measurably worse than what is offered by cable and Internet providers in Afghanistan or Yemen. (“You want to order decadent Western TV shows? You will be beheaded.”)

Yet even Comcast acknowledges that it has plenty of room for improvement. Last year Comcast’s CEO, Brian L. Roberts, said he was “embarrassed” and “disappointed” that a customer had recorded a phone call in which a Comcast Customer Service “retention specialist” refused to let the unhappy customer cancel his service. The recording went viral, and soon other unhappy Comcast customers were sharing their own Kafka-esque Comcast Customer Service experiences.

Comcast’s embarrassed CEO responded by raising cable modem rental fees by 25 percent, and appointing a new “Senior Vice President of Customer Experience.” Result: Some Comcast customers who call to complain about high fees now receive cable bills addressed to “Asshole,” “Whore” or “Dummy.” Others are placed on hold for hours. It seems the only way to complain effectively is to record your phone calls with Comcast Customer Support.

Which brings us to the Roman emperor Caligula, whose motto was “Oderint dum metuant” (“Let them hate, so long as they fear”). Is it possible that Comcast does not care if it is hated, so long as profits continue to rise?

Adobe Creative Cloud
Adobe Creative Cloud

Which brings us to Adobe Systems, a company that makes software including Photoshop, Acrobat, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and many other multimedia publishing and creativity programs. Once a highly respected company, Adobe now is a perennial top contender for “most hated” on lists of software companies. Last year, Adobe informed its 12 million or so customers that if they wanted future updates and improvements, they would be required to subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud at $20 to $50 a month. In other words, loyal customers who had bought the software the old-fashioned way, in a box, would have to start paying a steep monthly fee if they wanted to upgrade in the future.

Then, a month ago, Adobe informed me that the cost of my monthly Creative Cloud software subscription would increase 40 percent, to $50 a month from $30.

I decided to cancel. But customers cannot cancel online; as with Comcast, the only way to cancel is to speak with a “retention specialist.” I called and was dismayed to learn that my estimated hold time was 46 minutes to 66 minutes. But at least Adobe offers a callback service; I entered my phone number and less than an hour later got a callback. I explained that I wanted to cancel my subscription because of the 40 percent price increase, but that I would keep the subscription if Adobe kept my rate at $30 a month.

After some back and forth, the Adobe customer support agreed. But, he said, the only way for me to renew at the old rate was to wait until I received the new, higher bill, and then to call to complain again. We discussed the logic of this, but the customer service rep said he was powerless to act proactively. I had to wait a month until I was billed $50, he said, and then I could call back and threaten to cancel, and then Adobe would renew me at the $30 rate.

imagesThe $50 bill arrived at 6 p.m. Feb. 2. I called on the morning of Feb. 3. This time a different customer service rep was less friendly. After being placed on hold a couple of times, I was told that Adobe would make “a one-time exception” and renew me for another year at $30, but that it would refund me only $48.20 of the $49.99. Why? Because, he explained, I was being penalized for waiting a day after receiving the bill before calling to cancel. And he wanted me to know just how grateful I should be that he was making this one-time exception.

I was reminded of the time I discovered that Comcast had been erroneously billing me for 10 months for a “second cable modem” that I never ordered and never had. Oops, Comcast said, good for you for catching it. But we’re only going to refund you for three months, because you should have caught us sooner.

It’s hard for me to believe that companies enjoy being on “most hated” lists because of terrible customer service. At the same time it’s hard to believe that a company can stay on a “most hated” list year after year unless it makes a cynical, Caligulan calculation: Let them hate, so long as they pay.

UPDATE: Feb. 9: The Harris Poll has just published its 16th Annual ranking of the 100 most visible U.S. companies, ranked by how favorably — and unfavorably — the public views them. In the “most hated” category, Comcast ranks a mere No. 8. Competition was tough.

Bottom 20:

1) Goldman Sachs
2) AIG
3) Dish Network
4) Monsanto
5) Halliburton
6) Sears Holding
7) Koch Industries
8) Comcast
9) Charter Communications
10) Bank of America
11) BP
12) Citigroup
13) General Motors
14) JPMorgan Chase
15) United Airlines
16) Time Warner
17) Walmart
18) DirecTV
19) ExxonMobil
20) Chrysler

Adventures in modern journalism

Kiss my bumper.
Kiss my bumper.

Several journalists covering the 2015 Chicago Auto Show reported this week that they received the following press release from the PR agency representing Kia.

Hi there,

As you may have heard, Kia is launching an exciting new plug-in capable all-wheel-drive concept car that will be unveiled at this year’s Chicago Auto Show.

We’re curating social activations and interactions at the show and wanted to reach out to see if you might be interested in exclusive access to the concept car to craft sweet content for your social channels. …

If you’re interested in partnering with us to share the love for this car, please reply so we can discuss details ASAP. …

Cheers,

(Name deleted to protect the guilty)

The release was shared on Facebook by one of the recipients, who commented astutely: “If this reveals how social media see the world we are in deep doo-doo.”

Follow-up comments on Facebook from fellow veteran (i.e. older) journalists speculated that the press release must have been written by a young PR person hired for her social media “expertise” and not for her understanding of journalism or journalists.

I can’t imagine that a young person would actually use the phrase “craft sweet content for your social channels,” except for ironic purposes. But then, I can’t imagine either that a veteran PR professional would ask a veteran journalist to consider “partnering with us to share the love for this car,” trading “exclusive access” to the car in return for a promise to tweet sweet things about it.

For those not familiar with PR terms like “curating social activations” and “partnering with us to share the love,” James Cobb, the former Automobiles Editor of the New York Times, provided a translation: “We already assume that you’re a streetwalker, so let’s start negotiating a price.”

What We Can Learn About Storytelling From Third-Graders

For one thing, how to retrieve a magnet that somehow got stuck in your nose.

Find the Magnet

Courtesy of reporter Rob Rosenthal and the Public Radio Exchange, the link above will take you to the story of David Green’s third-grade class in Illinois, and how he teaches his students to tell stories. Among the tips:

  • Be curious about the world.
  • Pay attention. Be in tune with what is going on around you.
  • Find a good subject. What intrigues you? What fascinates you? What makes your jaw drop, and stops you in your tracks?
  • Research it. Do your homework. Talk to people about it.
  • Then tell the story. Write a poem about it.