Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Economist. Excellent magazine, dreadfully inefficient service.

Until a few days ago I was a subscriber to that superb weekly, The Economist. Now I'm not. Here's the story...

I signed up in February and thoroughly enjoyed reading practically every word. I say 'practically' as there is so much information that you'd need to forgo sleep for five nights in order to cover it all before the next edition rolls up on Saturday morning. Being a passionate amateur scribe I decided to order their Style Guide from their online store. This book offered tips and guidelines on how to achieve something approaching the house style. It was available on its own or as one of a trio of books, the other two being the Numbers Guide, a sort of basic economics textbook, and the Pocket World in Figures, which contained profiles of all the world's major countries, including GNP, birth rate, average annual household income etc. You get the idea. I decided to order the book trio and, just as advertised, the little parcel pitched up three weeks later and contained the pocket guide and two copies of the Numbers Guide. Yup, the Style Guide was nowhere to be seen.

I got on to The Economist immediately, who requested I return the rogue copy of the Numbers Guide, upon receipt of which they would then send me a copy of the Style Guide. To cut an amazingly long story very short, they never managed to send me what I'd ordered and paid for, instead constantly sending me mails expressing their sympathy and proffering their apologies for this inconvenience. Come June, a full five months after initially asking them to send me the bloody book, my patience ran out. I asked them to either send a copy immediately to the address where I am currently working or to terminate my subscription, reimbursing almost €100 of unused capacity.Well, blow me down with a feather, they had that money transferred to me within 48 hours, regretting that I had chosen to sign off from their publication. I replied that I regretted it too, but drew the line at being taken for a fool for months on end, adding I would gleefully re-subscribe when their Customer Service Department improved beyond being a courteous reply service and actually took care of its paying clients. I also expressed surprise that they would clearly rather jettison a paying customer than actually send him the product he'd ordered and paid for. I'll phone them soon just to find out what exactly the deal was as it has left more than a nasty taste in my mouth. In the five contentious months I corresponded with three people in the CSD, none of whom seemed to have any connection with the other two. It was like banging your head against a brick wall, made worse by the fact they always sent very concerned and responsible-sounding stereotypical responses.

It shouldn't really come as a surprise. Flat Earth News primed me on the cost-cutting that has been going on these last thirty years in the press and it seems that those pesky, customer service types who are bad for profits are the first people to be cut, their jobs reduced to a few stereotypical e-mail responses and the hope that the aggrieved customer will eventually just go off and crawl under a stone, his spirit broken to the point where he can't even bring himself to bad-mouth the company. Not me, sorry; I'm not going to rest until I get a satisfactory response to my questions. Wish me luck; I may need it.

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