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Bad customer service doesn’t make the news

Just the mention of the word globalization can make people’s blood pressure rise. For some, it is an avoidable evil. For others, it is a word that brings to mind the rise of the 21st century land of opportunity. Unfortunately for people like me, who are just learning to cope with its inevitability, frustration abounds.

Offshore call centers seem to be at the pinnacle of the frustration surrounding globalization. It is common sense that businesses face intense global competition. But when the drive to “operate more efficiently” equates to running things on the cheap, good customer service seems to be the first thing that is cut.

Examples abound of the blood-boiling conversations that take place when getting troubleshooting advice for a computer purchase, a credit card dilemma or even newspaper delivery problems. Explaining to someone in the Philippines how one was charged for a newspaper that never got delivered can be a confounding experience. I know, because I just got off that very phone call.

I’ve always been a fan of newspapers. Reading about declining circulation, mergers and job cuts has been particular painful for me. Sure, there’s online news, but it just doesn’t replace the smell and feel of the good old-fashioned paper delivered to the doorstep each morning.

To address the decline in readership, newspapers are trying to reinvent themselves with additional online content, partnerships with local television stations and, in the case of the St. Petersburg Times, live online chats with popular columnists.

But if the customer service aspect of newspapers doesn’t improve fast, Warren Buffet’s description of newspapers as being in a “protracted decline” will only hasten.My experience began while on student exchange in Connecticut. With my desire to keep up with the local news, it only made sense to get a subscription to the Hartford Courant. Boasting itself as “America’s oldest continuously published newspaper,” it must have some redeeming qualities, right?

Unfortunately, the opportunity to read the paper in the morning has proven to be quite difficult. No, the newspaper is not stuck in a snow bank in Connecticut somewhere, but for some reason, charging my credit card for the subscription seems a whole lot easier for the Courant than throwing a newspaper out the window of a slow-moving vehicle.

It is at this point the frequent phone calls begin. The scenario: Call the local customer service number, and with a delay and a double ring it becomes apparent that one’s phone call has been transferred off this continent.

Upon explaining the situation to the innocent call center attendant, the response always begins, “I am sorry, Mr. Hill …” – but these apologies never seem to get me any closer to actually receiving my newspaper. Promises are made to get it delivered by a certain time but, as expected, a computer system in Manila has no idea what time it is on the east coast of America.

So, despite a fondness for newspapers, the continual poor customer service experience given by an unidentified woman in the Philippines has left me with no option but to cancel my subscription, joining thousands of other newspaper subscribers across the nation.

But this is bigger than a newspaper subscription problem. It explains the “x” factor that doesn’t seem to come into play when global business decides to move their call centers to the lowest bidder – the cost of lost business.

The globalization and interconnectedness of world markets and businesses comes with large consequences if it fails. Alienated American customers will find an alternative, no matter how fancy the business plan that shows the benefits of cost cuts to the bottom line.

Unfortunately for the newspaper industry specifically, the loss of readers cannot come at a worst time. And while newspapers such as the Hartford Courant have identified problems with their call centers, the solution of merely increasing staff at the Philippine call center is inadequate.

After all, increasing the supply of a problematic resource may only precipitate an even harsher decline in demand for the newspaper.

Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.