There Is No Cat

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Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Customer Disservice

This is an object lesson in how not to conduct customer support over the Internet.

Genealogical Computing magazine is published by Ancestry.com and covers exactly what the title describes, the intersection of computers and genealogy. One of their columnists contacted me this past summer because he was interested in writing about the use of weblogs in genealogical research, and my other blog Geneablogy is damned near the only one out there doing this. Sure, I said, I don't mind at all if you use my site as an example in your column. I've seen the magazine on the newsstand a few times over the years and picked it up, and it seems like a good magazine. The columnist who contacted me, Drew Smith, writes the magazine's Cybrarian column, and based on the columns I've read and such, he strikes me as a decent, intelligent, interesting person filled with good ideas. All these are things that sadly are the polar opposite of the Ancestry.com customer service experience.

So after a couple of months of looking for GC on the newsstands, I gave up and subscribed back in September. The column in which my site was mentioned appeared in an issue published in mid-October. Despite the fact that my credit card was charged for a subscription, I never received the magazine. Okay, maybe three weeks before publication wasn't enough time to ensure I got the issue I was interested in, but maybe I can contact Ancestry.com to find out what happened to my subscription and maybe get them to send me a copy of the issue.

First stop: The Shops @Ancestry.com. Prominently featured on the front page of this section is a link for Customer Service. Sounds like the place to go. They tell you to e-mail support@ancestry-inc.com if you have any questions or concerns. That sounds like me. So I e-mailed them a polite message asking about my subscription and explaining that I was really interested in the issue that went out last month, and why.

The message bounced.

Not only did it bounce, it bounced with extreme prejudice. Ancestry.com shut down this address, and now they want you to visit a site that's basically an extended FAQ with a search engine. Okay, so I went there, and I entered the question "how can I find out about my subscription to Genealogical Computing?" I was rewarded with a page that told me how to buy an ad in their magazines. Bzzzt! Wrong answer!

At this point, I was getting a little perturbed, so I went looking for an e-mail address for some of the big guys. No such luck, just boring corporate biographies. The closest I came was an e-mail address for the editor of Ancestry Magazine, which was mentioned on the same page that told me where to buy an ad. Hmm, that might work.

The message bounced.

At this point, I've now tried three methods to reach Ancestry.com, and I'm getting more than a little pissed. I returned to the glorified FAQ and tried again. One option that's well hidden is to contact Ancestry.com if your question isn't answered by the FAQ. That option only appears after the FAQ has failed. Okay, if this is the sanctioned way to send them a message, I'm game. I added some words detailing my frustration with their byzantine support system, and asked yet again for their help.

First the system asked to verify my e-mail address.

Then they presented me with some likely FAQ sections that might answer my question, none of which had anything to do with my problem.

Then, and only then, are you offered the opportunity to actually send your message to a place where it might actually be viewed by a human being.

This is bullsh¡t. How many hoops did I have to jump through just to find out what happened to a subscription I've been charged for?

Maybe I'll hear back from Ancestry.com. But at this point, I'm not expecting much. Their message has gotten through loud and clear, and it's that they don't want to hear from their customers. Ever. I've never seen such an annoying "customer support" system, one that's clearly designed to frustrate any attempts to actually get some help.

When I first got to their main site, I saw that they had a sale on access to their databases, and I was tempted to sign up. Uh-uh. Forget it. No company that treats its customers like this is going to get me to spend that kind of money on a service when I know I'll never be able to get support for it without giving blood. Congratulations, guys, you just lost a sale for $120. No doubt you'll make that up with the savings from ever having to answer a question from a customer.

Postscript (added 26 Nov 2002): For the record, I'd just like to say that once you reach a living, breathing human being at Ancestry.com, the results seem to range from reasonably accomodating (the response I eventually received through normal channels) to above and beyond the call of duty (the response I got when I went outside normal channels). I wound up making an end run around the Ancestry.com customer service procedure that ultimately found its way to the managing editor of Ancestry magazine, Jennifer Utley. She was familiar with the article that discussed my weblog, and tells me that an envelope containing three copies of the magazine containing said article are winging their way to me even as I write this. The editor of Genealogical Computing, Liz Kelley Kerstens, was also most gracious and helpful, and I would like to thank them both.

That said, I still find the gauntlet one has to run in order to contact their customer service department through normal channels wrongheaded and frustrating. It's the epitome of penny wise, pound foolish. I know that people inside the company are aware of this posting, and I hope they take this message to heart and rethink their customer service procedure and in particular, the wandering maze they force users to enter when they need to contact the service department.

Posted at 12:05 AM

Comments

Note: I’m tired of clearing the spam from my comments, so comments are no longer accepted.

You are wise to resist an internet subscription after having been awakened to Ancestry/MyFamily's cavalier treatment of subscribers. Customer Service is an oxymoron for this industry giant. They care less about retaining customers because as injured ones fall out, there are thousands of unsuspecting new ones waiting eagerly with their credit card numbers, willing to sign up. But once they do, good luck in "unsubscribing." Once this company has your credit card number, you will be auto billed ad nauseum. Phone customer service reps are rude and unhelpful and probably risk their jobs if they authorize refunds. Many messages critical of ancestry's customer service have been posted on the website: gensuck.com. Go to the message link and read on. Same old story, just a different subscriber.

Contest your credit card charge, if you have not already done so and look out for future unauthorized charges from ancestry.

I enjoyed your articulate and well-written account of your experience with this company. I hope it opens more eyes. They are only as strong as their subscriber base, which, according to their press releases, are over 400,000 strong. I wonder how many would consider themselves "satisfied" customers?

Posted by Michele at 2:13 PM, November 23, 2002 [Link]

For a good laugh, look at the October 2002 issue of CRM Magazine. There is a section on Ancestry's call center.

www.destinationcrm.com/articles/default.asp?ArticleID=2597

Posted by Diane C. Russell at 4:24 PM, November 23, 2002 [Link]

Ha ha ha! That's a good one. Thanks, Diane.

I doubt I'll contest the charges, Michelle. I did *finally* hear from them yesterday, almost a week after I sent my initial message. I subscribed too late to be added for the October issue, which I can accept. They'll be sending me a copy of the October issue anyway, which is the right thing for them to do. But the fact remains that their so-called customer service process remains the most user-hostile I've ever experienced. No wonder they got their costs down to $21/hour for customer support; most of their customers doubtless give up before they get to the part where they complain (to them). It's clearly designed to prevent users from taking up their valuable customer support resources. It makes it very difficult to reach an actual human being. The technology they use to funnel users through their FAQ list often produces stunningly inappropriate answers. And the site as a whole is still littered with incorrect information about how to reach them, such as broken e-mail addresses, which merely add to a customer's agita.

The dictionary definition of the word "frustrate" is "To prevent from accomplishing a purpose or fulfilling a desire; thwart." The Ancestry.com customer service process is designed to frustrate customers at the time when they're most likely already upset. It's like pouring water on a drowning man.

Posted by ralph at 11:24 AM, November 24, 2002 [Link]

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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

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