Geneablogy: An occasional Journal about our experiences exploring our heritage

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

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

Genealogical Computing magazine is published by 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 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 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 to find out what happened to my subscription and maybe get them to send me a copy of the issue.

First stop: The Shops 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 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. 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, 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 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 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, 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 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 12:03:59 AM