I spent the better part of yesterday morning trying to resolve a subscription issue with the Harvard Business Review (HBR). To make a long story short, I faxed in a renewal order, including a gift subscription for a colleague, on December 13, 2010. Since neither I nor my gift recipient had received an order confirmation by January 7, 2011, I refaxed the order form and following the website customer service directions, I sent a detailed email to their customer service team outlining my issue. I immediately received notification that my email had been sent successfully and I would receive a response within 2 days. That sounded reasonable, so I thought the problem surly must be resolved.

Then January 13, 2011 rolled around and guess what? Yep, you’re right, no response. So, I mustered all my patience and began the long tedious task of finding a customer service phone number so I could talk to a “real” person.  After 30 or so minutes of looking, no there’s not a phone number on the website, I looked, I got out an old issue of HBR and searched for the publication credits.

Finally satisfied I’d found a real phone number, I called seeking someone who could unravel the mystery of my lost subscription. Wrong! A kindly gentleman answered the phone and quickly transferred me to the “customer service department”. There a lady answered and I briefly recounted my story at which time she informed me that she couldn’t help me, but that she would transfer me to yet another department that could help me. After several rings, I was greeted by an automated voice which promptly informed me that all agents “were busy helping other customers and I should call again later”.  Then the dreaded sound of “CLICK” – the system had hung up on me.

What? No, it couldn’t be – I was outraged and in jeopardy of losing what little patience I had mustered.  After all, the least it could have done was put me in a cue for the next available agent, but no – I was ceremoniously disconnected.

Not to be outdone, I immediately called the number back again and the kindly gentleman answered once more. I relayed my story and with genuine empathy he took the initiative to personally find someone who not only could, but would help me.

Here we are in the worst recession since the Great Depression and HBR isn’t interested in new business! Can you believe it?

Companies spend thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars each year training their customer service representatives (CSR) how to deal with angry or difficult customers – but did they ever stop to consider WHY their customers are angry and/ or difficult? Hint, it’s not the CSRs that needs the training! Ooops, I seem to remember a giant automaker that fell into that same trap.