Michigan newspaper ends ‘horrible experiment’ with offshore customer service

For about two years now, Mount Pleasant (Mich.) Morning Sun readers with delivery complaints have been sent to a call center in the Dominican Republic — and often not getting satisfactory results.

“Language barrier was a huge problem,” editor Rick Mills tells me in an email. “From walk-in customers to phone calls, to calls to our Sound Off line, including letters and personal contacts with staffers talking to community members outside of the office, we heard complaints. They did not speak good English and it was obvious they were not in this country. Readers hated that.”

In a Facebook post, Mills called the outsourcing a “horrible experiment.” I asked him to elaborate, and he responded:

What made it horrible was many-fold. First, we provided excellent customer service here with a crew that would go so far as baking cookies for a disgruntled customer – one of them really truly did that once – just to keep them and talk them into giving our carrier another chance. That personal drive to keep our customers happy was gone with outsourcing.

Additionally, as readers found out they couldn’t get a human being in circulation, they discovered that if they pushed enough buttons they’d get the newsroom. Being a full-service newsroom, or at least we try to be, we refused to send them back to the Dominican Republic. So my news staff was frequently listening to angry customers who’d been bounced around, let down and were now angry. We had to hear them out, take their information, and go find a person in the building who could help them. It was not only a drain on staff productivity, but it was a morale-killer.

Mills credits Journal Register CEO John Paton for trying the outsourcing, seeing that it didn’t work, and then going back to the old way.

“Some truly good news” about customer service returning home (facebook.com)