Yo, New York Times--Whatzamatter?

One of the great perks of writing a weekly column is that when I get the runaround from a poorly designed e-commerce system and bad customer support, I can write an article to get my frustration out. If that happens to you, all you can do is pound your head against the wall!

Here I am, your dutiful reporter, looking for my subject today. Believe me, after two years of writing this column every week, it is not the easiest job in the world coming up with fun new stuff for you readers to hammer me on in the Mediapost blog.

So on the way into work, I got this idea. I remembered an article that ran in The New York Times about a musical running in Manhattan that sent an e-mail the day after people had gone to the show to remind them to tell their friends about the great time they had. I remembered seeing someone complain on the Inbox Insiders, a private list I run for e-mail marketers, about receiving a similar solicitation. Well, here is a good article, I thought. The only problem was, I couldn’t remember the name of the show the Times wrote about.



So I went to the site--and after about 45 minutes of putting in one term after another and coming up empty, I finally found the article: “You aw the show, now read the e-mail,” by Jessie Green.

I clicked on the link….

Damn. Even though the article is only a little over a week old, the Times wants to charge me $3.95 to view it. So much for the new economy.

Okay, my readers are worth it. I pull out my credit card. I place my order. The confirmation comes back with links to the article: “Click here to read the article” it says. “Yes, sir!” I say, not yet realizing that I’m a big dope, because…

Yes, you guessed it; the link takes me back to the order page, not the article. OK, no problem, I think, still believing that an organization like the New York Times must have its poo-poo together. Yep, there is the confirmation e-mail saying they received my money. And the link to the article? Not there. Just a link to change my e-mail preferences!

Okay, I begin to see dark clouds on the horizon as I dial the customer support line. Of course I go through the usual nonsense of trying to FIND the customer support number. All of the ones on the site don’t seem right and there is certainly NOTHING in the confirmation page or the confirmation e-mail telling me who to call in case of a problem.

And now I’m in “Press this number to go here, press another number to go there” hell on the customer support line, and of course, none of the options pertain to the Web site or problems with Times Select. I choose one at random.

I eventually get hold of someone and I explain my problem.

“Oh, you purchased something on Times Select? You fool. It’s free.” (I’m paraphrasing here.)

“Well,  no, I’m not a home subscriber. It says on your Web site that you need to be a home subscriber to get it for free,” I say.

 Back on hold for 15 minutes.

Finally someone calls and tells me that there is no record of my purchase. “Well, I have the e-mail right here, would you like me to send it to you?” I say. No, a record of your purchase doesn’t show up for 24 hours, says the customer support person. 24 Hours! “But don’t worry, technical support tells me to have you log out and log back in and then go straight to the article."

I do this. It doesn’t work. And now I can’t remember the name of the article it took me 45 minutes to find. Can the customer service person help me? Of course not, dummy, because it takes 24 HOURS (!) for me to get a record of my purchase. Apparently the e-commerce portion of the Times Web site is run by old men with green eyeshades.

After searching around, I finally find the article AGAIN. I can’t get to it. It wants me to purchase it AGAIN.  I call back. This time, they don’t even pretend to want to help me: “call the New York Times Digital,” the woman says as if she is talking to a 5- year-old.

The New York Times Digital???  Nowhere, in any of the info, and phone buttons I’ve pushed, or the (now) hour I’ve been on line with customer support, has anyone said anything about the New York Times Digital.

I get the phone number. I call. I get someone. I explain my problem. “Oh, yeah. We’ve been having problems with that for a few days.”  I make a Homer Simpson sound.

He promises to send it to me. 45 minutes later it arrives.

Here is what I wanted to talk to you about: In an e-mail promotion for the musical “The Altar Boyz,” the producer, Ken Davenport, sent play-goers who have seen the show (and paid online) a thank-you note and a discount to take their friends. The open rates for these e-mails were off the charts: 70 percent.

If you want to know more, don’t complain to me. Complain to The New York Times!

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