Sunday, June 20, 2004

Notable customer service
The journalism biz could take a lesson from an airport shuttle business in Toronto about dealing with customers (and yes, our readers and viewers are our customers, no matter what we might mutter about them from time to time).

First, Toronto Airport Express has a very clean and easy to navigate Web site. A big "contact us" takes you to a page where the phone numbers and an e-mail address are displayed prominently in the middle of the page. Compare that to so many news organization home pages, where the "contact us" button is in small print, sometimes several screens down, and then when you click on it you go to an indecipherable list of editors and sub-editors, as though the general reader somehow has intimate knowledge of how a newsroom works.

But it's more than that. I did not immediately see the hotel where I'm staying on the schedules also accessible from the home page. So I clicked on that e-mail link and sent a query.
That was at 9:59 p.m. At 10:08 p.m., I received a reply:
Dear Sir.

The xxxxxxx Hotel is one of our regular stop and pickup locations. When you arrive at the airport you can purchase a ticket to that hotel.

Thank you for your interest in the Airport Express.

Simple, effective and quick -- and courteous despite the fact that, when I looked closer, my hotel indeed was listed on the table, and I had overlooked it.

Examining the header shows that my message apparently went to a dispatch center, which quickly circulated it to two or three key people, one of whom promptly answered.

Can you tell me as a reader that would happen in your newsroom? Or would the message get bounced around or, worse yet, end up on the electronic equivalent of the dead-letter pile? Or could a reader with a question really be sure where to send it. My experience in contacting newsrooms is spotty at best.

Toronto Airport Express is quickly getting its $26.75 (Canadian) from me. Can you guarantee that your service will keep me coming back, not just as a subscriber, but as a reader?

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