Thursday, November 13, 2008

SPECIAL DELIVERY


I am a proud subscriber to the Chicago Tribune. I say proud because in this age of technology and the Internet, and for how much time I spend online perusing the latest of the latest breaking news, there's still something I enjoy about having that tactile sheet of fiber between my fingers.

Makes me feel aloof, in a way. Your Internet's not good enough for me. I'm going to read the newspaper.

Which I don't, really. I mean, I look at the pictures and scan the headlines. But I don't really read it. Does ANYONE under the age of 55 read the newspaper?

Still, I enjoy getting it because it's a piece of my past. Of our past. It's symbolic of a time when if you wanted to find out something about the world, you didn't flip on a television, click on a mouse, or hit a few buttons on your wireless device. You went out on the front stoop in your robe and slippers and fished your newspaper out of a snowbank that the city trucks made when they plowed through your neighborhood at 4am.

You wanted news back then? It was printed on paper every day of the week, and delivered directly to your door. And it still feels nice to be physically connected in that way.

So you can imagine my disappointment last Wednesday when I didn't get my daily paper. It wasn't that I was looking forward to reading it, or that I needed to consult it for something in particular that day, which does happen from time to time. Feature articles. Exclusive savings. Movie reviews and showtimes. The daily crossword. There's a lot to love still about the Chicago Tribune offline, but these weren't on my mind last Wednesday when I raced down the stairs to secure my plastic-sheathed footnote on history.

President-Elect Barack Obama was.

It was the day after the election, and Chicagoans were beaming with pride. Tens of thousands had turned out the night before to hear his victory speech. It was history in the making, and we all, somehow, felt a part of it. This newspaper was my souvenir. My keepsake. It made it all seem more real.

Only my newspaper wasn't there. Nor was the neighbor's newspaper. I looked down the street and didn't see any newspapers. Had they all been stolen or had they gone undelivered?

I immediately called the Chicago Tribune to inquire. As is so often the case these days, I received an automated teleprompter. After navigating my way to the "delivery problems" menu, I reported that I had not received my paper, identified myself, and requested re-delivery. I then went to the grocery store to purchase a back-up.

As I approached the grocery store I noticed handmade signs on the glass doors in the entranceway.

SORRY! WE ARE ALL OUT OF TODAY'S NEWSPAPERS - WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

I started to realize that today's paper wasn't going to be easy to come by - at least not in this Democratic stronghold, and hometown to our nation's next President.

The paper didn't come that day, so I emailed customer service and requested redelivery. I imagined they would be skeptical at this point. How many others had done the same I wondered? They wrote back 16 hours later with a polite greeting to let me know they had received my request and would be passing it on to the appropriate people.

I waited. When the paper didn't come, I decided to write again. I asked for an ETA on my re-delivery. They replied the following morning with another kind greeting, thanking me for my business, and asking for my patience as they worked to resolve the issue. A new paper would arrive within 48 hours they said.

After 49 hours, I responded again. I was becoming skeptical, and this they surely noted in my tone, which had taken a turn for the sarcastic. I was beginning to inquire as to how the daily papers for Thursday and Friday had been delivered without a problem - yet my Wednesday re-delivery had not arrived.

They responded and asked for my continued patience. I would have the paper in 48 hours.

I responded that it had technically been 49 hours since they'd first told me to wait 48 hours, and I asked if they meant to wait ANOTHER 48 hours, or if they just weren't aware that so much time had passed since their commitment.

They responded the following day with an apology for the experience, and a note indicating they had referred my case to a Special Service agent who would see to it that I received a "proper" delivery. I imagined a 12-year-old kid on the other end, laughing as he typed up these fantastic responses to my concerns and requests. Special Service agent? Proper delivery? Were they making this stuff up?

Another 48 hours passed and no paper came. My wife could sense it was irking me and sugested I just give it up already. By now there were news reports of the paper going for up to $50 an issue on eBay. There's no way you get a paper now, she said. Someone probably stole it and they probably don't have any more.

I wrote again, this time infusing some hyperbole into the equation and declaring this event the single greatest customer service catastrophe I have ever known. In fact, it rather paled to the time I was charged a mysterious "installation" fee by RCN Cable and had to file a grievance with the Better Business Bureau to get my money back - which I did.

The Chicago Tribune responded yet again with another "we are sorry for the inconvenience," another "and we thank you for your business," another "and we appreciate your patience," and another "but doing all we can."

At what point do I give up, I thought. When do I acquiesce to circumstance and throw in the proverbial towel? A week? A month? Never? It occurred to me, again, that a complaint with the Better Business Bureau would be in order. Overkill, to be sure, but
it would be an exclamation point on the entire episode. After all, I thought, I had PAID for that paper...in advance.

That's the whole point to a delivery - you pay in advance for the convenience of having the newspaper dropped off at your door every morning. There was nothing convenient about what I was going through, all to get my prepaid copy of the one paper - the ONLY paper - that in all my time as a subscriber I ever wanted to keep. And barring a Chicago Cubs World Series appearance, which looks less and less likely every year, it's the only paper I would probably ever want to keep.

And then yesterday I got the call. 7:43am. It was the paper carrier with my copy of LAST Wednesday's paper. He was coming by in 10 minutes if I could meet him. I was late for work already...but work could wait. I was not about to miss this edition again.

So I waited on the curb outside my house as the morning commuters whisked by in a damp, cold rush hour frenzy. A beat-up Mazda pulled over suddenly and an older Hispanic gentleman stepped out of the car. He handed me the newspaper, which I cradled in my arms immediately like a little girl clutching her favorite American Girl doll.

Thank you, I said. This gesture was much appreciated. He nodded his head and hopped back in the car.

You know, I didn't think it would come. But it did. And they even called me the next morning to make sure I'd received it. I was pleased to say I did, as I thanked them for their effort...and for sticking with me through the sarcasm, hyperbole, and thinly veiled belligerence.

So again, today, I am a proud subscriber to the Chicago Tribune. Proud because in this age of technology and the Internet, and for how much time I spend online perusing the latest of the latest breaking news, there's still something I enjoy about having that tactile sheet of fiber between my fingers.

And because in this day of interconnectedness, when we often feel more disconnected than anything else, some companies still know how to deliver when it counts.

And the Chicago Tribune is one of them.

1 comment:

Lindsay Baron said...

Hi Terry,

I've been working with Josh Karp on his big blog project. He forwarded me All You Need to Know -- loved this post.

I'm 27 (so way under 55!) and also love "having that tactile sheet of fiber between my fingers." I don't think I'll ever stop subscribing to The New Yorker, buying the Sunday edition of The New York Times at Starbucks every so often, or picking up Vogue from the bookstore just to breathe in its crisp, perfumed pages.

I SEE YOU!