Two weeks ago, I wrote about a bizarre screw-up by Major League Baseball, which changed its Gameday Audio service on Opening Day, thereby rendering it unusable for nearly all broadcasts online. It should have been a one-day story, mind you. But apparently even Congress-exempted monopolies can compound their mistakes. Because what has happened next is a remarkable textbook study of corporate tone-deafness.
You see, for two weeks, subscribers are still unable to get the National Pastime.
Yet while fans on the MLB.com forum are exploding with outrage, tech support keeps explaining that things are fine. Or suggests that users change the host proxy on their computer. (Which tends to contradict the concept that "things are fine.")
Imagine your cable TV going out for two weeks, and having customer service tell you that it's working perfectly. And then suggesting that you try rewiring your set. You now get the general idea.
At times, however, it's gotten a bit humorous, albeit in an "Alice in Wonderland" way. For example, one of the suggestions that "MLBsupport" keeps giving is - "Tell the IM department at your company to try changing its firewall and security settings and see if that works."
Personally, I'd pay cash money just to be allowed to overhear that phone conversation. "Can you please remove corporate security, I'd like to listen to a baseball game at my desk."
Needless-to-say, all this tends to get people all the more upset. But not so upset that they're quitting. Just to be clear, it's not that no one is trying to quit. They are, in droves - it's just that many are reporting that when they contact customer support, they are being told they can't get their money back. Surprisingly, that tends to bother people.
How tone deaf has this all been? The new, snappy Adobe Flash media player that MLB.com changed to on Opening Day doesn't have fast-forward, rewind or pause buttons! Honest.
(One subscriber wrote about sitting down at night to listen to an "archive" of that afternoon's ball game - only to discover that there had been a two-hour rain delay, and he couldn't skip past it.)
If being tone deaf was adorable, this would be America's Sweetheart.
I will admit to taking this personally, since I have been unable to hear my beloved Chicago Cubs all year. But many thousands of other consumers are facing it just the same, expressing their anger online at being powerless against corporate arrogance, not getting the product they paid for and getting even less of a response.
How less of a response? How tone deaf? Pull up a chair.
Last evening, I wrote a piece for the MLB.com forum about how no one from the company has even apologized yet. And...they deleted it.
Yes, a posting about bad customer service got deleted.
But in cyberspace, words live on. And so, asking for a slight indulgence, I repost below what I wrote elsewhere -
The Heart of the Matter
I have a hopefully thoughtful suggestion at the end of this, but first, every ending needs a beginning. And the beginning is -
There's been something that's become apparent over time. Not something I've noticed - but something I haven't noticed. Two words that I haven't seen.
The words are - "We're sorry."
Now, it's possible that I've missed them. After all, thousands of messages have been written since Opening Day, and I haven't read most. But of those many hundreds I have read, filled with unrelenting complaints of no service - I have yet to see one, single message from "MLBsupport" that says - "We're sorry."
"We're sorry. We're working on addressing that issue." "We're sorry. But we have that fixed now." "We're sorry for the inconvenience."
None of that.
To be fair, "MLBsupport" is not anyone in actual charge, it's just the hired hands. So, I'm understanding. Up to a point, though. Because -
Saying "We're sorry" is something you're supposed to train your staff to say. Saying "We're sorry" is something you're supposed to know to say, even if you haven't been trained. But most importantly, I'm not even referring to MLBsupport not saying, "We're sorry" - because what's most apparent and galling is that after two weeks of very obvious problems of non-service...there has yet to be an email from MLB.com sent to all subscribers that acknowledges the problems, the lack of service, the massive complaints and says, "We're sorry. And we're working on addressing the problem."
I think in many ways, it's this lack of response, this lack of regret that is fueling even more of the frustration people here feel, beyond even not getting the service paid for.
Not ever saying "We're sorry" on the forums, or in a mass email to subscribers gives the impression that you're not sorry. That you have no interest in addressing the problem. That the service won't be fixed.
Even if I have missed any "We sorry" responses (if) - that doesn't change a word of what I've written here. Saying "We're sorry" is not something that should be said in passing that could be easily missed. If you make a mistake, you say "We're sorry" every time." We are now two weeks into the season - that's 14 days full of mistakes, and 14 chances to repeatedly, regularly say, "We're sorry." And 14 days to send a "We're sorry" note to subscribers.
I say all this having once worked in public relations, for 15 years. It's basic. There's nothing mystical about the concept of recognizing a problem and addressing it, apologizing for it. But of course, the reality is that one doesn't need to be a PR expert to know to say, "We're sorry" when you've made a mistake - to say it most especially when you've made massive, ongoing mistakes. It's what we all learned as children.
"We're sorry." It's easy.
And that leads to a final thought and suggestion: there is clearly not going to be any benefit from complaining here on these forums. Here, there is only "tech support." While it does the soul good to vent, that's its limit. My suggestion is that complaints be made instead to those who are most impacted by the problems and likely are unaware of the problems- the owners of each team, the PR executives of each team, the commissioner of baseball, the operating and communication officials of baseball. If a technical glitch is tarnishing their product, creating very bad will and driving customers away, those are the people who stand most to care.
The surface mail addresses and phone numbers are on all their respective websites. Some sites might have direct links to executives, all have "Contact Us" links.
After some searching, as far as I can tell, these are the MLB addresses --
MLB president and chief operating officer
Executive vice president, business of MLB
I don't have a clue if this will help at all. But I do know that at this point, "We're sorry" no longer suffices. At this point, a resolution is needed. And at this point, a resolution can only come from those at the top. Because it's surely not coming from anywhere else.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertElisberg