2013-01-31 / Columns

From the Heartland

By Allan Burke

The weather will provide quite a contrast this week with highs between -7 and 31 degrees and lows ranging from -21 to 20 degrees. As of the Sunday night 10-day forecast, snow was not mentioned. Most heartlanders agree that having a more steady temperature rather than the big swings would be both healthier and more pleasant.

The power of zero

The credit card we use for business purposes gets used a lot, especially in these days when computer-related things have to be bought online. It’s the front card in my billfold, which apparently makes it vulnerable to cracking. For a couple of months I have presented it to cashiers with an apology that it is fragile.

I put off calling the credit card company to request a new card because I get so frustrated making calls to gigantic corporations. “Push 1 for English. Push 2 for your balance. Push 3 to replace a lost or stolen card. Push 4...” The recording went on and on, never giving an option to speak to a human being or to request a new card.

After nearly wearing out my fingers from pushing buttons, I decided to play the trump card. I pushed 0. To my pleasant surprise, that sent me to a human being. Of course, I was on hold for three or four minutes while my ear was bombarded with commercials for credit card features I neither need nor want. Finally, a real, live person came on the line. He was very pleasant, articulate and easy to understand.

Things were going really well, but he had to stir me up a little bit. “How soon do you want your new card?” he asked. “For $15 we can overnight it to you.” Otherwise, he speculated, it would take a week to 10 days to get it to me, apparently by tortoise.

Since my card was still hanging together by a thread of plastic, I declined the overnight service. The nice fellow was apparently prone to exaggeration because the card arrived by regular mail in three days. That’s almost as fast as some of the “overnight” services that don’t provide one-day service to the heartland. Now I’ve got to figure out how to spend the $15 I saved.

Let’s hear the recording

Even some businesses in the heartland have gotten too big for their britches and have automated phone systems where the caller has to push a bunch of buttons to get to a human being.

It’s like buying something that you have to assemble yourself. In this case, you have to push buttons to route your own call through the bureaucracy. Receptionists used to do the heavy lifting.

When you finally do push the right button, you get a recording that says ominously, “This call may be recorded or monitored for quality assurance.” In other words, if you throw a fit, the recording may be played for entertainment at the company’s Christmas party, or people may be listening in on your conversation. Maybe they broadcast phone conversations over the intercom or in the break room.

I am a paid up member of one of these outfits, and I intend to go to their office and ask to listen to their quality assurance recordings. “I’m not sure if my question was of the appropriate quality. Could you play the recording for me so that I can strive to do better next time I call?” It will be interesting to hear what they have to say. Maybe they’ll just throw me out the front door head first into a snow bank.

Going high tech

Since I’ve been working at home while I recover from pneumonia or whatever bug it is that I have, I’ve spent many hours working on a new web site for this newspaper. Acompany that specializes in newspaper sites has a matrix that should work well for a rural paper like this one.

It will be a month or so before the new site is unveiled, but it will have the bells and whistles that today’s reading public seems to want. For example, people with iPads and iPhones (and equivalent devices) will be able to read the paper. I don’t know of another weekly in the Dakotas offering that feature.

There are those who want everything for free, but our purpose will be to provide a functional site that entices people to subscribe to our online edition and/or the printed paper via the U.S. Postal Service. In addition to subscriptions, people will be able to place and pay for classified ads on the site.

There will be benefits to advertisers as well as to subscribers.

We will be providing more information as the project moves along. There is a lot of work to do before we launch the site, but we are confident it will be an improvement and keep us up to date with the latest technology.

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