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December 10, 2003 03:00 AM

Broken: Newspaper's automated phone service

Sean Forman writes:

When using the automated telephone service to temporarily stop newspaper delivery for the Philadelphia Inquirer, you are asked to enter the date to stop delivery:

"Please enter the date to stop delivery. For example, January 1st, 2001 would be entered 0-1-0-1-0-1."

The correct technique is to enter the month, then the day, and then the year, but their instructions in no way make that clear. Also, I'm not sure how many people have (intentionally) stopped papers for a day in a year further out than a year from now.


The instructions are bad, but the lack of confirmation is worse. If the system responded to "030204" with "You have selected March Second Two Thousand and Four. If this correct, press 1. If this is incorrect, press 9."

How do I know there's no confirmation? I dialed the Philadelphia Inquirer myself, and reached their automated service. Since I don't happen to subscribe, I looked up the number of someone in Philly and used their telephone number when prompted. (Don't worry, I canceled at the last minute)

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at December 12, 2003 07:25 PM

This is just plain bad. Really, of all the dates they chose for their example, why did they have to pick one of the most ambiguous?

I suppose this could be extremely confusing for immigrants from Europe or Asia, who are used to different date formats... and it doesn't help that those of us with a programming background frequently enter dates in YYMMDD format as well.

Posted by: codeman38 at December 17, 2003 10:03 PM

You never know... they could have done that so sucker people into canceling later then wanted. Many evil companies make canceling a subscription, plan, or some sort of agreement a living hell in hopes that those trying to cancel will give up. I once installed one of those "45 hours of free AOL" disks. I tried to uninstall, yet I still ended up paying for nearly three months of AOL. Its a gimmick that seems criminal. That said, this might just be a bad setup, or an evil plan to force people into keeping their subscription.

Posted by: never mind that at December 21, 2003 01:54 PM

Over a year late here, but let me add that never once has this automated system resulted in our paper actually being cancelled. After the fourth time (I prefer to think of myself as optimistic instead of slow) returning home to a stack of papers, I now am sure to call and speak to an actual person. The web link to arrange a vacation stop also does not result in stopped papers. Broken in more ways than one.

Posted by: Cate at January 15, 2005 07:16 PM

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