07 October 2013

Apologies Only Go So Far

From poor spelling to a complete system-wide crash, Ancestry.com seems to be failing on many fronts.

Basic proofreading skills seem to be lacking in just about every department. Here is a "pricess" example from their corporate mission statement.

It was corrected only after it was joked about by fans on the company's Facebook page.
There seems to be some discrepancy about the hours that help is available by phone. This is from a recent email (25 Sep 2013) about getting started on your family history with Ancestry.

This is from the "contact us" link in the help section of the website.

I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on the difference in phone numbers and assume the number in the email bypasses the options menu and goes directly to subscriptions. But why the difference in times?
If there are site issues between 11 p.m. and 9 a.m. ET then you are definitely out of luck. In this day and age how does a website that is accessible 24/7 (theoretically, though that hasn't been the case lately) not have 24/7 customer service? If you don't want to call for customer service be prepared to wait, possibly days, for a response. This customer posted this to Ancestry's Facebook page on a Friday.

I decided to see what kind of response I'd get from the different addresses, support@ancestry.com and socialsupport@ancestry.com. A few weeks ago I reported a help page that had erroneous, outdated information and copied the email to both addresses. I received a reply from the social address within 24 hours simply saying they passed the information on. The day after that the help page had been deleted. Four days after the initial email I finally received a reply from support@ancestry.com asking me to explain the problem because the link I sent them wasn't working. [heavy sigh] I told them it had already been taken care of. I still do not know what the difference is between those addresses except that one will respond in half the time.
Are there other web-based companies who do not have a live chat option for customer service or is Ancestry the last dinosaur? Here is an example of excellent customer service from a web-based company with live chat.

This customer was so pleased she posted the screen cap on Facebook to share with her friends. My friends and I share Ancestry customer service experiences but for completely different reasons.
James' initial question asked when we could expect photo tagging to return. It disappeared when global commenting on photos changed.

The admin probably decided she didn't want to be fired and edited her comment.

She also posted some revealing comments.

Thanks to Kristin for getting that screen cap of the edited comment. Seconds after I posted this comment:
Let's see...
Customer service and social media reps don't consider learning about the website to be part of their job.
Hiding threads is not just censoring fans but is used to CYA. (This thread is now hidden.)
Admins don't know that everyone can see their previous (rude) remarks just by clicking the word "edited" under their comment.
They also don't realize that screen caps can be sent to bosses. And I don't mean KW.
...the entire thread, and NF, disappeared.

After the jump:  The Crash

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Back in 2010 Ancestry.com had a major site crash. The day after the crash this email was sent to all members.

The day after that subscribers who had attempted to access the site on the day of the crash were sent the following email.

That is the customer service that created loyal, longstanding customers. Now compare that to the reaction to their most recent crash on 31 Aug 2013.
The site was down for well over an hour before anyone at Ancestry realized they could still communicate with their customers through social media. Instead their social media presence was an echo chamber of "Is it just me?" and "Does anyone know what's happening?" I'm sure their phone lines were flooded with calls but even that would have improved by just informing a large portion of users who use social media. Their entire system had a meltdown so no message boards, no online support and no emails for a good part of the day. That night a statement from Scott Sorenson, Chief Technology Officer, was posted to the Ancestry.com Blog. A blog post with lots of placating buzzwords. Well I feel better, don't you?
The crash was not unexpected. The site was having problems for months before that. Finally on Aug. 2nd Ancestry's Chief Technology Officer made a statement. I don't know that it was posted anywhere other than Facebook but it doesn't really matter. It reads like a buzzword generator threw up on itself and doesn't really say anything substantive. And if the complaints on Ancestry's Facebook page are any indication, things are not getting better. Trees and hints periodically disappear, there have been numerous reports of information on profiles changing, place names specifically, and I haven't even mentioned the glitches with the latest version of Family Tree Maker. For that I'm sure you can find someone with a first hand account. I have a Mac and even when a newer version of FTM for Mac is released I doubt I'll be buying it.
After the most recent crash a number of people called to cancel their subscriptions. Customer support agents seemed to respond one of two ways. One was to take out their frustrations of the day on customers. This is the reaction of a friend after hanging up with customer service, "You dare to get testy with me because I am upset that your site is down yet again? I have been a loyal customer for better than 10 years and you get testy with me!" The other was to just give up and assume the customer was going to cancel.

I cancelled my subscription a couple months ago and it expired on Sept. 18th. When I took a break from my subscription in the past I almost immediately received a "please come back" offer. This time? Nothing. Zilch. Nada.
According to research from TARP Worldwide, it’s five times cheaper to keep a customer than to get a new one. So when CMOs hyperfocus on new customers, they may be damaging relationships with existing customers—loyal ones who could bring in new customers based on word of mouth. - "Building Loyalty" Forbes.com

PREVIOUS POST: Royal Obsession II
NEXT POST: Apologies Only Go So Far II

Keys to Great Customer Service by Barbara Taylor with Specific Suggestions for Ancestry.com
The Customer Experience - Why It Matters in Genealogy by Thomas MacEntee
Ancestry.com Raises US Subscription Price by Randy Seaver


  1. Excuse my abbreviated French, but WTF?
    I work in customer service and would lose my job if I responded to a customer this way. How completely ridiculous!
    I used to scan the ancestry Facebook page fairly often, but lately it just hurts my head to see so many complaints. All I can think of is my poor dad, who introduced me to A.com and how difficult he must be finding it, lately.

  2. Wow, this is really astounding. "Sorry we don't know how our own system works, we have jobs and families" - I'll second the WTF from the comment above. I guess this explains my own experience with customer service when they lost all my sources (one day all the links suddenly went to blank pages) and after an hour the "technician" still didn't understand the problem, let alone have the slightest idea how to fix it. Thank you for taking the screen caps and writing this all up - unless they're called out on it, nothing will ever change.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to get this issue "out there" and (hopefully) generate some thoughtful comment in the community. The problems with site access continue to proliferate. As recently as this morning, there was a period of around an hour when members were unable to access trees. (And that's scary -- even if your work is backed up, it is just plain scary for anyone who has been doing this a long time.) Also, as recently as this morning, the Facebook page was filled with posts from confused members from around the world, looking for answers. And instead of answers, we were treated to the same defensive and stale canned responses from the Ancestry team. Even as I hope to be proven wrong, I continue to think that this is likely to end badly.

  4. Have you sent any of the screen caps and summaries of the issues you have made to the Ancestry management? With such a big company, it's entirely possible the big wigs aren't even aware of these issues because they are too far removed, particularly the useless and rude social media team and lack of customer support. The immediate supervisors of these employees may not care, but the supervisors above that may and just aren't aware of the issue.

    At minimum, NF needs to be reported, reprimanded, and potentially fired. Not only was the response rude in and of itself, but it was written very unprofessionally as were the attempts to cover up the rude response.

    1. NF has not been seen on the Facebook page since that exchange. Don't know if she quit, was fired or was transferred to a different department. A few friends did send the screen caps to higher ups (higher than the head of social media) but I think she may have been gone before they even read those emails.

  5. Well, I guess it is a step forward that they are actually responding to customer complaints on their Facebook page instead of insisting that all complaints are insults to a department, their "brand", etc and just deleting the complaint without a word. Baby steps?

    I just don't know if their "brand" has the luxury of baby steps when they should already know what good customer service is and isn't - and most of their responses definitely fit in the isn't category.

    Maybe Ancestry will finally get KW that training she so desperately needs about social media and how it should actually function for a major company that actually wants to maintain and recruit customers. She really seems to have no clue about business social media. Although, she seems to know a lot about how to post pretty sparkly pictures so that makes her a social media guru. Baby steps? ;>

    1. "She really seems to have no clue about business social media." Completely agreed! I'm not sure how much she knows about social media, period. She doesn't know the basic functions of the largest social media site and she never proofreads anything she posts. She's rather edit comments or posts 3 or 4 times. She then adds a note about what she edited because she doesn't realize that we can read every single edit just by clicking "edited." I think she's years away from baby steps.
      They are still censoring btw. Yesterday one of her minions (1 or 2 have a clue, the rest seem to do whatever she says) censored a post that linked to NEGHS. It wasn't until others pointed out that The Red Book links to NEGHS and that a post by another admin linked to NEGHS that the post was restored. I know I said I wouldn't do another social media post but the stupidity is just overwhelming over there :-P

  6. I had horrible billing issues with ancestry. I paid for a US membership for 1 year, but after 6 months a large charge showed up on my Credit card on my account.They insisted that I had only paid for 6 months of a world membership. I sent screen shots, receipts, etc to no avail. I basically was out of 6 months of paid time. They never offered to correct it, just suggested I buy the US membership. I was livid. About 6 months later I got stuck and decided to go back. I thought I was wiser this time and bought a gift membership through my husband's name. A gift membership wouldn't cause a charge when the time was up, right? So my 6 months come up and I get an email saying they had charged my credit card. I sort of laughed because my card had been stolen, and they did not have my current one. The next day the charge was on my new card. I still have no idea how they got that. I was beyond livid. I called and tried to be nice and explain to the person that he couldn't charge me, and that my 6 months were done, it was over, etc. He argued with me. Over and over and over again. I explained that there were billing issues to begin with, that I had bought a gift membership to avert this issue and it was still a MAJOR issue. I tried to be polite, I tried to be understanding. But his rude comments were to much. I finally lost it after 5 minutes of having him argue with me. I don't remember much but I did ask him how he could stand to work for a company that obviously was shady and he told me he was more than happy to work for them. When I asked him how he could sleep at night, he replied, "I sleep very well at night, Thank You". He only wanted to argue argue argue. I hung up. I called my mom and we talked for a long time about what in the world has happened to customer service? He could have simply said, I'm sorry for your billing error, let me cancel those charges. But no. He insisted that I had signed up for automatic charging and I was stuck for 6 months. The charge was cancelled the next day, or I would have alerted my bank. I've never had such a smug, arrogant customer service rep. I told myself I would NEVER ever use it again as a paid service. When I'm stuck, I spend an afternoon at my library using there version. Not the best. But they will never get another dime from me again.