Top 5 Outskirts Press Complaints #4

With a 99% author satisfaction rate, Outskirts Press statistically faces 1 or 2 complaints a month from our published authors since we publish roughly 150 different authors a month. This number of complaints is statistically low in an industry with such artistic fervor. Some complaints are more valid than others, of course, but I’m a writer and I love helping other writers, so I hate receiving any kind of complaint. Therefore we take steps to receive as few Outskirts Press complaints as possible, regardless of their “validity.” It is my hope that by discussing these complaints here that future Outskirts Press authors will be more familiar with issues that have caught an author off-guard in the past.  Because, ultimately, that is what a “complaint” is — catching a client/customer off-guard.  

Over the past few posts, I have addressed three of the “Outskirts Press Complaints” that our authors have brought to our attention over the past eight years of business, along with what led to those complaints and what Outskirts Press does–and is doing–to mitigate similar complaints in the future. Below is # 4.

 These complaints are not presented in order from “greatest number of complaints received” to “least number of complaints received” because that implies that the #1 complaint received five times as many as the #5 complaint. That is not the case, and I actually had to stretch to come up with 5, but who’s ever heard of a “Top 4” list?

Outskirts Press Complaint #4: Phones

Having a scalable customer service operation with 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week telephone support is difficult.  Well, I shouldn’t say it’s difficult. It’s expensive. Anything can be solved with money (or nearly anything).  But the reality of running a successful company includes balancing the needs of a customer/client against the realities of running a profitable business. Businesses have to be profitable, otherwise they don’t remain in business for very long.  I always feel like I’m saying something that some authors consider surprising here — but, publishing is a business.   

Phone customer service issues become exacerbated by growth. When Outskirts Press was relatively small in 2003-2004, we didn’t experience nearly the volume of phone calls that we experience today. Therefore, our authors were happy because they could always reach someone by phone.  As a company grows past a certain size — typically considered one million in gross revenue or more — it becomes necessary to create scalability to accommodate the needs of a larger customer/client base.

For financial reasons, many companies choose to solve this problem by off-shoring their customer service – that is, having customer service agents in India, China, Mexico, the Philippines, etc.   The logic for the company is that customer service agents in these countries are “less expensive” than agents in America.  Some of our competitors do this; and, frankly, this has been a solution we have considered ourselves from time to time.

But I am not willing to offshore phone customer service for our valuable Outskirts Press clients.   I want that service to remain based in America. I also feel, perhaps from personal experience, that customer service agents in other countries are… well… “difficult” to understand.  It often leads to communication issues.  When dealing with a complicated service like book publishing and marketing, the last thing you need is an additional hurdle like a language barrier.

But, that decision doesn’t come without sacrifice.  As a result, we cannot afford to house a 40-person call center, with 40 agents waiting by the phones for them to ring, twenty-four hours a day. The margins simply aren’t that high. In fact, our margins are lower than many of our competitors because we offer a greater value. Sure, you can pay $13,999 for a publishing package and rightfully expect to talk to an American-speaking human being at three in the morning.  The question becomes, was that worth it to you?  Sounds like a very expensive phone call. For 1% of the self-publishing authors out there, perhaps it is a price they are willing to pay (or perhaps they haven’t thought enough about what they are paying for).   Our services target the remaining 99%, who would rather pay less than $1000 and perhaps have to deal with the temporary inconvenience of scheduling a phone appointment in advance.

The other side of the fence is to clearly state that your business does not offer phone support at all. Some of our competitors have taken this approach, too.  From a business perspective, I can understand this approach.  Some competitors who do this even claim that they can offer equally high customer service via email.  Authors simply don’t buy that.  The quality of the customer service isn’t what the company claims it is; it’s what the client/customer/author believes it is.  And some of them want to talk to a human being before they make an investment in publishing their book. Understandable.

So, as with many of the other topics I’ve discussed, Outskirts Press finds its niche in the middle of these two extremes.  We have a toll free number posted on our website, but we strongly encourage authors to communicate via email whenever possible.  Nevertheless, our phones are extremely busy, and this leads me to the Outskirts Press complaints regarding phones.  When an author, either a current author, future author, or published author, calls us on the phone, they have an expectation to have their issue resolved by a proficient, capable, human being right that second, regardless of how long it takes.   We’ve already discussed the business realities preventing us from running a 40-person call center, so sometimes these authors do not reach the appropriate department right away (those agents are busy helping others) and therefore the authors are sometimes asked to leave a message for a call back.  That’s not fulfilling their expectations (reasonable or not), and therefore, a complaint.

At Outskirts Press, we’ve taken a number of steps to address this issue as we continue to grow quickly.  Up until the migration to our Version 4.0 website, we relied quite heavily on an automated voice mail system that asked the caller to choose from a number of choices to reach the appropriate department.   We found that this led to frustration, along with long wait times in the holding queue, because callers rarely knew what specific department they were seeking. Therefore, the majority of them were winding up in the “catch-all” funnel anyway… defeating the whole point of the tiered voice mail system. Lose-lose.

So with the migration to Version 4, we added a human being reception to help direct the caller to the appropriate department manually.  This has already shown vast improvements and increased author satisfaction.  But when you publish 150 new authors a month, have over 1000 in the pipeline at any given time, and over 6000 published authors with periodic marketing/royalty questions, that still equates to an unmanageable number of calls. So, we’ve recently added even more people to facilitate the phones, including our publishing consultants, who are well-versed on answering potential authors’ questions immediately.  If all our phone support personnel are on the phone, the receptionist is instructed to take a message so a call back consultation can be scheduled.

Is the system perfect? No. But is paying $1000 and receiving 100% of your profits with Outskirts Press better than shelling out $13,999 and receiving about 50% of your profits for the life of your book elsewhere?  Well, in my opinion, yes.  Every decision is based upon weighing the pros and cons of the available options.

Outskirts Press Kudos #4

To offset the tone of these 5 postings about Outskirts Press complaints, I figured I would also include a comment from one of our published authors at the bottom of each posting. We receive so many positive comments each month that we rarely have a “place” to put them all, so by adding some to my blog, we’ll create another opportunity for our authors’ wonderful success stories to be shared.  We post many more testimonials on our website here every month.

“My experience with Outskirts Press was awesome. My Author Rep was very professional and resourceful in making my book come into existence. She gave me excellent advise and made my publishing dreams come true in the blink of an eye!” – Shavonna D. Jordan