No matter where you go,

Tuesday, March 14th, 2000

I’ve got a long letter in the works right now to the consumer affairs department of Continental Airlines following a massive screwup that started with me booking a ticket on their website—or so I thought. It’s the kind of mess that probably should have me calling in Clark Howard or some other consumer reporter, but at this point I’m trying to deal with it myself.
I mention it to you only because it involves the latest trend when old-line companies want to move fast to develop an on-line internet presence. If they can’t figure out how to do it fast, they outsource—hiring an outside expert company to process the transaction or provide the help or implement the search engine or whatever—all in the name of the hiring company.
We are indeed in an age that you can’t assume you’re dealing with employees of company x when you do business with company x—especially when services are involved. Get cable installed, and likely as not, the installer is not a Media One employee, they’re a subcontractor. Same deal with DSL service from Mindspring. Call and talk to the subscription department of a magazine (and many newspapers), and chances are that person doesn’t have any real connection to that publication—they’re off in Marion, Ohio or someplace else and they’re working from a script—telling you what they’ve been told to say. This is the crux of my problem with outsourcing. The people you’re dealing with often don’t have any expertise outside the narrow window of what they’ve been asked to do—and if you really need help with a transaction, it tends to involve departments and dependencies way outside their scripted, limited
When I booked the ticket on Continental, I was actually booking a ticket from, which as far as I’ve been able to determine, actually is a operation run by the folks at, which used to be part of Microsoft, but they’ve spun it off, and by the way, they’re based here. And every time I talked with someone at that operation, they answered the phone “Continental Airlines”—but when I asked who were they—really—I got different answers each time I asked. And then the Continental people, who said “well, we can’t help you because these folks are not really us at all, so you’ll have to go through them to make the changes.”
But I digress. And rant. And worry.
But yeah, it is a concern when I see new companies cropping up all the time like, which offers to give your site a real human your customers can chat with, live—but those real humans are, like the other service droids, trapped within scripts as well, playing the part of being part of the organization you think you’re doing business with. Yes sir, I am indeed the voice of AT&T!
And when puts together a site that is basically hosted by CBS in New York with some local content, or when some of the pages at are actually from NBC’s corporate sites, the questions of who is responsible for what content—who stands behind what goes out under their logo—become increasingly relevant.
I guess I don’t care who you outsource stuff to—as long as you—the main company, the mothership—are willing to take full responsiblility for the actions of those others. You don’t get away with “well, actually that’s some other company.” You pretend—in certain contexts—they’re your company, you stand up for their mistakes, too.
Phew. Where’s Clark’s number?