Right in the centre - Personally speaking!


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

We have been earning a living running computers in the newspaper business for over 30 years. We were among the first papers to adopt desktop publishing and among the first to use digital cameras. In the early days, we still used film cameras, believe it or not.

We have come to know and appreciate all that computers can do for businesses and for families. We use phones, email, websites, Facebook and Google every day in our work.

That said, computerization has gone way too far. When you want to actually talk to a live person, or need to talk to one, it’s an almost impossible task. The credit card companies aren’t too bad, if you have routine things to ask, such as confirming a credit balance or determining available credit. If your question gets more complicated than that, you are out of luck. The phone options are endless and can be very confusing.

Try calling a bank. Unless you are lucky enough to have earned the privilege of having a person’s direct line number, you may as well save your breath. The call will be relayed to just about anywhere but where you want to go. Call the Bank of Nova Scotia and you end up in a call centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Makes sense, I guess, except the nice  person in Halifax has no idea where you are or what branch to send you to. It’s the case for all banks and quite frankly, the customer experience with credit unions is drifting that way.

The breakneck race to fully automated customer service is due to three things. One, it is deemed to be faster. Two, it may be cheaper, but three, it is mostly a case of sheer laziness. The lazy life is a lot simpler if you don’t have to be bothered with those annoying people called customers.

Our newspapers have answering machines and hopefully they don’t kick in very often during regular office hours. People don’t like them and they certainly don’t like having to “press 1” for customer service and “press 2” for sales. It’s not usually that simple, as many automated phone systems have dozens of options.

Bell-MTS and Manitoba Hydro have become horrible with customer service. You can wait for a long time to talk to a real live person. I love it when you phone in and even the nice people on the other end of the line admit that the system has screwed up, as it is “new” and all the kinks haven’t been worked out yet. Ya think!

It doesn’t matter if it’s banking, phone companies, Hydro, retail or newspapers, we need to get back to local staffing and local responses. The computer age has gone too far and needs to be reined in. Some things are better done by phone or computer, but there quickly comes a time, in any human interaction, where face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice transactions have to happen.

There is a harsh reality in any community. It is especially harsh in rural communities. We need each other to survive. It’s fine to order something off Amazon or say, “It’s OK, we don’t need local service,” but that is a very slippery slope. Rural Manitoba is literally littered with abandoned towns and businesses where people have gone to “bigger and better” centres for service. If you don’t believe that, I invite you to drive 50 miles in any direction from where you live in rural Manitoba and count the number of businesses, community halls, rinks and industries that are no longer there. Even some newspapers have succumbed to the side effects of centralization and newspaper corporations’ inability to understand local needs and conditions. In our area of the world, the community papers at Carberry, Reston, Souris, Deloraine and Melita are all shut down. There were two main reasons, corporations took over and cut staff. That resulted in advertisers and readers abandoning their local papers. Services, retail goods and news need be provided locally. It isn’t always about money and cutting costs. It’s always about doing the right thing.

Letting everything go to corporations and computers isn’t the right thing.

To bring it to an even sharper local focus, how many curling clubs have had a prize donated by Facebook or Amazon? It isn’t those corporations that provide the cash and labour to keep our communities viable. It’s the local businesses and residents. It’s the local co-op, electrician, car dealer and yes, the newspaper, that helps out with local causes.

More than any other time in the history of rural Manitoba, it’s important to keep as much as we can personal and local.   

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer chair of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.