Beware that

Slashing payroll might be standard business practice these days, but there’s still no good way to tell the public – your customers, in particular – that you are forced to lay off 25 percent of your workforce.

However, some ways of delivering that news are worse than others.

Exhibit A: EarthLink Inc., the nation’s third-largest ISP, last week announced that it would pink-slip 1,300 of its 5,200 employees. More ominous than the raw number or the percentage is the fact that these cuts are coming in customer service and technical support. As part of the purge, EarthLink is closing four call centers.

Despite this obvious reason for concern on the part of EarthLink users, a company spokeswoman tried her best to smear lipstick on the pig: “This will be a seamless transition for customers,” she told IDG News Service.

What could that mean?

I suppose it’s possible that EarthLink has been carrying such a bloated service and support staff that lopping off that many workers won’t be noticed by anyone other than the poor folks left without paycheques. If that’s the case, though, company executives are going to owe stockholders an explanation, given that EarthLink has been bleeding rivers of red ink for years.

You might think that the company’s struggles have left it with fewer customers, and therefore a natural need for fewer service and support personnel. You’d be wrong, though. EarthLink says its customer base is going nowhere but up.

Maybe the company has deployed the latest and greatest call-centre technology, thereby increasing efficiency to such a degree that those bodies are no longer needed. It’s a nice story; one the company likely would be telling if true.

Or perhaps the spokeswoman just meant that customers would see a seamless transition from good service to self-service.

McNamara writes for Network World (U.S.). The address is [email protected]

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