I don’t want to pile on. Lord knows both print and broadcast media are seeing their share of problems today. I also don’t want to come across negatively in this blog. I’m looking for solutions, suggesting a few even. That said, this week I faced a double conundrum that, unfortunately, seems endemic – customer service (or lack thereof) that has prevented me from doing what every media outlet out there wants me to do: consume their content.
I love media (no surprise there) and have worked on both sides of the print and broadcast journalism equation. I’m also old school. I like holding a newspaper, thumbing through a magazine, going to a bookstore! I also do everything I can to support a range of media by subscribing to their periodicals and publications. Yes, I pay for news and information! That said, in early November I noticed a dearth of reading material in my mailbox. I subscribe to and was receiving Sports Illustrated but had stopped getting Time even though the label from my most recent issue indicated a March 2017 expiration date. Oh, the dreaded call to customer service.
There, after dealing with call center hell, I reached a real person who, upon investigating the situation, informed me that I had canceled my subscription to Time in mid-October. Um, no, I replied, I had not. After some time I was able to reinstate my subscription with the assurance that I would not miss another issue and that I would, within a few days’ time, receive back issues (including those covering the presidential election). Weeks later, I have received zero back issues and have since learned that I will not be receiving my first “reinstated subscription” issue until December 17th – nearly a month from my call.
But wait, there’s more. A call just completed a few minutes ago on my similarly wayward Rolling Stone subscription also uncovered a cancelled subscription in October. Wrong again. When informed that a reinstated subscription might not provide me with a next issue until January or February I declined. It’s just not worth it to me any more. To be fair, both subscriptions were, if memory serves, 2 for 1 deals offered through a local bookstore chain that I took advantage of. The Rolling Stone customer service representative said that he could not sleuth out exactly how the subscription was canceled as it was through “another agency.” Then again, the publisher was obviously involved with (implicit in) this deal being offered.
No matter who or what is exactly to blame the irony is hard to miss here. A dedicated subscriber who wants to keep reading but, through technological glitches or timeworn policies (why does it take several weeks before a longtime subscriber can be reinstated?) cannot. Hasn’t technology improved since the 1970s (when I first started subscribing to publications)? It’s hard enough to hold current readers and nearly impossible to cultivate new ones.
A possible solution? If I were among the powers that be, I’d be thinking long and hard about developing new methodologies aimed at one-on-one reader retention and attraction. And it wouldn’t involve call centers and voicemail. If someone wants to subscribe, get them the very next issue possible, not one a month or two from now. I’d also examine delivery, whether via post office or paper boy/girl. After our building employed a new mail person, we started receiving a Monday business publication on Tuesday, Wednesday, even Thursday, necessitating a call to our city’s Postmaster General. Another neighborhood daily, delivered by carrier, rarely arrives every day.
Some is controllable, some perhaps not. But how do you keep, at the very least, your core consumers – your low hanging fruit – loyal, or even interested, if they can’t consume? It’s just one more sore on a festering wound aimed at rendering traditional media irrelevant. Loyalists will remain loyal but only to a point. Indeed, we are begging for solutions and resolutions. Time to whip up and apply a strong salve before it is simply too late.