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How Customer Service Provides ‘Important Trust Building Opportunities’ for Publishers: API Report | What’s new in publishing?

Customer service is becoming more important now that publishers are increasingly focusing on generating revenue directly from readers. However, “little attention has been paid to revitalizing customer service approaches,” according to a new API report, how customer service can build trust and engagement with the masses. This “poses a problem because support teams are often the first or only point of contact for many customers.”

News outlets can no longer see customer service as an afterthought in this new age of journalism. People who communicate through these channels care enough to interact with their news provider, so bad experiences with representatives of that organization on the front lines can eventually lead to their withdrawal.

How customer service can build trust and engagement with the masses

“A direct link between the quality of customer service and the retention and acquisition of subscribers”

The report “takes a deep look at how customer service functions should evolve as news outlets focus more on consumer revenue and audience engagement.” Written by strategist and consultant Anita Lee, it is based on interviews with newsroom leaders from a wide range of US-based news outlets.

“There is a direct link between the quality of customer service and the retention and acquisition of subscribers,” Lee wrote. “We also see customer service as an opportunity to rebuild trust with audiences at a time when public trust in US media organizations has been at an all-time low.”

It recommends a four-pronged strategy for customer service development. here they are:

  1. Dismantling silos and merging partitions
  2. Online Operations Optimization
  3. Invest in practical methods of service
  4. Take strategic risks and test creative customer service strategies

“Two Systems Challenge”

Communication barriers between the print and digital departments often prevent publishers from providing high-quality customer service. Terrence Williams, president and chief operating officer of The Keene Sentinel in Keene, New Hampshire, found that the 222-year-old daily was finding it difficult to deal with complaints from digital customers.

Williams told Lee that while the Sentinel employees responsible for digital distribution were communicating well with customers, he and the newsroom staff were not involved in those conversations. The publisher has secured a cross-departmental staff group to join the Poynter Institute’s version of Table Stakes. It helped them identify barriers to entry for subscribers.

“We had the right people in that group to make sure every step along the way had a defender out there,” Williams said.

We had the right people out of the trade. We had news people involved. We had our own technical team and we had our own digital staff. They were all combined, and they all saw right away that this was a real problem for us. So they bought the whole thing.

Terence Williams, President and COO of The Keene Sentinel

Their top priority was to create a single database of Sentinel’s advertising and trading clients, both print and digital. The publisher was using two different subscription systems which created a lot of confusion for both customer service as well as subscribers. “I gotta tell you, it was a pain in the ass. I mean, it was really hard to figure out two systems, to get the analytics from two systems,” Williams explained.

The team chose to move forward with only one system that can handle both print and digital trading. This made it easier for customer service representatives to handle complaints. Our trading department has become pretty versatile in dealing with all kinds of complaints, from ‘I didn’t get my paper’ to ‘I can’t seem to sync my subscription so I can actually look at your website after I click’ On “paywall,” Williams added.

The reader sees [customer service] Like talking to the newsroom.”

And that’s just the beginning, publishers should also consider training audience engagement staff in customer service and vice versa.

Reader sees [customer service] Like talking to the newsroom, like sending an email to the reporter. We need to treat customer service as teammates and part of the editorial job.

Andrew Losowski, Co-Founder, The Coral Project, an open source publishing platform

Improving collaboration between customer service and the newsroom would better equip representatives to deal with questions and complaints about the press, helping to build trust between news outlets and news consumers, Lee wrote, citing Joy Mayer, founder of Trusting News.

“Because customer service representatives are on the front lines of audience engagement, these types of interactions are important trust-building opportunities,” she adds.

Mayer suggested training customer service reps to deal with:

  • Correction requests
  • Complaints that stem from misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of journalistic practices
  • Questions about how the newsroom works
  • Questions about how to participate in the reporting process

Keene Sentinel did this through an initiative that allowed all employees — editorial included — to learn from the customer service team. The publisher has also created a guide that collects best practices and advice from employees who have been effective with clients.

The above suggestions will help publisher employees prepare to serve customers effectively. The next step is to make the online user experience as frictionless as possible.

“The simplest possible way to sign up”

The centralization of customer data made it easy for The Keene Sentinel to create the “simplest way to sign up”. The publisher reduced the subscription verification process to three steps that resulted in a “slight increase in subscriptions,” according to Williams. Extensive marketing and promotion of online subscriptions and the introduction of the online payment system Easy Pay also contributed to this success.

Likewise, The Seattle Times has renewed its subscription process, which originally involved filling in 24 form fields across six pages, to just five or six. The publisher has removed the Delivery Address and Phone Number fields for digital customers only. It made registration easier by allowing customers to use their social logins. They can sign in with Facebook, Google, or other accounts if they don’t want to create new usernames or passwords. The paper also offers multiple easy payment options including Amazon Pay and PayPal.

VTDigger, an investigative journalism publisher based in Vermont, pays close attention to the responsiveness of the website. It tries to ensure that readers get the best experience on their devices whether they are using the latest phones or older devices. The post also makes it easy for customers to leave feedback at every point in the membership path. This helps in better understanding the needs of the users and improving them accordingly.

We made money this year.

Besides automation, many publishers are investing in “high touch” customer service, that is, using the magic of personal touch to connect with readers.

For the beleaguered journalism industry, high-touch service may be one of the keys to driving sustainable growth in consumer revenue, especially for community-led news outlets.

Anita Lee, author, How Customer Service Can Build Trust and Engagement with Audiences

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette successfully combined Haitian technology and high-touch, to alter declining revenue. The publisher had an aging subscriber base and its circulation was constantly declining. I decided to replace print newspapers with e-newspapers loaded on iPads.

The goal was to capture the attention of young users as well as reduce printing costs. Initial surveys showed that loyal readers were completely against the idea of ​​replacing print with digital. But the publisher eventually went ahead with the idea.

She began by canceling deliveries to Blackville, Ark, which was 200 miles from the newspaper’s headquarters in Little Rock. Subscribers were offered to download iPads with the Democrat-Gazette electronic newspaper for the cost of their print subscription.

The publisher has deployed its staff to personally train readers on the use of the device. “We’ve finished converting 70% of subscribers to our reading” on the iPad, lending manager Larry Graham told Li. Democrat-Gazette then moved on to testing in other markets. They eventually managed to generate between 70-85% conversions in different markets across Arkansas. Democrat-Gazette now has 30,000 subscribers, of whom 27,000 use iPads.

We were going to lose money this year. We made money this year (2020). We turned it around.

Larry Graham, Distribution Director, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Graham attributed the personal touch in customer support as a major reason for the high conversion rate. When someone has trouble communicating with them [the] iPad, we go to their house, try to figure out why the Wi-Fi is not working. we [go] Under your desk and trying to access the router, try to get the password.”

The publisher is also retraining its customer service team to handle technical questions about the iPad and online access to its website. “It completely changed our department from being a print distribution department to a technical department,” Graham noted. “So, it changed customer service. It changed everything in what we do.”

“It makes a huge difference.”

Keene Sentinel has taken a less technical approach to providing high-touch customer service to its readers. I hired delivery drivers to do the job. The publisher started by paying them to replace old newspaper tubes with new ones.

You’re driving to work, and you see all those dead newspaper tubes that have flipped—plows are dropping, or they’ve been on the ground or something—and that’s just a bad reflection on your brand. The old grunge pipes, you know, are worn out – you can’t even see the guard’s name on them.

Terence Williams, President and COO, The Keene Sentinel

This has shifted the perception of what delivery engines can deliver and prompted the publisher to think of ways to use them to serve customers.

It’s a simple idea, but it stunned people [that] “It just didn’t put us in the best light,” Williams added. “It makes a huge difference there.”

They have even gone so far as to get drivers to take simple surveys asking subscribers for feedback on delivery and content. The response has been amazing, according to Williams. Complaints for trading decreased from 4 per 1000 customers to less than 1 per 1000 customers.

“This increased interaction between Sentinel drivers and subscribers has significantly improved customer perception of the newspaper,” Lee notes.

Using momentum as a means of communicating with our customers is a real opportunity. We’ve only scratched the surface here, but there are all kinds of connections we can offer our readers.

Terence Williams, President and COO, The Keene Sentinel

Taking risks is important as the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette pointed out, which went ahead with the iPad strategy despite receiving negative feedback from subscribers. The ability to bring forward forward-looking ideas combined with a personal touch can create magic.

Lee writes in the conclusion: “No longer exclusively the field of retailers, customer service must become a greater focus for the media.”

“At the end of the day, whether you’re talking about an editorial or a business, it’s all about relationships. Providing quality customer service is one way to build trust and recognition—not to mention better service—to our readers, listeners, and viewers.”

Anita Lee, author, How Customer Service Can Build Trust and Engagement with Audiences


The full report is available at The American Press Institute:
How customer service can build trust and engagement with the masses