Monday, July 28, 2014

How not to do customer service in 2014, newspaper version

So here's a wager for you (I'll provide a copy of AP's newswriting guide by Jack Cappon to the first person who can figure out the puzzle).

One condition: You must be a seven-day print and digital subscriber to The State newspaper.

The setup: Go to the newspaper's website. Pretend you want to look at various pricing to see if, as a consumer, there are options to consider. Try to find where it lists your subscription options other than your existing seven-day-plus-digital subscription.

That's OK, I'll wait.

Try the FAQs. See anything there (of course, that they haven't been updated since November 2012 might  speak for itself). Click on those links and it takes you to the page where you can start a new subscription "from $2.60 a week." Click on that, however, and you are prompted to set up a new account with all new user info and password. If you don't do that, you apparently don't get to see that "from $2.60 a week" rate -- or any other.

You can try it from any number of pages where there are links to manage your subscription, etc. -- same result.

So existing or prospective subscribers are denied some of the most basic information that should be provided so they can make intelligent decisions going forward. And nonsubscribers have to disgorge a bunch of personal information before they can get comparison pricing info. Imagine if Wal-Mart or any other retailer had a gate before you could get into the store. Of, if you don't like the analogy to a retailer, how about a service, like asking a plumber the cost estimate of a repair and being told it's none of your business until you give up a bunch of info (or, if you've used that plumber at all, it's none of your business whatsoever).

All in the name of what? Trying to force people into staying with their current option? Trying to force them to stay with seven-day print (you can do that by pricing, not by hiding the info).

Besides, it's 2014 -- you know, the digital era -- and as a digital user I even expect (hold your breath now), that when it comes time to renew I can go online and change my options (if I find them more useful) and pay for the new subscription instead of having to call an 800 number during business hours and be told traffic is "heavy" and wait untold minutes. (Well, sort of business hours -- 7 a.m. - 4 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday. That's convenient and consumer friendly, eh? Makes Comcast customer service seem like it's worthy of a J.D. Power award.)

This is still one more data point on how some news orgs simply don't get that they have gone from a monopoly to a retail/service business. Spot checking around. (In none of these cases can I tell whether existing subscribers can change their plans online.):
  • The Augusta Chronicle - not much better. Gives you an" as low as" monthly price, but no options for various home delivery frequencies. Clicking on "learn more" just gives you a bunch of sales copy about the service, no prices. Clicking on the digital only gives you a teaser rate. Clicking on print plus digital stops you with a wall demanding your ZIP code. Put in 30912 and you'll get the options (not sure if that link will work directly).
  •  Post and Courier (Charleston): Well, at least there are options in pricing. But each is an "introductory rate" with no indication what the normal rate will be starting in the seventh month. (OK, so the paper is taking its cues from the cable or phone companies, but it's a start.)
  • The Greenville News - a winner! All the options laid out. Now, if the paper would just get rid of the annoying splash screen with the condescending option "No, I don't want to save."
  • Herald-Journal (Spartanburg) - another winner with it all laid out.
  • Florence Morning News - It's all there, though not many options, eh? (This is the pricing model I referred to above.)
  • Times and Democrat (Orangeburg) - It's there, but don't be fooled by putting a local ZIP code into the "home delivery information" form at the bottom. All you'll get is a 404 error. Instead, click on "start a new home delivery subscription" for print-only rates. If you want the print and digital package, or digital only, you'll have to click on "online subscription" and be hit with an annoying splash screen with the options. But here's the rub. It appears that if you want a print-digital bundle, you have to do the home delivery option first, create that and then go here to add the digital. So much for one-stop shopping (hey, guys, find out how Amazon does it).
  • Island Packet (Hilton Head) and Beaufort Gazette (McClatchy papers along with The State) - well, it's there if you root around. One you follow that link, click on "print & digital" and then on "view delivery rates."
  • The Herald (Rock Hill) - at first, looks like the other McClatchy papers. But lo and behold, click on the print and digital link and a really smart form comes up that lets you pick a plan before you have to disgorge any personal info (and you get a gift to boot!).
  • Myrtle Beach (McClatchy) - just as bad as The State. (So if other McClatchy papers can show rates, why can't all?)
  • Charlotte Observer (McClatchy) - Hits you with the ZIP code, but once you put that in, you get rates.
For all I know, The State will give you rates once you disgorge all your personal info, but I find that troubling  in so many ways (you harvest my data to sell to others just so I can see your pricing?).

The State makes it even more torturous. Log into your account and there is a "Delivery Options" link. Follow it (you can't from here without logging in) and all you get (at least all I get) is "start a new subscription," "vacation holds" and "report delivery problems." Click on the new subscriptions link, and all I get are options for Go Gamecocks and Lake Murray Magazine. Someone truly evil has had to figure out this consumer torture.

What is even more interesting to me is that on many of these websites, "subscribe" is in small type and has to be hunted down. Aren't we in the business here of getting people to subscribe? And many are pushing E-Z pay, the auto draft on your credit card or bank account. Read the fine print. Orangeburg, for instance, says that's an extra $18.

But maybe you know something I don't. Have at it and share.

Update, 2 p.m. 7/29: After a 12-minute call to customer service, here are some of the rate plans (compared with $288.60 for seven-day delivery and digital - 79 cents a day); all include digital:
Thursday-Sunday: $195.52 (94 cents a day)
Friday-Sunday: $177.84 ($1.14 a day)
Saturday-Sunday: $159.64 ($1.54 a day)

All per-day prices are approximate. I just multiplied 52 by the number of days each week; there might be slight variations, but I did not count actual days.

I did not price Monday-Saturday, Monday-Friday or Sunday only.

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