Rate your customer experience on newspaper websites

Updated with additions from the comments

Google “customer experience” and you’ll get about 9 million results. With this post, add one more. I write it because a good customer experience results in loyalty, and as businesses learn more about you, they are better able to adapt to your wants and needs. Thank you, big data.

So, how are newspaper websites doing in terms of customer experience? A checklist for you to try on your favorite newspaper site.

* Does the site load quickly, or slowly?

* Does the content emphasize building community, or does it emphasize traffic?

* Is the navigation clear and simple, or is it filled with moving parts, with ads across the top and down the side and indexes upon indexes?

* Are the ads effectively placed, or do they pop up, pop under and wander around the screen unbidden?

* Does the site know your news and information interests based on previous visits, or does it serve to you what it serves to everyone?

* Are the ads targeted to your interests or are they general whatever-they-sell ads?

* Does the search function deliver what you asked for, or does it deliver whatever seems close?

* Do you get a quick response when you send the site or its writers a message, or do you get the feeling they consider you a pain in the ass?

* Can you comment on stories without jumping through hoops, or is the comment process more trouble than it’s worth?

There are others, but you get the idea.

My experience is that when I go to newspaper sites in North Carolina, my time and interests are not respected. Rich media intrudes onto the screen, leaving only when it damn well pleases. Ads appear requiring me to click them gone. Some stories allow you to comment, others don’t. Some newspapers require a Facebook account to comment, others don’t. Some searches bring you the story you were looking for at the top of the search, many will bring you a story from 2010, even though you know they published a story two days ago.

And don’t get started on quick responses from site managers or writers.

I don’t want any site knowing too much about my habits, but they can — hello, Google and Facebook — and the intent, as creepy as it is, is to deliver content and ads that might interest you. When it works, it’s convenient. A newspaper site that is convenient? There’s an idea.

The audience of today and for the next 20 years or so are the millennials. Here’s a taste of their expectations. As newspaper editors already know, the expectations are challenging, but if you don’t try to meet them, you’re history.

I know all this costs money, but despite what you’ve heard, newspapers have money. They just don’t have as much as they used to.

One other note: The FCC’s announcement quashing the concept of net neutrality will not help a newspaper site’s loading speed or its efforts to expand into video unless the paper wants to pay extra, which seems unlikely.

Elaine’s additions:

— Include the town and state in which you’re located and that you cover (amazing how many sites don’t do this)
— Make email and phone contact information available for every customer-facing employee — newspeople, classified, circulation, billing, the editor, THE PUBLISHER, etc.

4 thoughts on “Rate your customer experience on newspaper websites

  1. My customer experience is toxified by disingenuous notices such as this one from the News & Observer informing me that
    “….due to changing business costs, our digital only subscription rates are changing. Starting with your next subscription term, your rate will change to….”

    Is it a firing offense for circulation managers to admit they’re not just “changing” but RAISING rates? Do they fear subscribers might seize up at such directness?

    And don’t get me started about how newspapers frame their latest page shrinkage as a convenience to readers….

  2. Idea: Let’s list ALL the things a good newspaper website should have/do. I’ll start. In addition to John’s excellent list I would add my two pet peeves:
    — Include the town and state in which you’re located and that you cover (amazing how many sites don’t do this)
    — Make email and phone contact information available for every customer-facing employee — newspeople, classified, circulation, billing, the editor, THE PUBLISHER, etc.

    More when I think of them.

  3. My most recent news site experience: I clicked on a headline. And I waited. I wondered if the site has seized up. Finally, after 20 seconds or so, the six-paragraph story came up. It took less time to read than I had spent waiting. Because it was the site of a publication that is actively encouraging my subscribers to cancel and switch, I was actually quite satisfied with the customer experience.

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