Updated with comments below
Updated at 5:24 Monday: Bruce posted this on Facebook: “So it’s now 5:11 PM on Monday and no one from the News & Record has tried to contact me. Thanks! I can keep this up as long as it takes. (My comment: a few News & Record staffers said the paper tried to contact Bruce, but — wait for it — the phone number they had was out of service.)
Updated later Monday night: Jeff Gauger, publisher of the paper, apologized in a comment on the FB page and said a paper rep talked with Wiley about the problems. Our goal is flawless delivery. We of course will credit your account for your missed deliveries. We will credit your account for an additional 13 Sundays (or three months) as recompense for the frustration and irritation we have caused. Also, we will quickly provide technical assistance and coaching to give you easy, uninterrupted access to the News & Record’s digital editions. Again, I am sorry.
These days, people tend to know what they’re going to get when they subscribe to a newspaper. They may get irritated by the editorial pages, bothered by the tone and amount of news coverage, or left wanting by the lack of sports coverage for their favorite teams. Still, there’s enough value in the paper that they want it.
What people don’t expect — and which is hastening the demise of the business — is poor customer service. What do you do when people try to give you money, and you don’t seem to want it?
Enter Bruce Wiley, a Facebook friend of mine who lives in High Point. The News & Record — my former paper — sent him a subscription offer in the mail, and he decided he wanted to start Sunday-only home delivery. He called the paper, and that’s when his problems began.
“Having been a previous subscriber, they had my information in their system, including my old landline number. I told them that number was no longer in service and gave them my cell phone number to update their records. I also instructed the young lady to start delivery on July 12th since we would not be home July 4th weekend.
“All is good at this point. We returned home on Monday, July 13, and there is is no paper delivered. I called customer service, gave them my cell phone number when asked and they say they don’t have that number in their system. Once they find my records, they inform me that the paper is not supposed to start till July 19th. I give them my cell phone number once again to update their records. Our paper is delivered on the 19th.
“On July 17th, I call Customer Service to find out what steps can be taken to link my paid account with online access, as advertised. They still don’t have my cell phone number in their records, I’m still associated with a landline number that is not in service. Again, I give them my number. The person on the phone has no idea how to help me with online access. I ask to speak to a supervisor. I am informed, at 2 p.m. on a Friday, that there is no supervisor to speak with. The young lady asks me for my name and number, which I give again. She assures me someone will be in touch.
“So, 9 days later, no call.”
“On top of that, no paper delivered today (July 26). I called and the only options are to use the N&R automated system. I am prompted for my phone number, so I enter my cell phone. After entering my house number, the system tells me there is no such subscription. I press zero to speak with someone and the recording politely tell me the office is closed and if I want to talk to someone, I have to call back on Monday.
“I actually have to call them again because there are no options to go back thru the menu. So I call again, go thru the automated process, use the out of service landline number and guess what, they say I do have an account. When I use the system to tell them that I did not get a paper delivered, the response is that we’re sorry, we’ll credit your account and goodbye. No option of getting a paper delivered today. Oh, and I still don’t have online access.”
That’s the end of his account. Here’s one translation of his last three sentences: He cares enough about the paper to pay for it and then call to get it when it isn’t delivered. But the newspaper office doesn’t care enough about him to get it to him.
He tagged four News & Record editors, including the publisher. None of them commented on his post so far, although 18 other people have, at this writing. Based on those comments, Bruce’s experience isn’t uncommon. And it’s not just Greensboro; several of the commenters said they have the same problem with the News & Observer in Raleigh.
My guess is that this is a nationwide newspaper problem.
Twenty years ago, a newspaper marketer told me that subscribers don’t cancel because of the content or opinion of the newspaper. They quit because of service problems. Twenty years ago, we worked hard to improve our service, grow circulation and stop cancellations. Customer service folks at the paper – even department managers and reporters – would deliver newspapers to people if the district managers were out of the office.
Now, most of — maybe all — of the customer service folks in Greensboro have been laid off, and calls are directed to a centralized BH Media customer service operation in Texas. I have heard stories that the operators in Texas don’t know how to help customers with the e-edition or with the 1808 magazine. Based on the comments on Bruce’s Facebook post, they have difficulty with newspaper delivery, too.
Is this fixable? Of course, it is. It requires focus, accountability and people who know the product and market. As newspapers consolidate and outsource services, these three characteristics are lost.
I don’t know how long Bruce will persist in his quest to get a News & Record. I can’t say I blame him if he says to hell with it.
And that’s a shame.
A quick selection of comments from Facebook and Twitter.
Jean in Greensboro: It took me several frustrating tries to link to the online site (like the phone number issue, they had already linked my email to a user name and somehow that was a barrier.) I have had many opportunities to use it as about twice a month we don’t receive the paper. When you get a person on the phone they are good at apologizing. Still haven’t gotten a call back from a supervisor I requested.
Mark on canceling the Washington Post: I had the same experience with The Washington Post a few years ago. No “Why?”, no “Please reconsider,” no “What if we offer you some sort of a deal?” Just, “Okay.” No other business lets customers get away this easy.
Abbie in Greenville, N.C.: It’s definitely happening to us. We get Facebook messages about it all the time.
Matt in Roanoke: Now you don’t even reach someone at the paper. You reach someone in Texas.
Carol in Raleigh: I’ll take your word that this is a pervasive problem; can personally confirm though that N&O’s CS is a mess
Sherry in Hamilton, Ont.: Gave up 20 year subscription with The Spec due to poor customer service. Still miss “getting the paper”