How to Handle Customer Service with Digital Publications

In the print era, customer service often revolved around issues like starting and stopping delivery for customers on vacation, or addressing complaints about newspapers not arriving or being left in puddles.

In the digital news era, customer service is very different. Today you may have customers confused about whether to buy an app through an app store or through a publication’s website. Or a customer may continue to be charged for digital access after a subscription has been canceled. Customer service has to evolve to meet these needs for publications to gain a competitive edge in a tough marketplace.

With More Platforms, Expect More Customer Service Needs

Cross-platform publishing is critical today, and digital publications are busy working on various methods to get content out to a wide range of platforms, from print to website to tablet to phone. But while it’s important for digital publications to be platform-friendly, it does make for more ways customers can experience problems. The call center that handled complaints about newspapers landing in mud puddles has to be revamped to handle today’s customer service issues.

Simplicity Helps

Some publishers move toward an “all access” model that keeps things simpler than making subscriptions separate. When all customers are funneled through a single order page and then linked to a download site for their app, both publishers and outside digital fulfillment providers they work with can easily be kept up to date on who has subscribed and when.

When all your subscriptions are separate, issues like refunds can become more complicated than necessary. Another way to prevent confusion with customer service needs involving digital products is by placing small banner ads in user apps that tell users exactly how to contact customer service if they need help.

Social Media as a Customer Service Channel

Social media sites, and Twitter in particular, have become de facto channels for customer service. Customers who can’t get through by phone may take to Twitter to air a complaint, and it’s to the publisher’s benefit to monitor social media for customer service complaints and address the promptly. The Times and The Sunday Times, owned by News International found this out the hard way when customers experienced technical problems that plagued the newspapers’ paywalls.

New Customer Service Channels, Including YouTube

Today’s customer service must involve more than a call center for most digital publications. A dedicated FAQ page regarding digital subscriptions (like The Washington Post‘s) is highly advisable to keep call volume under control. Some companies, like B2B publisher NewBay Media, are creating YouTube channels dedicated to explaining user errors and technical problems. The hope is that these channels can get customers the help they need without having to call in and go through a more cumbersome customer service process.

Case Study: Boston Globe’s Cohesive Contact Management Solution

The Boston Globe, which owns digital publishing heavyweights bostonglobe.com and boston.com, used to use an in-house circulation system that logged complaints using Lotus Notes, and it was wholly inadequate to the customer service demands of a digital publishing enterprise. So they worked with Oracle to create a cohesive contact management solution that included comprehensive reporting capabilities to keep better track of customer service issues. The new solution unified customer interactions and increased customer service agent efficiency.

A New Customer Service Model: Micropayments

Digital publishers can expect the customer service environment to continue to change, as publications take on new monetization methods. Early in 2014, for example, The Chicago Sun-Times ran a micropayment paywall test where readers could buy access to individual articles that they paid for with Bitcoin, in self-determined amounts. The reason they chose Bitcoin as their micropayment method was that with other micropayment methods, like credit cards, transaction costs are often greater than the cost per article. With Bitcoin, transaction costs are miniscule.

What they found was that readers (including sought-after mobile readers) liked the idea, and that 25 cents per article was the “sweet spot” per-article price that worked best. Should micropayment monetization models catch on, customer service practices will have to evolve to accommodate this new payment method.

Just as digital publishers have had to revamp business models to remain viable, so have they had to change customer service models. Customers who are willing to pay for digital access expect publishers to have customer service systems that can address new types of issues that arise with digital delivery.

At RealMatch, we offer recruitment advertising solutions for digital publishers and media companies that help monetize sites and boost audience development strategies at the same time.

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