Customer Service in the Digital Era
New subscription models have created new service issues.
It's not that hard to remember back to the days when customer service issues generally involved delinquent deliveries, address changes, mangled copies in the mail or renewal questions. These days, publishers have by now introduced a raft of new products across platforms that are being bundled into any number of new subscription models-from all-access to digital-only and tiered memberships with their own mix of product and access privileges. Along with those bundles come new questions and concerns from subscribers. Meanwhile, publishers are overhauling their customer service operations to accommodate the new queries and frustrations.
More Platforms, More Confusion
"A lot has changed," says Meg Estevez, group director at NewBay Media, a b-to-b and enthusiast publisher. "One of the factors is the different apps and platforms we have-Apple, Kindle, Google and Barnes & Noble, as well as the regular digital edition. The difference is we have to educate them. They subscribe to the digital edition and then they search in the App Store and think they're already a subscriber to the app."
Other readers think that because they subscribe to the print magazine they're automatically entitled to the other products.
But because NewBay's fulfillment provider doesn't have access to the app reports, Estevez has hired an in-house customer service representative to help with confused subscriber queries.
In the event the fulfillment provider does get questions, they're forwarded to the NewBay rep.
NewBay has also moved some of its titles to an all-access model which has reduced the service drag on the previously separated products. "Because of the issues of refunds and complications, we've moved many of our paid magazines to an all-access model rather than having separate subscriptions," says Estevez. "You subscribe through one page, it goes directly into the database and instead of an auto-access to the app, they get a confirmation page with a link to download the app. In the app are instructions for login, which pings via API our fulfillment provider for access."
NewBay has also, when inventory allows it, created house banner ads that appear in the app with customer service contact information. "At the bottom of the page there's a little black-and-white banner ad for a customer service contact, including name, email and phone number. If the customer has a person they can deal with directly they feel better," says Estevez.
And as technology becomes ever more integrated with access and distribution, it inevitably becomes a constant customer service issue. Whether it's user error, faulty WiFi or simply learning how to navigate an app or digital edition, there are plenty of repetitive queries.
In these cases, Estevez says they're building out a YouTube channel that has videos explaining common user errors and tech-related hangups. "We're in the process of creating YouTube videos to add to our customer service manual," she says. "We're not quite there yet, but we want to create a channel where we can direct subscribers when they have an issue. And if they're already on their iPad, they can tap a link and deal with it instantly."