Breaking Up is Hard to Do

image of newspapers piled at the door

In 2019, you’d think it would be easy to break up with your local newspaper. Especially with all the customer service software available. But on June 01, I found out that wasn’t the case.

My subscription was set to expire in seven days. I went to the newspaper’s website to cancel before the next quarter payment was due. After spending nearly 15, maybe 30 minutes clicking every link in the menu and on the page, there was no easy out.

In fact, it was easier to buy a plane ticket to destination-unknown and cancel; then it was to cancel my newspaper. But I was determined, because like Evillene, the wicked witch, in The WIZ, I didn’t want “nobody to bring me no bad news.”

Even though it was a Saturday, I called customer service. Their business hours had ended for the day, and the recording directed me back online to manage my account. I drafted an email, included all my account information, and asked the customer care department to cancel my subscription. I got a response (see below) on Sunday, indicating I couldn’t break up through a note. Instead, I had to call and speak with a customer service agent.

Good Morning (Mr.)Hopkins,

Thank you for contacting the Atlanta Journal-Constitution regarding your newspaper delivery subscription. 

Thank you for your email. It appears that you are requesting a permanent stop of service.  In order to process this request and ensure that no further payments will be processed, please contact our customer support center at 404-XXX-XXX or 800-XXX-XXXX.

**Please note that any automatic deductions will continue until you contact us via phone to process the stop. **

As a reminder, you can always access our excellent all digital service at no additional cost by visiting myajcdotcom.

With this service, you will be able to enjoy the exact replica of the newspaper in the comfort of your own home by using your computer, tablet, or phone. Just let us know when you would like to subscribe and we can set you up right away.

Thank you for subscribing to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Have a wonderful day!

customer care at ajc dot com

Since office hours had ended by the time I read the email, I called on Monday, June 03, 2019. Anthony from Subscriber Relations answered my call. He was kind and professional.
Anthony asked for the telephone number associated with the account.
I gave it to him.
He asked for the name of the account holder.
I gave it to him.
Then he wanted to know why I was leaving. I told him I no longer wanted the news. He didn’t seem to want to take “No” for an answer.
For a moment, I thought maybe I should tell him,
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
He said, “I could lower the price.”
I said, “no, thank you.”
He reminded me, “without subscribers, we won’t be able to report the news.”
I told him, I understood.
He asked, “Are you receiving the digital news that arrives seven days a week?” I said, yes, I had. He said,” so, it’s not the price; not the content; not the delivery – what is it?” I responded that I simply didn’t want it anymore. He finally conceded and began the process of ending my account’s subscription.

After hanging up the phone, I thought, do business owners really want to strong-arm customers into keeping their products or service; when it is clear, the customer is unhappy? Wouldn’t they want customers who are so thrilled with the service that they become advocates and sing the praises to others?

In fact, product advocacy is the goal of the customer life cycle.

Except, I could tell from Anthony’s questions, AJC was operating from a product-centric model not customer-centric. Anthony wasn’t a bot, but It appeared AJC’s Subscriber Relations representatives are programmed by Marketing and Sales.

“Is it the content?”
“Is it the price?”
“Is it access?”

Anthony was more interested in the product. Those questions are based on Marketing’s 4 P’s – Price, Place, Product, Promotion. And even though there were some upgrades to packaging and delivery; the product hadn’t changed. Anthony represents Subscriber Relations, but it should have been Product Relations. Except he couldn’t make the product prettier, cheaper, and be present 24-7 enough to make it of value to me.  Although he identified me as a long-time subscriber, and that was correct, I could get my “news” anywhere. The product was never a problem; it was our relationship. One that may not have existed at all or at the least deteriorated over time.

THINK IT THROUGH

Why do we buy newspapers?
What do we want?
How do we want it?
When do we want it?
Where do we want it?

We want a newspaper to share information on our neighbors, businesses, our community and what’s going on it. We want to know when the local government infringes on our inalienable rights. When we ask, we want answers. But we also want our news to be truthful, unbiased and from reputable journalists. And in the Information age, where Social Media is sovereign– some of us also want to participate in news gathering and dissemination process.

Yet, in traditional newspaper publishing, the focus is on the product, not the reader. In the last few years, news publications have hired engagement editors, but that doesn’t change the business model – it adds a resource that is useful in attracting prospects but fails at keeping actual customers.

In the newspaper business model – the only control consumers have is whether to say yes or no to the product – oh, and maybe share articles. But with more publications going behind a paywall – it’s becoming harder for consumers to share unique articles – the ‘relationship’ has soured and made the newspaper industry ripe for disruption.

Case-in-point, there are newspaper-styled platform/franchise business models such as patch.com; tapinto.net that are becoming increasingly popular on the internet. These hyperlocal news aggregators feature stories from career/citizen journalists and bloggers too. They are inspiring conversations and quickly becoming the local public squares of the Internet. In this model, the town criers are also returning –in the forums, that is, where many supply answers to oft-asked questions such as, “why traffic was backed up on Highway 5, this morning.” The news platform business model also allows the solutions to remain for reference. While the platform news site claim to have editors in high-performing areas, reputation building also comes in the form of likes and direct comments.
Hyperlocal news sites like the Patch in Douglasville make space on their platform so the conversation can begin at any time.

According to SR Anthony, AJC wants to remain in the business of gathering and disseminating news, but they need subscribers like me for that to happen. Although newspapers sales, nationwide, have been on a steady decline, publishers can do some things to stop hemorrhaging subscribers and maybe win back those they’ve lost. Here’s a tip; instead of having their Subscriber Relations representatives act like salespeople; they could actually build relationships with subscribers.

They could, but AJC hasn’t.

I received a bank alert that AJC charged my credit card for the next quarter. I called again on the 4th. Subscriber Relations representative Donald was very polite and professional in informing me he requested a refund.

On June 6, 2019; I had to contact my bank to remove the charge. My bank credited my account the same day on behalf of the newspaper. The newspaper refunded my subscription fee 10 days after charging my credit card. If Anthony were to ask me why I left; I’d tell him I have a better relationship with my bank than his newspaper.
#cybermonday