As digital publishers generate more revenue from reader subscriptions, the need for high-quality customer service has grown. A new report from American Press Institute finds that the customer support agents are often the only direct point of contact for a publication’s readers, so those interactions between service agents and subscribers play a huge role in the relationship a publisher builds with its audience.
When a publication’s customer service team engages with readers in a thoughtful, responsive manner, subscriber retention rates increase. Poor experiences with customer service reps are more likely to cause readers to disengage and discontinue their subscriptions.
How Should Customer Service Function at a Local News Site?
Running a local news site or an online magazine is fundamentally different from a retail store or a restaurant. Customer service has to function differently. The question is, how?
The most common reason why readers reach out to customer service at online publications is because of technical issues, whereas customers in a retail environment are more likely to be asking about refunds or product replacements. Other common reasons why digital news subscribers reach out for support include:
- Trouble logging into the website
- Complaints about editorial topics
- Need to switch payment information
- Suggestions for new articles or coverage areas
- General website issues
- Questions about subscription benefits
- Want to cancel a subscription
It’s clear that customer support agents working for digital publications require a different skill set than those working in other sectors. Certainly, having patience is still key. But a certain amount of technical savvy is helpful, as well.
At the very least, customer service agents working for online publications should know how to navigate the most common challenges that customers have in logging onto their websites and signing into their accounts. A direct line of communication between the customer support department and the editorial department is beneficial, as well.
Customer Support Agents As Data Gatherers
The relationship that customer service agents develop with readers can be useful for the publication. For example, if the same few questions or issues keep coming up, that should be an indicator that there’s a problem with the website that needs to be fixed. Maybe the conversion funnel needs to be tweaked, or maybe there is a specific error that developers didn’t notice. As a best practice, customer service reps should have a line to the publication’s technical teams and editorial departments, so any major issues can be addressed quickly.
Certain publishers may also find additional ways for their customer service agents to gather information. For example, customer service agents could be prompted to ask why customers are cancelling their subscriptions every time they receive a cancellation request.
The more directly and personally customer service agents interact with readers, the better the relationship becomes. In interviews with newsroom leaders from a range of news outlets, media strategist Anita Li found a direct link between the quality of a publication’s customer service and its subscriber retention rates. Customer service has become the publisher’s last opportunity to rebuild trust with its readers.
Based on her research, Li developed a strategy for publishers that want to offer better support. Publishers should follow these steps:
Step 1: Integrate departments
Step 2: Optimize online processes
Step 3: Get hands-on with customers
Step 4: Test new strategies
Despite the push toward offering a more personalized approach to customer service, there are ways that publishers can improve subscriber retention that don’t involve one-on-one support. Investing in self-service billing platforms that readers can use to manage recurring payments and update expired credit cards on their own can reduce the number of inbound calls and emails that support departments receive. Additionally, publishing a knowledge base or FAQ page with common technical questions is another way to encourage readers to seek out their own solutions to common problems.
As a best practice, experts recommend that publishers train their customer support reps in how to deal with a wide range of challenging reader issues. Agents should be taught how to respond to requests for corrections, complaints about journalistic practices, and questions about how the newsroom operates more generally. When they can’t be answered immediately, these types of reader requests and queries should be funneled to the newsroom staffer best equipped to handle reader complaints.
To learn even more about the tactics and strategies digital publishers are using to increase subscriber retention rates in 2021, reach out to Web Publisher PRO.