Small City Dailies, Cost Cutting, Customer Service, Second Rate Corporate Thinking

My daily paper, The Daily Press, serves the Hampton Roads communities of Virginia and is a subsidiary of The Tribune Co. (aka: Chicago Tribune).  Like other small city dailies, it struggles to stay profitable and is.

Corporate bean counters believe keeping local papers afloat means cost cutting.  Given the choice of investing for the future and cost cutting today, they’ll always go for the cheap way.  One way they’ve cut cost is to block subscribers from human contact with front office staff, most of whom they’ve fired anyway.  Trying to contact The Daily Press leads to an electronic Berlin Wall of automated messages offering a limited menu of options, only one of which allows human contact.

It’s a customer service option for subscription and billing issues that can’t be solved by the automated menu.  Turns out it’s an off-shore call center in an unknown Asian country staffed with people with limited authority to address issues.

Several months ago I started receiving regular emails from the paper that my subscription could not be renewed because they didn’t have an up to date credit card number.  There were even a few phone calls from people with strange accents asking for my new credit card number so my subscription could be renewed.  I wouldn’t give it to them, but said I’d go to the website and fill in any missing information.  You can’t do that online, they said, you have to give the number to us.  They were half right.  You can’t do it online, or at least I couldn’t figure it out.

I probably shouldn’t worry about it since not one but two morning papers are emailed each day.  Apparently I’m getting  two for the price of none, but I’m a Country Parson who likes to keep his affairs in decent order.  Caution, based on experience, keeps me from giving my card number to an unknown call center in a country on the other side of the globe. So I spent the better part of an afternoon trying to breach the automated Berlin Wall, thinking there had to be a way to talk to a live person in the local office here where I live.  Give them credit, it can’t be done.  They’ve created an electronic fortress as solid as ever there was. There are gaps.  The newsroom and commercial ad offices appear to have some kind of access.  It would be intruding on understaffed, overworked turf only to complain about an issue they couldn’t solve.

Corporate strategies to make money by cutting cost often kill the company by confusing cost cutting with improving efficiency.  Automated systems that keep customers from gumming up the works, with the added benefit of getting rid of staff, give the illusion of cost control with improved efficiency.  After all, whatever can’t be automated is marginal and of little consequence.  Is it?  

What is the the value of on site, in person customer service?  Might it be an investment in the paper’s profit potential?  In my case, I get the paper for free because their beloved system doesn’t synchronize lapsed subscriptions with outgoing papers.

I like The Daily Press.  As long as it keeps coming, I’ll keep reading.  If they ever figure out their blunder and stop delivery, I’ll subscribe anew.  I can wait. In the meantime, corporate overlords are doing the best they can to erode good will and confidence in the name of doing the least they can at the cheapest cost without regard to long term effects.

1 thought on “Small City Dailies, Cost Cutting, Customer Service, Second Rate Corporate Thinking”

  1. Well said, Steve!
    I am saddened by the slow, lingering death of local journalism.
    But sometimes it is self-inflicted.
    Do you still receive the UB; such as it is?

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