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Hand in sea water asking for help. Failure and rescue concept.Yes, some people still read the print version of newspapers. So when the Boston Globe botched the move to a new delivery provider and left us paperless for the better part of a week, it caused a major disturbance in the force for my significant other.

Mistakes do happen, of course, although after 143 years you have to wonder what the Globe doesn’t know about home delivery. But it was its botched response to the delivery problems that holds lessons for anyone trying to succeed in this “digital” age (however you define it.)

Here are four digital must-haves I see my clients talking about, how the Globe failed to achieve each and some lessons for the rest of us.

  • Anticipate, don’t just meet, customer expectations: Proactively apologize for failures, tell the customer what compensation (if any) they’ll receive, but most importantly tell them when their problem will be resolved. It took four days for the Globe to even tell us we’d get a credit for the undelivered papers, and no word on a solution except that delivery problems should ease “within the next few weeks.”
  • Provide a seamless, personalized experience across service channels such as phone, Web and mobile apps. Nothing screams “clueless” like endless waits on customer service lines and Web sites that crash under the flood of complaints. When Netflix can instantly stream video to my phone, why couldn’t the Globe buy a bunch of cloud capacity to keep its customer service site up? The Globe showed it’s neither effective in its old business model (delivering physical papers) nor its new online, digital model.
  • Provide a personalized customer experience that puts the customer’s needs, not what you want to sell them, at the center. The service rep I finally got on the phone not only couldn’t tell me when delivery to my street would resume, she didn’t seem to hear my question.  How about a Web site showing, in green, yellow and red, what areas will see their papers the fastest? Or even better, email or text alerts with updates on when service will resume to a subscriber’s street?
  • Recognize the customer is in charge and act accordingly. With its late and clueless communication, the Globe seems to have forgotten its customers even exist, much less understanding and meeting their needs. Fixing this doesn’t require sophisticated Big Data social media analytics, but just common sense and putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. For example, if you were a subscriber to a daily newspaper would you be satisfied hearing  that delivery will resume sometime in the next few weeks?

I say all this more from sadness than anger, having admired the Globe for most of my life. It takes strong, healthy news outlets to do investigative reporting like the Globe’s uncovering of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church as portrayed in the movie Spotlight.) Having already been crippled by the Web, the last thing the Globe needs is to finish the job off through its own incompetence.

For the rest of us, it’s a shot across the bow and a heads-up to put the systems and processes in place to respond like a true digital organization when – not if – we have big and unexpected customer service issues.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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