WTF USA Today Network?

Kristine Glenn - Jul 16, 2018 1:33:28 PM

I've been struggling recently to come up with a good topic to blog about for Fat Cat Commmunications. Then, a good idea just fell into my lap. 

Today, I finished writing a blog for one of my client's on best practices in customer communications and ran upstairs for a quick bite to eat and to check the mail. In my mailbox, I found a bill from the dermatologist, a Macy's advertisement, and this postcard from the USA Today Network, which owns my hometown paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer. The postcard began: 

"We'll be delivering Premium Editions like these to you throughout the year."

Wow, I thought to myself. Beryl, the editor at the Enquirer, took my suggestion about giving subscribers free content from USA Today as a value-add with their subscription. Then I read on:

"Beginning August 1, 2018, you will be charged at the then current price for each edition according to its delivery date."

Huh? I'm going to be charged? For something I didn't ask for? 

"For further details about your subscription or the current price for your Premium Edition, visit"

I stare at this postcard for a few mintues. I'm annoyed, but intrigued. In light of the fact that I just finished writing a blog about customer experience, I decide to forego my natural inclination to toss this on the counter and ignore it and I do what any responsible, logical subscriber would do: log into my Enquirer subscription account. 

There is no "About Your Subscription" option. The options below are what I'm given and I start looking through them one by one. 

enquirer photo

Not one of them says anything about Premium Editions or how to stop them. 

Luckily, there is an extremely easy-to-find customer service email address. I email customer service asking for an explanation. 

Within a minute, I get an automated email back from customer service asking me to do the following:

"To better assist you, we ask that you provide us with the following information:  Name, address, telephone number and, if available, your account number.  If these were not provided in your original request, simply click reply and send us the information for the fastest processing."

Seriously? They can't match up my email with my customer information. Ok, I know everything but my account number and I'm still logged in, so I'll take this next step. 

If you are a Cincinnati Enquirer subscriber, I dare you to find your account number. One-by-one I went through all of my manage account options. I clicked into update my credit card info. Nope. Not there. I clicked into my account history. Not there either. Now, because of my background in web development, I knew that I could probably use the ?licenseld=11111111 number that appeared in the URL when I clicked into these pages, but it's definitely not intuitive. 

I decide to make one last attempt at self-service. I just go into my browser and type in 

subscription terms

Hmm. It's part of my subscription terms. I wasn't aware of this. I'm gathering from the fact that the Enquirer needed to send a postcard that most subscribers aren't aware of this. The postcard is a proactive attempt on the part of the Enquirer to warn me that I'm going to see a new charge on my invoice. Now what are my options? Do I have to cancel my subscription in order to avoid paying the three bucks for this premium content?

This entire experience is an example of what the experts are telling businesses not to do when it comes to communicating with customers today. 

  • Earn my trust: Forrester research conducted a study. In it, millennials and Gen Z cited that the number one reason they would abandon a product, service or brand is because of an unexpected fee or charge. 
  • Personalize your communications: All marketers should understand this, and I encourage you to start your study by digging into Accenture's Personalization Pulse Check Report. The USA Today Network is nearly DOA by this measure. My postcard was addressed to Kristine Glenn OR Current Resident and the automated response to my email to customer service required me to send a second email with my name, address, telephone number, and, if available, my account number. (At least there is a tuned-in copywriter somewhere within the marketing department who knows that the account number is nearly impossible to locate.)
  • Be quick: Luckily for the USA Today Network, I'm a Gen Xer. Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to abandon a brand because of a slow response during online chat for sales or customer service issues, according to Forrester. I sent my email to customer service at 1:00 p.m. EST on July 16. There is online chat offered (a positive for the USA Today Network's customer communications), but I prefer email. I'll update this blog post when I get a response. 

I have absolutely nothing against the Cincinnati Enquirer or the USA Today Network. In fact, I work with both organizations frequently and I am a strong proponent of supporting both. However, when it comes to customer support and customer experience, this is a real-world example to me of what not to do, especially when you are in the news media in my opinion. It's crucial that we build up trust in real journalists again and stop the flood of unverified gossip passing as "news." However, tacking on a cheap fee like this doesn't do much to build my confidence in the establishment.

At the very least, the postcard could have been written in a more positive manner. "Don't forget! Your premium content from the USA Today Network arrives next month. As part of your subscription to the Cincinnati Enquirer, you agreed to accept this content for the small fee of only $3 per publication. There will be a total of (XX?) publications that will arrive over the next (XX?) weeks. If you no longer wish to receive this content, please contact customer service at (XXXXX)."

I wouldn't have questioned that at all -- I probably did agree to it and just forgot -- and I would have felt much more positive about the brand. 

Update: July 19, 9:30 a.m. -- I received an email from Meaghen at the Cincinnati Enquirer on July 17 at 3:29 p.m. asking me for additional information. She needed me to reply with my complete address and telephone number. So, I did that, again, and I'm still waiting for a response. 

Update: July 29, 12:30 p.m. -- Meaghen sent me an email letting me know they would put a $9.00 credit on my account to care for the cost of the Premium Editions for this calendar year. 

Topics: Brand Strategy

Kristine Glenn

Kristine Glenn

I have an appetite for getting things done. As an advertising and corporate communications leader, I am experienced in bringing people, as well as animals, together. I have led cross-departmental teams and developed trusted relationships with C-Suite executives. I have 20 years of public relations and marketing communications experience, including providing traditional, digital and social media services to billion-dollar brands. I don’t believe in lengthy processes or convoluted platforms. I believe in hard work, empathy and love.

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