All I wanted to do was change my Wall Street Journal digital Monday to Friday subscription back to a daily print subscription. Why? Because I found I was not reading enough of the business news as I had when the paper was physically delivered. I also wanted to retain my Saturday delivery subscription. Sounds easy to accomplish, yes?
Four or five (can’t remember which) conversations later, I have effected the change. Why so many? Because the WSJ customer service functions are designed from the inside out to serve internal needs rather than from the outside in to serve customer needs.
To make the change I needed to deal with three customer service groups:
- Saturday only
- Daily print
As I look at this list, I can envision the WSJ’s organizational structure and financial reports.
Because of this business structure, I would have needed to make at least three calls to accomplish the switch (cancel Saturday only, cancel digital, then sign up for daily delivery). And things didn’t go perfectly. My initial call was routed to the wrong group. Then the Saturday-only woman I talked with did not understand when I asked to renew my Saturday subscription but also make it a daily subscription that I was doing more than renewing just Saturday. And why should she? All she thinks about day in and day out is Saturday only. She could not “hear” my request for daily delivery. When the paper did not appear all week, I went into a second round of phone calls.
I am one customer and a very loyal one if you look at my overall buying record. But that record was not visible to each siloed group. And the daily group (where I held a subscription for at least a decade) did not even know that I still existed after my switch to Monday-Friday digital. This gap resulted in the demand that I share my credit card information multiple times.
One very sweet customer service rep – hearing my voice rise when I was going to be switched to yet another contact – got permission from her boss to solve my problem once and for all on the spot. During the four or five minutes I was on hold waiting for the rep, I almost hung up, and was considering switching to the New York Times as I’d gotten that mad. Had the NYT’s content for business news been close to comparable or if the WSJ rep had an attitude problem as bad as mine, the switch would have been a no-brainer.
The WSJ is the only US newspaper making good money because it is a B2B business and business people will pay for content versus search-for-free. While it is smartly trying to be more consumer-oriented with its Saturday offering, readers (or their companies) pay for the paper because they use it for business. But, like other B2B businesses, the WSJ had better wake up to the fact that whether we are buying for our personal consumption or for our business use, customer expectations for service have grown. B2B businesses had best step up to the plate and deliver. When I contacted the WSJ, I expected Amazon- or Expedia-like efficiency and effectiveness. Instead, I ran into a byzantine business structure that may simplify internal accounting and management but makes the customer experience a nightmare.
The challenge facing every company – be it B2C or B2B – is to understand the customer as an individual, design an experience that will delight them, and make sure the promises made about the brand are delivered. That requires outside-in thinking where every process is designed from the customer’s point of view.
In most B2B markets, offerings are becoming more rather than less comparable. This tells me that delighting B2B customers has a huge bottom line impact in today’s copycat economy. It also tells me that B2C brands – like Apple and Samsung – have incredible B2B opportunities as business customers expect more from products and services.
As a B2B business, remember that you are serving real people with real needs, not solely “businesses.” B2B customers make buying decisions on two levels: will it benefit my company and will it benefit me as an individual? This dual-level decision has fascinating implications for branding and value promises. Ignore the individual-level decision at your peril.