Making Customer Service a Priority: Instead of ignoring complaints, newspapers should create better experiences for readers.

Author:Gallagher, Tim

My wife and I stopped for dinner at a nice locally owned spot that started as a breakfast and lunch place where you ordered at the counter. Now it has moved to larger quarters where waiters serve you and musicians play

We ordered at 6:05 and settled in for what we thought would be the typical 12-to 15-minute wait. At 6:35 with no food or waiter in sight I asked for the manager who apologized, found out when our dinner would arrive, and offered to bring us wine at no charge. She owned it. She turned my thinking from "I can't wait to write a crappy Yelp review" to "Well give this restaurant a second chance."

But what do we do as newspaper executives when there's a customer service complaint? Most of us (I am including myself during my 17 years as an editor of local dailies) are defensive and good at explaining to the complainer in words that basically say, 'You're wrong." Very rarely, I suspect, do we own it and pledge to do a better job.

Is a customer-friendly newspaper an oxymoron? In a competitive world where we are losing ground, we could gain customers by treating them like we care. I'm talking about every customer from the home delivery subscriber who reads each word--from the digital-only crowd to the advertiser.

How would we be different if we actually considered what concerns our customers and changed the product to help them?

* False information and phone stories plague our readers. Our websites could offer a "check it out" link that would take readers to or similar sites. If a reader wanted to dig deeper on a regular basis, Check Please offers a starter course on this. This grows more crucial because of the recent survey by Common Sense and Survey Monkey showing that teens get their news on YouTube from celebrities and influencers. There is not a lot of time left to teach them the skills of critical vetting.

* Readers still call or email us asking us to print their news. In one stroke of genius, one of my newsrooms invented the "Say Yes' Editor" position. The job of Jim Wagner Jr. was to say yes when a person called to ask, "Can you get this in the paper?" Obviously, there were standards, but Jim's job was to find a way to get the reader's definition of news into shape for other readers and he did it extraordinarily well. Newsrooms of today are too tight for such a luxury position, but imagine if we changed our attitudes about letting readers help us define news.

* My friend and former colleague John Temple addresses...

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