Fairfax Media problems, are they rooted in customer service?

Fairfax Media Limited’s dismal share price seems to be matched by its dismal customer service! Media outlets live on subscriptions; regular subscribers are the bedrock of circulation numbers that in turn feed into advertising rates and revenues.

Last night Melbourne suffered major storms and there were production delays in completing the Saturday 1st December edition of The Age newspaper – with late delivery to the local agents and supposedly late delivery to customers.

You cannot help bad weather, however, this is no excuse for dismal customer service. The failure of Fairfax Media’s to offer effective customer service runs at several levels:

  1. They could not be bothered to put an easily accesses notice on there web page – the only way to find out what’s gone wrong is through time consuming telephone calls. Presumable Fairfax Media puts trying to keep their production problems a secret ahead of customer service – a failure on 2 counts!
  2. The local newsagent Dundas Place Newsagency Pty Ltd simply refused to answer its telephone for the whole for Saturday morning!
  3. After a 15 minute wait to speak to the Age subscriber call centre at 9:00 I was advised about the late delivery to the newsagent and that the papers were in the process of being delivered now. Possibly true of some locations – not to us.
  4. After a 5 minute wait at 11:30 speak to the Age subscriber call centre again (the local news agency was still refusing to answer its ‘phone). I was told it was too late to organise a re-delivery; this had to be notified to the agency by 7:30am.
  5. All that was offered in compensation was a credit for the discounted delivery of the Age – if we wanted to see today’s paper we have to walk to another (much closer) news agency and pay the full price. This is despite the fact we have a long-term contract with Fairfax Media for daily deliveries of the paper.
  6. From previous failings of the delivery system we have learned the only way to get a credit for Fairfax Media failing to honour its contractual obligations is to spend valuable time on the telephone and request the credit – even where there has been no delivery to anyone or the news agent is aware of their failure to deliver.

Production problems are occasionally unavoidable in any industry, particularly time pressured processes such as newspaper production. What has prompted this post is the chronic failure of Fairfax Media both at the contractual level and at the customer service level.

  • Good customer service requires an organisation to go out of its way to minimise inconvenience to its clients caused by its failure and to volunteer compensation – done properly it builds customer loyalty. When done as badly as the Age simply it simply drives customers away; they have demonstrated they have no real interest in their customers so why should I bother to remain a subscriber? Multiply this by several thousand people and the damage to Fairfax Media’s value becomes obvious.
  • From a contractual perspective, the law requires a breach to be remedied and the non-default party to be placed in the same position as it would have been if the breach had not occurred. The remedy offered does not recompense the actual costs involved in telephone calls, time wasted or the actual cost of buying the replacement paper at the news stand prices.

I have lodged a formal complaint with the Age call centre which of course cannot be dealt with until ‘management’ wake up on Monday morning, but may not be dealt with for 48 hours……. So we will see what happens. It is a real pity the Age’s excellent journalism is not backed up by effective management and good customer service.

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