Ask Me What I Want. Don’t Make Assumptions

by Peter Cheales  

I‘m a news junkie. I overdose on newspapers. But I’m making strenuous efforts to kick the habit. The reason: newspapers no longer give me the service I want or need.

Newspaper publishing is a business. And, like any other business, it operates to make a profit. To make a profit, a newspaper needs customers, people like me. Without me it cannot survive. And survival in an era characterised by increasing competition depends on giving me what I want, not what the editor thinks I want.

What I want is reliable, factual information * information that allows me to make informed decisions, that gives me the opportunity to form my own opinions, that puts me in control by making me master of my own destiny.

But do I get what I want?

In most cases, no.

By way of example, let’s consider The Star, one of South Africa’s largest daily metropolitan newspapers. Years ago it was packed with news. Opinion was confined to the leader page. Now it’s thin on news and bloated with opinion, much of it penned by obscure “experts” intent on propagating their own subjective agendas.

Sure, the paper, which in recent years has changed its make-up with monotonous regularity, looks prettier. It splashes colour around with almost indecent abandon. But it doesn’t give me what I want.

News and meaningful, fact-based analyses of current events.

The Weekly Mail & Guardian is, if anything, more opinionated than The Star. And while the Business Times section of the Sunday Times has some merit, you can usually junk the rest of the paper without serious information loss. The Citizen has more news than most – a lot of it of only peripheral interest – but its presentation, or lack of it, makes it far from reader-friendly.

The newspaper that comes closest to delivering the information service I want and need is Business Day. It summarises the main general, business and sports news in a column down the length of its front page. Its reports are concise and factual. Its clean-cut layout is easy on the eye. And it confines minimal opinion pieces to its leader page.

Business Day isn’t perfect. Like the other newspapers, it won’t be until it finds out exactly what I want. The easiest way to accomplish this is to ask me.

Newspapers, like most commodities, are subject to constant price increases. Publishers justify these hikes by claiming improvements that enhance the quality of service to readers. Has any newspaper publisher ever sought your opinion about what you want to read.

They haven’t approached you? They haven’t approached me, either.

Which brings me to your business. If, like local newspapers, it reflects South Africa’s generally abysmal level of customer services, wrapped up in a stiflingly traditional corporate structure, your prospects for survival, let alone growth, are bleak.

Now’s the time to put your foot down. If you want to keep me as a loyal, lifelong customer, ask me what I want. Listen carefully to what I say and feed back the information to the powers-that-be. And insist they act on what you tell them.

World Class Customer Service, the topic of my talks to corporate executives and front-line staff and the subject of my book, I Was Your Customer, demands that you take me into your confidence by making me part of your product development team. If you don’t give me what I want, when I want it and how I want it, I’ll find someone who will. This is going to become steadily easier as protective tariff barriers fall and more off-shore players enter the local arena.

American companies and those based in the Pacific Rim area are renowned for the superb quality of their customer service. British and an European companies are catching on fast. These companies are going to be competing with you for my business, if not today then tomorrow. If you can’t beat the quality of service they offer me, you could be history.

Before you’re overwhelmed, I suggest you develop a culture of customer service. Speak to me and your other customers. Listen to what we tell you. Modify your products if necessary. But do it now. Time is running out.