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Newspaper I'm considering cancelling my subscription to the Des Moines Register.  It really has nothing to do with the constant shrinking in size due to cost cutting measures.  I appreciate the content of the Register.  They've been more than favorable to me as an author and speaker.  And I do like the feel of newspaper in the morning.  It really doesn't have much to do with the fact that there are other outlets available during the day where I can read the paper or get my news.  Nope, this crazy cancellation talk boils down to one thing:  carrier delivery.

Given Iowa's ever-changing climate, I've asked my carrier (MULTIPLE TIMES) to place our paper on one specific spot on our front porch so we simply have to open our door, reach out, and grab it.  She seems to think it's ok to walk half-way up our driveway and fling the paper in the general direction of the door.  Having been a newspaper carrier for almost five years in my youth, I learned the first principle of customer service before my teenage years even began:  give the customer what they want.  Their paper was always consistently placed exactly where they wanted it without fail.  So - naive me - I expect the same level of service.  When I'm up at 5 in the morning at catch her, and kindly remind her where I want the paper, I get a shrug and a week's worth of compliance before the old habits come back.

Now if you were to ask Mike Wagner about this, he'd probably tell you it's a problem with personal branding.  Ask Drew McLellan, he'd build on Mike's issue and tell you there are some marketing lapses with the customers.  Phil Gerbyshak would tag it as a gross customer service blunder.  Victor Aspengren would suggest a corporate culture flaw.  They'd all be right, albeit incomplete.  This is also a systems thinking flaw.  The Register is doing (more or less) everything right until the paper hits output stage.  The last point in the newspaper creation business is delivery, and there's a flaw.  When their output becomes my input, somebody is dropping the ball (or at least clumsily flinging it about five to ten feet out of reach in any one direction).

Let's get this crystal clear:  If the point at which your output becomes somebody' else's input is not delivered according to the precision of the INPUT's point of view, the output system has failed.  I'm sure the reporters, sales people, layout artists, photographers, and editors of the Register would be chagrined to find out that all their hard work is being undermined by one lazy delivery carrier.  They are doing their job to ensure a quality output, but the most critical point in the system - when product meets customer - is being delivered with apathetic sloppiness.  Coke learned this back in the 1980's.  Microsoft is learning it now with Vista.  The hand-off point between systems must be delivered from the perspective of the system receiving the output.

I know, I know... it's a simple concept.  But one that escapes too many businesses and individuals these days.  But if you don't understand it, your customers intuitively do.


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Phil Gerbyshak

I think it's actually a management problem Tim. Management doesn't care enough to listen to what the customers who are complaining REALLY want. It's not better stories (though that wouldn't hurt), not better, more targeted advertising (don't get me started) but management. Management who thinks they must cut costs to make it work. Management who thinks it's more important to attract new customers than it is to keep the ones they have.

You like the paper. The paper likes you. If you pay for the paper, why not give it to you the way you want it?

Customer service? Heck, how about some common sense!

Jeff Hutton

Tim, don't give up the local paper because of one person's inability to provide you with the customer service you desire. Go after the DMR's circulation department/supervisor and remind them of your loyalty and that all you are seeking is someone who will walk a few extra steps. Believe me, it frustrates me just as much or more when our newspaper is not properly delivered. My staff and I worked hard on the content and we want our customers to see the final product.

Scot Herrick

This is partially a management problem, but it is also a person's performance issue.

Too many of our team members do not deliver what is needed for the team. This person is not delivering her task in a way that supports the team the right way.

As a manager doing reviews that (always) include a "teamwork" component, my first question was "does this person deliver their work so the team can count on them?"

If you can't deliver your work right, your team can't count on you and they then need to call up management, go to customer service or whine at the circulation department.

Delivery to the customer -- the output to your input -- always trumps everything else. Management can argue all sorts of things about the delivery to the customer -- is it the right delivery, does it cost too much, can we do it faster -- but the moment of the hand off is the critical moment.

When I was a project manager, I didn't focus too much on the internal process -- if you screw up your internal process, that's your problem and you suffer. Instead, I focused on where the hand offs were between processes. The failure was always there, always what needed fixing and always what was causing the greatest pain.

A good post and good analogy, Tim.

Timothy Johnson

Guys - thanks for the insights.

We have a carrier who just doesn't "get it" and probably never will. Nowadays, instead of getting grateful kids to deliver the papers, adults who either don't care or can't find better are delivering the papers and they don't understand (or won't appreciate) what the customer values.

You're right about it being a management problem, but most systems problem are a function of a management lapse.

Great insights from all of you

Jann Freed

Tim--Congratulations on 3 years of blogging. You have done well and I am trying.

My main concern with the newspaper industry has to do with objectivity. It is true they need to find a new business model and it is true that blogging has value. But I think there is a lot of blabbing going on and the public needs objective news where people dig for the truth.

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