Beyond Print Toolkit: Call centers and scripts

This section highlights the importance of understanding different cultural contexts and market-specific requirements in customer service.

By Anita Li

June 27, 2024

beast01 / Shutterstock

In today’s media landscape, news organizations’ customer service operations must be acutely aware of cultural and market-specific nuances. With the outsourcing of call center services overseas and the use of predefined scripts, there’s a growing risk of losing the essence of customer service in translation — especially as publications transition from print to digital. This guide is specifically designed to help publishers address this challenge by focusing on how to elevate customer service through call centers.

Our guide highlights the importance of understanding different cultural contexts and market-specific requirements in customer service. It delves into how customer service can be tailored to meet the diverse needs of your audience, especially when guiding customers from print to digital platforms.

Key aspects covered include:

  • Meeting your audience where they are: We explore the critical need for a digital-first customer service approach that is keenly attuned to different cultural and market-specific nuances.
  • Customer transitions from print to digital: We provide tactics for smoothly transitioning customers to digital platforms, emphasizing cultural and market considerations.

The essentials

In recent years, news organizations have taken different approaches to running customer service call centers. Historically, many outlets have hired local staffers directly to offer this essential support service to their subscribers, but as publications have looked to cut costs, many have turned to outside firms to handle the work. 

It’s up for every publication to decide what makes the most sense for their business, but there are some key principles you should adhere to no matter which route you take. Prioritizing cultural sensitivity and market-specific nuances in call centers isn’t just about addressing language barriers or offering local services; it involves a deep understanding of the varied backgrounds, preferences, and digital literacy of your customers.

Here are some essential elements to consider for optimizing newsroom call centers:

  • Localizing Customer Service: The Chicago Sun-Times had long outsourced its customer service call centers to an offshore provider, but after customer complaints and a rash of cancellations, the Sun-Times decided to switch to a domestic provider based in Chicago.The local company significantly enhanced communication and problem-solving capabilities, highlighting the importance of adapting to local customer and market needs. In the case of the Sun-Times, a local call center understood the cultural nuances and specific needs of its customer base much more than the newsroom’s previous outsourced call center. The move resulted in an increase in subscriber retention and customer satisfaction. 
  • Tailored Training for Staff: Staff should receive training that encompasses cultural awareness, sensitivity, and the specific demographics of your audiences. For instance, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s successful decision to replace home delivery of print newspapers with e-newspapers uploaded onto iPads, and to provide training to this often elderly segment of customers, showcases a tailored approach to customer preferences that emphasizes ease of use and high-touch support. Such a strategy ensures that your customer service approach isn’t just efficient but also empathetic and patient. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution followed a similar playbook when it eliminated print in some areas, and it converted more than two-thirds of subscribers in those areas to Sunday print or digital-only subscriptions. 
  • Technology Adaptation and Support: Introducing technological changes, such as the transition from print to digital formats, requires comprehensive support. Organizations like the Democrat-Gazette and AJC provided easy-to-understand guides, training sessions, and direct assistance for customers who may be less familiar with digital platforms.

    The Salt Lake Tribune stopped printing a daily paper in 2021. That year it also changed providers for its e-edition. Both changes resulted in an influx of customer support calls to its in-house call center. At the peak, the Tribune was averaging about 1,000 calls per day, said former Tribune Chief Revenue Officer Chris Stegman. The toughest calls to handle were around technology.

    “We had to help our subscribers download a new browser because Microsoft Explorer was no longer supported,” Stegman said. “Sometimes we made house calls during that time.” 
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Introduce mechanisms, such as digital surveys and one-on-one phone calls, to gather and analyze customer feedback. This feedback should be used to continually adapt and improve your services. For instance, if a particular demographic expresses difficulty with a digital transition, additional resources can be allocated to assist them.
  • Language and Communication Options: If your publication serves communities speaking different languages, you should offer services in multiple languages and ensure that communication methods cater to diverse preferences. This could mean offering support via phone, email, chat, or even in-person meetings, depending on what is most accessible and comfortable for your different customer segments. More broadly, it’s important to ensure that your customer service offerings are inclusive across the board to reflect the diversity of your customer base; this includes considering cultural, regional and age-specific content preferences.
  • Market Research and Demographic Analysis: Conduct thorough market research and demographic analysis to understand the specific needs and preferences of your different customer segments. This information can guide the customization of your publication’s  services and communication strategies.
  • Investment in Technology and Infrastructure: If you’re going to host your call center in-house, be sure to invest in up-to-date technology and infrastructure to ensure that your call center can efficiently handle a high volume of queries and provide a seamless customer experience. If you plan to outsource your call center services, you want to ensure that they have the skills and services to handle the complexity of requests from your customers appropriately.  
  • Partnerships with Local Communities: Forge partnerships with local community organizations and leaders to gain insights into cultural nuances, and to establish trust within the communities you serve.
  • Regular Training and Updates: Keep staff regularly updated on changes in customer preferences and market trends. Continuous learning and adaptation are key to maintaining a culturally sensitive and effective call center.

Key indicators

These key performance indicators (KPIs) will help news organization leaders ensure that their publications are sensitive to the various cultural and market-specific needs of their audiences:

  • Customer Satisfaction Scores: Measure customer satisfaction through surveys (e.g. on a scale of 1 to 5) post-interaction. This evaluates how well customer service aligns with cultural expectations and needs.
  • Subscription Cancellation Rate: Track the number and reasons for cancellations, focusing on issues related to cultural misunderstandings or market-specific issues. Consider conducting surveys over phone or online, depending on their method of cancellation.
  • Response Time to Customer Queries: Monitor the average time taken to respond to customer queries, as timely responses are crucial to maintaining loyalty and engagement.
  • Resolution Rate: Measure the percentage of customer queries resolved on the first contact. A higher rate indicates an understanding of customer needs specific to different markets.
  • Customer Retention Rate, Post-Interaction: Assess how many customers continue their subscriptions after interacting with customer service reps. This indicates the effectiveness of service in meeting diverse market needs.
  • Cultural Training Completion Rate: For staff, track the completion rate of training programs focused on cultural competency and market-specific knowledge.
  • Feedback on Digital Transition Support: Specifically gather qualitative feedback on the assistance provided for digital transitions, which is a critical aspect of current newsroom operations.
  • Engagement Level in High-Touch Customer Service Initiatives: Evaluate the participation rate in personalized customer service programs, such as one-on-one tutorials or tech support.

For more: Check out call center benchmarks and KPIs — across all industries — compiled by research group SQM.


To evaluate and enhance the performance of your newsroom’s call center, it’s important to develop tests that focus on KPIs. These tests should measure the effectiveness of customer service in areas such as customer satisfaction, subscription management and retention rates, response times, resolution rates, and digital transition support. They will provide a comprehensive understanding of your call center’s performance, identifying areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. Regular assessment and adaptation based on these tests will ensure that the newsroom’s customer service is responsive, effective, and aligned with your customers’ expectations. Below are the proposed tests aligned with the outlined KPIs:

  • Customer Satisfaction Score Assessment
    • Test: Implement post-interaction surveys using a 1 to 5 scale to gauge customer satisfaction levels. Surveys should include questions that assess how well customer service aligns with cultural expectations and needs.
    • Frequency: After every significant customer interaction, such as post-subscription or complaint resolution.
  • Subscription Cancellation Analysis
    • Test: Track and analyze the number and reasons for subscription cancellations, focusing on issues related to cultural misunderstandings or market-specific issues. Use phone or online surveys for customers who cancel subscriptions.
    • Data Points: Reasons for cancellation, perceived value, and customer feedback on service experience.
  • Response Time Evaluation
    • Test: Monitor and record the average time taken to respond to customer queries. Measure this against established benchmarks for timeliness.
    • Metrics: Average response time, comparison with industry standards and customer feedback on responsiveness.
  • First-Contact Resolution Rate Measurement
    • Test: Calculate the percentage of customer queries resolved on the first contact. Analyze this data to understand the team’s comprehension of diverse customer needs.
    • Method: Review call logs, customer feedback, and issue resolution records.
  • Post-Interaction Customer Retention Rate Tracking
    • Test: Assess the number of customers who continue their subscriptions post-interaction with customer service. This indicates the effectiveness of service in meeting diverse market needs.
    • Strategy: Compare subscription retention rates before and after customer service interactions.
  • Cultural Training Completion Audit
    • Test: Track and report the completion rates of cultural competency and market-specific training programs by staff.
    • Implementation: Regular audits of training completion records and assessments of training effectiveness.
  • Feedback Collection on Digital Transition Support
    • Test: Gather and analyze qualitative feedback specifically on the assistance provided for digital transitions.
    • Tools: Use of surveys, focus groups, and direct feedback channels.
  • High-Touch Customer Service Engagement Level Check
    • Test: Evaluate the participation rate and effectiveness of personalized customer service programs (e.g. one-on-one tutorials, tech support, etc.)
    • Method: Monitor engagement metrics, participation rates, and customer feedback on these initiatives.


The following call center script templates include conversational scenarios for customer service representatives, specifically focused on selling subscriptions, addressing delivery complaints and assisting customers with technical issues. Each scenario demonstrates empathetic, solutions-oriented dialogue, and provides an overview of the representative’s approach to ensure customer satisfaction and effective problem resolution.

Selling subscriptions

  • Customer: “Hi, I’m considering getting a subscription, but I’m not sure which one is right for me.”
  • Rep: “Absolutely, I can help with that. Are you more interested in digital content, or do you prefer a newspaper?”
  • Customer: “Well, I like the idea of reading on my iPad, but sometimes I miss the feel of the paper in my hands. Do you have options for both?”
  • Rep: “Certainly! We offer a digital-only subscription which gives you full access to our e-editions and all online content. It’s great for reading on-the-go. On the other hand, our premium subscription includes the print edition delivered to your doorstep, as well as complete digital access. It’s a popular choice for those who enjoy both formats.”
  • Customer: “Sounds interesting. What’s the difference in cost?”
  • Rep: “The digital-only subscription is [price], which is great value for tech-savvy readers. The premium subscription is [price], which covers both print and digital. Plus, there are special articles and weekend supplements exclusive to the print version.”
  • Customer: “Hmm, I’m leaning towards the premium for now. Can I switch to digital-only later if I change my mind?”
  • Rep: “Absolutely! We’re flexible with your preferences. You can switch or cancel at any time. Plus, with the premium, you get to join our subscriber-only events and have access to exclusive content.”
  • Customer: “That does sound good. Let’s go with the premium subscription then.”
  • Rep: “Great choice! I’ll set that up for you. Can I have your details to get started?”

In this scenario, the representative successfully navigated the customer’s indecision by explaining the two options clearly, comparing the benefits, and reassuring flexibility in their subscription choice.

 Handling customer complaints

  • Customer: “I’m really upset. My newspaper delivery has been late for the past week!”
  • Rep: “I’m really sorry to hear that. Let me check what’s happening. Can I have your address to look into this?”
  • Customer: “Sure, it’s 123 Maple Street. It’s just frustrating because I rely on your paper with my morning coffee.”
  • Rep: “I understand how important that routine is. Let me quickly look up your account. One moment, please… It seems there’s been a routing issue in your area. I apologize for this inconvenience.”
  • Customer: “So, what can be done about this? I’ve missed important news this week.”
  • Rep: “I’m going to flag this with our distribution team immediately. Also, we’d like to offer you a free week of subscription as an apology. Also, your subscription comes with access to our daily e-edition. Can I help you download our app so you can use it?”
  • Customer: “That would be helpful, thank you. But I do want the paper delivery sorted soon.”
  • Rep: “Absolutely, and we will prioritize resolving this. You should see your paper delivered on time starting tomorrow. Is there anything else I can assist you with right now?”
  • Customer: “No, that’s all. Thank you for your help.”
  • Rep: “You’re welcome, and once again, we’re sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you for being a valued reader.”

In this scenario, the representative effectively handled the complaint by empathizing with the customer’s frustration, promptly addressing the issue by offering a compensatory solution, and reassuring the customer that the issue was a priority and would be resolved promptly.

Tech troubleshooting 

  • Customer: “I’m having trouble accessing the e-edition on the iPad you sent.”
  • Rep: “No worries at all, let’s go through this together. Can you open the app for me?”
  • Customer: “I think so. I’m tapping the icon now, but it’s just not opening.”
  • Rep: “It sounds like it might be a minor glitch. Could you try restarting your iPad? Just press and hold the top button, then slide to power off.”
  • Customer: “Okay, done. Now it’s turning back on.”
  • Rep: “Great! Once it’s back on, try opening the app again.”
  • Customer: “It’s working now! But how do I find today’s newspaper in this app?”
  • Rep: “I’m glad it’s working! To find today’s paper, just tap on the ‘Today’s Paper’ section. It should be right on the home screen.”
  • Customer: “Ah, got it. This is different from the paper, but I think I can get used to it.”
  • Rep: “I’m here to help with any questions. And remember, you can also zoom in on articles for easier reading. Just use two fingers to pinch outwards on the screen.”
  • Customer: “That’s quite handy. Thank you for your patience and help.”
  • Rep: “It’s my pleasure! Feel free to call us anytime. Enjoy reading your e-edition.”

In this scenario, the representative successfully assists the customer by providing clear, step-by-step instructions, and ensuring that they feel comfortable and confident in using the new technology.

Added Resources: 

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