Beyond Print Toolkit: Customer service representative capabilities

Aligning customer service with marketing efforts and prioritizing digital literacy within customer service teams are essential strategies for local publishers.

By Anita Li

June 27, 2024

beast01 / Shutterstock

Aligning customer service with marketing efforts and prioritizing digital literacy within customer service teams are essential strategies for local publishers. This section of the Beyond Print Toolkit specifically addresses these challenges, providing practical insights for newsroom leaders to enhance their customer service in a digital-first environment. It’s particularly important to focus on the capabilities of customer service representatives in reflecting your news organization’s marketing messages consistently and providing high-touch support to customers transitioning from print to digital platforms.

Our guide is centered around empowering customer service teams to effectively represent your newsroom’s marketing initiatives and to navigate digital platforms with ease. 

Key aspects covered include:

  • Integration of Customer Service and Marketing: Strategies for ensuring that customer service communications consistently mirror the messaging and objectives of marketing campaigns.
  • Enhancing Digital Literacy: Techniques for training customer service teams to improve their digital skills, enabling them to offer comprehensive, high-touch support in guiding customers through digital transitions.

The essentials

Prioritizing digital literacy within your customer service team, and aligning these efforts with marketing strategies are key to ensuring a seamless subscriber experience. These initiatives not only enhance customer satisfaction, but also contribute to a cohesive brand image. Here’s how newsrooms can effectively implement these strategies:

  • Integrating Marketing and Customer Service: Train your customer service representatives to be knowledgeable about current marketing campaigns and objectives. This integration ensures that reps can reinforce marketing messages during customer interactions, providing a consistent and unified experience for subscribers. It’s about aligning the information provided by customer service with the newsroom’s broader goals and campaigns, as exemplified by the Denton Record-Chronicle’s approach. After deciding to reduce its print frequency, the Record-Chronicle focused on digital growth and direct communication with lapsed subscribers; this included email blasts, physical letters, postcards and social media announcements. 
  • Digital Literacy Training: Equip your customer service team with comprehensive knowledge about digital platforms, from subscription management to content access. This training is crucial to assist and guide subscribers effectively through digital transitions. After The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette launched a program to loan iPads to subscribers, its service reps underwent retraining to handle technical questions about the iPad and online access to the publication’s website. The Democrat-Gazette described its team’s transition as going from a “print-circulation department to a techie department.” Training should cover technical aspects of digital platforms, ensuring your team can address a wide range of subscriber queries.
  • High-Touch Customer Service: Focus on providing high-touch, personalized customer service. This approach involves direct interaction with subscribers to assist them in navigating digital platforms, addressing misconceptions, and emphasizing the newsroom’s commitment to quality journalism. For example, the Denton Record-Chronicle personally engaged with subscribers by hosting audience sessions and one-on-one meetings to help readers transition to digital platforms, to address misconceptions, and to emphasize its commitment to providing local journalism content.
  • Creative Solutions in Service Delivery: Explore innovative and flexible solutions for customer service delivery. For example, Millennial Services, an end-to-end domestic customer care and contact center solution whose agents work from home, provided a flexible and innovative cost structure for the Chicago Sun-Times; this approach allowed for variable pricing and scalability in response to demand, improving efficiency while reducing costs. 
  • Adapting to Tech-Driven Service Models: Transition customer service models to adapt to technological advancements. The transformation from traditional print-circulation departments to tech-savvy teams highlights the importance of evolving service delivery methods to meet current demands. However, publishers can take a lower-tech approach if that better serves customers. The Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire retrained its customer service team by transforming its delivery drivers into service reps; drivers began personally interacting with subscribers by conducting surveys, which helped foster a direct connection between the newsroom and its readers, thereby reducing customer complaints and improving its reputation. 
  • Regular Updates and Continuous Learning: Ensure customer service teams receive regular updates on new digital tools and marketing strategies. Continuous learning and adaptation are crucial to keep pace with technological advancements and market trends.

Key indicators

Prioritize digital literacy within customer service teams by providing training, so they can provide high-touch support.

These key performance indicators (KPIs) will help newsrooms to effectively assess and enhance the digital competency of their customer service teams, ensuring they are equipped to meet the evolving needs of their audience in the digital age.

  • Training Completion Rates: Track the percentage of customer service team members who complete digital training programs. In addition, through internal surveys, assess how confident customer service staff are in handling digital-related inquiries.
  • Digital Query Resolution Rate: Measure the proportion of customer inquiries related to digital services that are successfully resolved.
  • Average Resolution Time for Digital Queries: Monitor the average time taken to resolve digital-related customer issues.
  • Customer Satisfaction Scores, Post-Digital Interaction: Use surveys to gauge customer satisfaction after interactions involving digital queries.
  • Frequency of Digital Training Updates: Regularly update digital training programs and track the frequency of these updates.
  • Cross-Platform Handling Efficiency: Evaluate the team’s ability to handle customer queries across various digital platforms (website, app, social media).

Align customer service with marketing efforts to ensure that customer service communications consistently reflect marketing messaging.

These KPIs will provide valuable insights into how well customer service is integrated with marketing efforts, ensuring a unified approach to subscriber management and satisfaction.

  • Consistency Score: Evaluate the alignment between marketing messages and customer service communications. Regular audits or surveys can be used to ensure uniformity in tone, offers and information.
  • Customer Feedback on Communication Clarity: Gather qualitative feedback specifically on how clear and consistent communication is, from both marketing and customer service channels.
  • Conversion and Retention Rates from Customer Service Interactions: Track the percentage of customer service interactions that lead to subscription renewals or new subscriptions, indicating effective alignment with marketing strategies.
  • Resolution Rate of Marketing-Related Queries: Measure how effectively customer service teams resolve issues directly related to marketing campaigns or promotions.
  • Cross-Channel Engagement Metrics: Track customer engagement across different channels (i.e. phone, email, social media) to evaluate the effectiveness of integrated marketing and customer service efforts.
  • Employee Training Completion Rates: Ensure that customer service teams are fully trained on current marketing campaigns and offers, measuring training completion rates.
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS): Regularly assess NPS to gauge overall customer satisfaction and likelihood of recommending the newsroom, reflecting the synergy between marketing and customer service.


This survey template is designed to be comprehensive yet user-friendly, covering key areas like digital usability, customer service, content satisfaction, marketing alignment, cultural sensitivity and overall experience. It’s aimed at providing news organizations  with detailed insights for enhancing their customer service and content delivery, especially as delivered by service reps. 

  • Digital Platform Usability
    • Rate the ease of finding information on our website/app:
      1 (Very Difficult) – 5 (Very Easy)
    • Rate the visual appeal of our website/app:
      1 (Not Appealing) – 5 (Very Appealing)
  • Customer Service Experience
    • Rate the helpfulness of our customer service team:
      1 (Not Helpful) – 5 (Very Helpful)
    • Rate the timeliness of our customer service response:
      1 (Very Slow) – 5 (Very Fast)
  • Content Satisfaction
    • Rate your satisfaction with the quality of our news content:
      1 (Very Unsatisfied) – 5 (Very Satisfied)
    • Rate how well our content meets your interests/needs:
      1 (Not at All) – 5 (Extremely Well)
  • Marketing and Communication
    • Rate how well our marketing messages align with your expectations:
      1 (Not at All) – 5 (Perfectly)
    • Rate the clarity and usefulness of our promotional communications:
      1 (Not Clear) – 5 (Very Clear)
  • Cultural Sensitivity
    • Rate how well our services accommodate your cultural preferences:
      1 (Not at All) – 5 (Extremely Well)
    • Rate how inclusive you find our news content and services:
      1 (Not Inclusive) – 5 (Very Inclusive)
  • Overall Satisfaction
    • Overall, how satisfied are you with [Newsroom Name]?
      1 (Very Unsatisfied) – 5 (Very Satisfied)
  • Open Feedback
    • Please provide any further specific feedback or suggestions for improvement.


Creating the survey

Let’s start with crafting your survey. Imagine you’re building a bridge between you and your customers — your survey is that bridge. So use simple digital survey tools like SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, or Typeform. Keep your design simple and friendly to ensure accessibility, and to maximize the potential that your customers will complete the survey. Where relevant, incorporate rating scales for more quantitative questions, and a space for respondents to jot down their thoughts for more qualitative questions. This way, you get the best of both worlds: numbers to help identify trends that are elaborated with written feedback. 

Consider offering your survey in different languages to meet your audiences where they are, and tweak it to fit market-specific nuances; you want everyone to feel at home. Before you roll it out, do a quick test with a small group to make sure everything is clear and culturally on point.

Distribution time! Make your survey a natural part of your digital space by including a link to it in a pop-up on your website or app. Perhaps send it out via email or SMS after you’ve had a meaningful chat with your customer (e.g. after they’ve subscribed or had a call with your team for support).

Applying survey insights

Got your survey data? Let’s dive in. Use statistical tools to start decoding those rating scales. Look for patterns and areas where you’re not hitting the mark. But don’t forget the open feedback — that’s where the real conversations happen. Read through the responses, find common threads, and really listen to what your customers are saying.

Culture is key here. If you have demographic information about your customers, use it to see how different people are responding. Pay extra attention to what they’re saying about cultural sensitivity and inclusivity or market-specific nuances — that’s your way to ensure you’re effectively meeting customer needs.

Spot the low scores? Let’s strategize. If cultural sensitivity needs a boost, think about training your team to be more inclusive and aware. And if your journalism content isn’t resonating with everyone, it’s time to mix it up and serve the diverse interests of your audiences.

Introduce changes step by step, focusing on the most urgent areas first. Then talk to your customers about these changes, effectively telling them, “Hey, we heard you, and we’re on it!” Be sure to regularly ask customers for feedback to see if your new strategies are working, and stay flexible and adaptable since customer and market needs are always evolving.

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