Beyond Print Toolkit: Online self-service customer service

News organizations must meet user demands for easy-to-use online account management and cancellation tools.

By Anita Li

June 27, 2024

beast01 / Shutterstock

In today’s media landscape, news organization customer service operations must keep up to date with technological advancements, particularly when it comes to upgrading their tech stack to meet user demands for easy-to-use online account management and cancellation tools. This section of the Beyond Print Toolkit offers practical strategies and insights for an effective digital-first customer service approach. Recognizing the shift away from traditional call center models, our focus is on the technological tools and systems that facilitate seamless customer interactions online.

Our guide underscores the importance of regularly updating customer-facing technology to ensure ease of use and efficiency. As newsrooms transition from print to digital, there’s a significant need to reevaluate and upgrade your tech stack to better meet the evolving needs of your audiences.

Key aspects covered include:

  • Simplifying Checkout and Cancellation Processes: We’ll delve into strategies for streamlining these key customer interactions, ensuring they’re straightforward and hassle-free through the use of advanced technology.
  • Upgrading Customer Service Technology for User-Friendliness: Learn how regularly upgrading your tech stack can significantly enhance the customer service user experience, making every interaction with your newsroom smooth and audience-centric.

The essentials

Simplifying the checkout and cancellation processes is a critical step for publishers. 

Many larger publishers have built their own customer service and subscription management platforms, but there are plenty of off-the-shelf and customizable options that provide the flexibility and ease-of-use that subscribers expect.

Although every publisher needs to decide how it wants to approach its own platform, some commonly used customer service platforms include Zendesk, Zohodesk, or Freshdesk. Subscription or membership management platforms include Piano, MPP Global Solutions, or News Revenue Hub.

No matter the platforms you use, these approaches, in line with modern consumer expectations and regulatory standards, foster trust and respect for subscriber autonomy. Here are the essential elements to consider:

  • Simplifying Subscription Management: Implement an easy-to-navigate online subscription management system. This system should allow subscribers to sign up, modify, and cancel their subscriptions effortlessly. Taking cues from platforms like Netflix and Hulu, the process should be straightforward, user-driven and comply with regulations like the FTC’s proposed “click to cancel” rule, which would require companies to make it as easy for subscribers to cancel as it is for them to sign up.
  • Transparent Cancellation Policies: Revise cancellation policies to be more transparent and subscriber-friendly. For instance, as demonstrated by The Boston Globe, provide options for online cancellation through your customer portal. The Globe began offering online cancellation in 2022, and when someone tries to cancel online they’ll receive discount offers to remain subscribed. About 30% of people who receive the offers remain subscribed, the Globe said. This balance between easy cancellation and offering incentives can help maintain subscriber numbers while respecting customer choices. While it may seem counterintuitive, allowing customers to unsubscribe easily can actually enhance brand trust and loyalty. It demonstrates respect for subscriber autonomy and can lead to a more positive overall perception of your brand.
    User-Friendly Digital Interfaces: Focus on developing intuitive and accessible digital interfaces. Ensure that your website and app are responsive across various devices, catering to both new and older technology users, as seen with VTDigger, which strives to make its online experience as frictionless as possible. For example, it noticed that users were dropping off in some of its form fields, so it made them either autofill or optional to make it smoother to use. A seamless experience across different devices is essential for maintaining a broad and satisfied subscriber base.
  • Feedback Mechanisms: Incorporate tools for feedback within the digital interface. This practice can help to address the needs and concerns of all your users, from major donors to regular readers. Feedback mechanisms also provide valuable insights for continuous improvement of your customers’ digital experience.
  • Regular Tech Stack Evaluations: Continuously evaluate and update your tech stack to keep up with the latest trends and technologies but more importantly, to ensure you’re best serving your customers’ needs. This ongoing process ensures that your newsroom remains competitive, and adheres to the evolving expectations of today’s digital consumer. For more, check out the Technology section of the Beyond Print Toolkit.
  • Training and Support for Staff: Equip customer service teams with training and support to effectively help subscribers use self-service portals. Ensuring that staff are proficient in using new systems and technologies is crucial for a smooth transition and consistent customer service.

Key indicators

News organizations that have enabled self-service customer support and subscription processes have seen improved customer satisfaction — and in fact, saw opportunities to re-engage lapsed subscribers. 

The Star Tribune in Minneapolis allows subscribers to cancel online, and as part of the cancellation process, it asks customers why they want to cancel; then based on their answer, the Star Tribune offers solutions to help save the subscription.

“There’s often a consumer benefit to talking to us before canceling. Often the reason someone wants to cancel can be remedied; it might be a delivery service issue, it might be some confusion about billing, and they’re frustrated and they just want to cancel,” Steve Yaeger, the paper’s former senior vice-president of circulation and chief marketing officer, told The Lenfest Institute in 2023. “We’re trying to bring that same sensitivity to the online cancellation questions.” 

The Star Tribune was twice as likely to retain subscribers who wanted to cancel once it began offering online self-service options, Yaeger added. 

In order to achieve those types of results, these key performance indicators (KPIs) will help newsroom leaders evaluate the impact of technology upgrades on customer service efficiency and user-friendliness, ensuring a smooth transition for both customers and staff.

  • Average Resolution Time: Measure the average time taken to resolve customer queries. A decrease in this time after instituting online self-service options indicates enhanced efficiency. 
  • Customer Satisfaction Rate: Track satisfaction levels through post-interaction surveys, focusing on the ease of using digital platforms.
  • Digital Adoption Rate: Monitor the percentage of customers who successfully transition to from print to digital platforms, indicating the effectiveness of technology upgrades.
  • Error Rate in Digital Transactions: Assess the frequency of errors or issues encountered by customers in digital platforms, aiming for a reduction post-upgrade.
  • User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) Feedback Scores: Collect customer feedback specifically on the UI/UX of digital platforms to gauge improvements. This can either be qualitative or quantitative if you measure Net Promoter Score (NPS), which indicates customer loyalty by looking at their likelihood of recommending your digital platforms.
  • Subscription and Cancellation Process Efficiency: Evaluate the time and steps required for subscription and cancellation processes before and after the technology upgrade.
  • Number of Customer Service Calls/Emails Related to Technical Issues: Track the frequency of customer queries related to technical difficulties as a measure of the user-friendliness of new digital platforms.
  • Training Completion Rate for Customer Service Team: Monitor the completion rate of training programs for new technologies by the customer service team, indicating preparedness to assist customers effectively.
  • Rate of Repeat Queries: Observe the frequency of repeat queries from customers, as a high rate may indicate problems with user-friendliness or customer understanding of the new platform.


This A/B testing plan template is designed for publishers to evaluate different aspects of their customer-facing technology. It compares two variants (A and B) of specific features (e.g. menu layout, subscription calls-to-action) with the objective of enhancing user experience and engagement. This template aims to target various user groups over set durations to identify which version yields better results. Below, is a step-by-step guide for how to use it:

  • Define the A/B Test feature based on the section of the digital platform you want to test.
  • Describe Variant A (current version) and Variant B (new or altered version).
  • Specify the goal of the test, which is what you hope to achieve with the change.
  • List the KPIs to measure, such as user engagement, satisfaction, conversion rates, etc.
  • Identify the target audience for the test, which could be segmented based on behavior, demographics, or device usage.
  • Set a duration for how long the test will run to collect sufficient data.
  • Predict the expected outcome, which helps in understanding the hypothesis behind the test.

Remember to conduct the tests independently and with a statistically significant audience size to ensure reliable data. Post-testing, conduct a thorough analysis to inform whether or not to implement the changes broadly.

Here are some samples:


Before you begin A/B testing, use this checklist template to conduct a thorough UX audit of your customer-facing technology. Each checklist item should be reviewed and completed with details specific to the assessment. Notes can be added to highlight any particular insights or observations during your audit process. This template should be adapted and expanded with specific criteria and methodologies relevant to your newsroom’s current digital offerings. The goal is to create a cyclic process where regular audits inform continuous improvement, ensuring your newsroom’s digital platforms serve your audiences well.

More Resources:

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