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Customer service: 5 minutes with… Adam Sherman

How you deliver your publishing brand has a big impact on your title’s brand reputation. Under-invest, and you will hear about it. We grab five minutes with Air Business CEO Adam Sherman to ask how publishers can make the right choices.

By Adam Sherman

Customer service: 5 minutes with… Adam Sherman

Q: When a publisher gets a too-good-to-be-true price from a supplier, what warning signals should it send?

A: It’s an old adage, but if something appears too good to be true, it usually is – it’s an immediate red flag for me. Publishers should always consider the impact of their choices on the end consumer. Every part of the publishing process, from researching a subscription through to receiving and opening a print publication, or logging in to access a digital edition, has an impact on the individual consumer’s experience, their perception of that brand, and their long-term relationship to it.

I have always put huge emphasis on quality when it comes to products and services, particularly those that I choose to purchase, so anything which undervalues these heavily implies a reduction in quality. There are a number of actions you could take to perform some basic due diligence:

  1. Ask the supplier to explain how they are able to provide such a competitive quote, including a breakdown of the associated costs. Also, which third parties will they use, this is very important.
  2. Speak to the supplier’s existing customers (looking beyond testimonials published on their website) to get a realistic understanding of what they are delivering.
  3. Check review websites such as Trustpilot and Feefo for their other publishing customers. Dissatisfied consumers are much more open to venting their frustrations in today’s digital world.

Q: How can publishers sharpen up their e-commerce offering?

A: The rise of e-commerce in publishing is coinciding with, and in some ways driven by, the decline in print. There is a growing trend of publishers who are monetising their valuable brand assets.

The key thing that publishers need to do is to find out what their customers actually want. We have seen a huge increase in held stock, pick and pack, and despatch over the past few years. However, from a warehousing perspective, it can be frustrating to see shelf after shelf of product but none of it is moving. Maybe focus on a smaller range of core products that you know your customers want.

Q: How do you see the future of the printed product?

A: Long may it continue; we love print and are fully committed to supporting publishers who are still providing a print product! There is no doubt that there is continued year-on-year shrinkage of the print market, and unfortunately, I don’t see that changing. However, some print verticals are declining at a much slower rate than others. I remember being told twenty years ago that ‘print is dead’ and yet here we are. There is still a significant market for print, as illustrated in the recent YouGov survey which indicated that over half of UK readers prefer print magazines to digital. For many readers, myself included, nothing can replicate the experience of holding a physical magazine in your hands and leafing through the pages.

There are no doubt challenges in the market when it comes to distribution, in particular where Covid is still used as an excuse by some providers for poor delivery performance. That doesn’t really wash any more. Persistently slow or undelivered magazines only help to accelerate declining numbers of subscription renewals.

We recently took out monthly subscriptions in France and Spain to try to understand how one of these ‘too-good-to-be-true’ offers were being handled. Over a hundred days later and not a single copy out of the nine supposedly despatched has been delivered to these addresses. I’m really frustrated and concerned as this can’t be good for the wider industry.

Q: As subscriptions grow in importance, how can subs bureaux and publishers work better together?

A: Subscriptions have become incredibly important to the publishing sector. For me, it is crucial to build strong relationships with your clients in order to fully understand and embrace their objectives. You should aim to develop a clear shared vision; your relationship should feel more like a partnership and less like that of a supplier and customer. It’s a bit of a cliché but it should feel as though you are an extension of their team.

In terms of specifics, I would strongly recommend: defined service-level agreements to specify terms of service at a granular level and provide clear parameters to work within; regular review meetings (weekly where appropriate) to discuss any issues; and quality control audits to maintain a high level of service.

Q: How can excellent customer service be turned into a competitive advantage for publishers?

A: The importance of high-quality customer service is too often overlooked by so many organisations in virtually every industry, and it is no different in publishing. The customer experience has become integral to business and with consumers quick to publicly air their experiences, it is crucial to ensure that your customer service is remembered for all the right reasons.

We can all point to examples of consumers complaining on social media or review websites about bad customer service; they are out there in the public domain and the average consumer is increasingly influenced by the experience of their peers. But this can also be used to your advantage. Your satisfied customers can become brand advocates, by posting positive reviews and posts – classic ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing.

Focus on the lifetime value of a customer, rather than taking a short-term approach. By making processes such as subscription renewals seamless, customers are more likely to talk in positive terms about your customer service. In the unfortunate event of a cancellation, making that process as painless as possible is far more likely to bring that customer back in the future, whereas making it virtually impossible to leave will only sour their experience and ensure the lifetime value of the subscriber will come to an end. It can be hugely damaging to a brand in the longer term.

Q: As an industry, what more can we do to reduce the environmental impact of what we do?

A: It is important not to be overwhelmed by the scale of the environmental issues we are facing; it is easy to build a huge list of issues and then not address any of them sufficiently. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals provides a useful framework for discussion, but at first glance, they can appear quite daunting and many of them are not relevant to our industry.

In order to make real change we all need to be pulling in the same direction, so active participation in industry-wide initiatives is crucial. We are members of the PPA’s sustainability group which is actively working towards industry agreement on issues including supply chains, carbon footprints, and single-use plastics in packaging. The PPA’s Statement on Sustainability is a fantastic starting point and includes a wealth of resources for publishers.

We have an enormous focus on our part of the chain. In the group, we have 1,200 electric vehicles, grade A energy-efficient buildings and we are focused on recycling, wrapping and packaging. We report on these areas monthly and have working groups which meet regularly.

Q: What’s in the pipeline from Air Business?

A: We are fully committed to our journey to deliver world class service at every touchpoint of the company, creating a culture of continuous improvement and becoming a smarter, more data-driven business.

Due to global political and economic factors, we have made significant investment across the business in recent months, particularly around our technology infrastructure and cyber security.

We have expanded our e-commerce fulfilment and distribution operations significantly and are actively looking for business acquisitions to enable us to meet our ambitious growth plans.

Alongside our parent company, An Post, we are committed to sustainability and are working closely with customers to support their own sustainability plans and identify ways to reduce our carbon impact on their operations.

About us

Established in 1986, Air Business is a market-leader in global mail, fulfilment, distribution and subscription management. Our unique end-to-end service portfolio includes subscriber acquisition and marketing strategy, worldwide postal and courier distribution, digital and mail fulfilment solutions and warehouse and freight logistics, all with exceptional and seamless customer service at its heart.

Contact details:

Tel: +44 (0) 1727 890 600



Twitter: @AirBusinessLtd