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My “Customer Experience” Experience: Sports Illustrated

I’ve recently moved and needed to establish a new mailing address for items that I wanted to continue receiving, while secretly hoping that the junk mail wouldn’t find me. No such luck with eluding the unwanted crap, but I was mostly successful with redirecting the desired snail mail. Mostly.

Sports Illustrated seemed to offer a simple online change process, but proved to be my most difficult challenge. All I had to do was login to my online account and complete the change of address process. I did it and received an email confirmation. Simple enough. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, 2 weeks after completing the change of address form, the outsourced SI customer care center sent me an email stating that the US Postal Service could not deliver the magazine to my new address because there was an error with the address. I was requested to get in touch with them soon or they would terminate my (pre-paid) account. I did as I was told and validated my address via on the online address change/confirmation tool on the SI website. I sent my follow up email reply indicating that my address was correct in the system, indicating the error must be on their side.

Since my address was displayed correctly, as the USPS likes it – including the 4-digit extension, I searched the site for an 800#. In this respect, I discovered that SI is like many organizations today, preferring to not talk with their customers. It’s a situation that needs to be addressed by SI and many other organizations. I realize costs need to be contained, but contend it’s a case of being penny-wise and pound-foolish. (More on that in a future blog).

After not receiving a response to my email, I located the 800# and made the call. I finally got through to a live CSR (customer service representative) after navigating the IVR (interactive voice response),. The CSR was very difficult to understand and refused to budge from the script. It was one of the most frustrating customer service calls I’ve experienced, however, I did get one useful bit of information: SI actually canceled my subscription prior to sending me the “correct your address or we’ll suspend your account” email. Canceled, not suspended. Wow! Nine years of being a consistent SI subscriber and I was cast away in an instant – without a second thought.

Once I received my credit card refund in 7-10 business days, I would be officially severed from my SI relationship. That’s a cold and heartless way of ending a 9-year subscription engagement.

Epilogue: I did get the balance of my subscription fee returned. I did get reinstated for 6 free issues. However, I never opened any of the free issues and did not renew my subscription. The month of terminated service, plus the sour taste of the 6 free issues allowed me to realize that I was only loyal to SI out of habit, not because I was engaged with their brand. It seems that I was more loyal to them, than they were to me. Sometimes as consumers, we are forced to assess our brand loyalties.

Rating: 2 out of 10 Custpies due to the refund of my remaining subscription fee and the 6 free issues. Other aspects of the experience were horrible.

Recommendation: Loyalty is not created through contract or subscription. Sports Illustrated missed its opportunity to retain me by taking control of its customer experience and coordinating better communications across touchpoints.  They need to provide better training and tools to Customer Service Reps,  whether they are based in India or the USA.

As the result of the proliferation of sports content on the internet, SI is no longer a “must read”. It needs to identify and promote brand champions or the competition will continue to erode their share of the market.

Bram Hechtkopf

Bram Hechtkopf