Harvard Business Review turns system incompatibility into a customer delight

Graphic showing HBR Letter to Subscribers

HBR letter to subscribers regarding iPad subscriptions

Ever have the experience of receiving multiple bills from a company for different products, or having to have a different login for multiple parts of the same website? These types of annoyances are common these days, and they can be pinpointed on what companies will call “back end problems.” This means that they’ve kludged together several IT systems, either due to acquisitions or different parts of the company developing their own, and the systems don’t talk to each other.

With all the good will in the world, the company can still only choke out a clunky user experience until they truly integrate these systems. A lot of times, companies don’t always want to, because their bean counters have decided the expense outweighs any potential benefit, and everyone envisions a shiny future in which a new IT system solves all previous woes.

Which is why, when I read a recent statement from Harvard Business Review (HBR), I was pleasantly surprised. (See image at right).

HBR produces a well-regarded monthly magazine about business and management, for which it charges a hefty price (from $79 a year for a print subscription). They’ve recently launched an iPad app, but they’re unable to recognize customers already paying for full subscriptions either in print or online. Presumably this is due to incompatible IT systems. However, instead of requiring their loyal subscribers to purchase another full subscription, they’ve made the iPad app free, for everyone, until they can resolve the (presumed) IT problems.

HBR has taken what could have really pissed subscribers off and turned it into a new reason to love the magazine. They’ll no doubt gain subscribers instead of losing them this way. It is a great lesson for many companies who get so protective of their content that they refuse to allow any unpaid access to it.

From my perspective, I’ve only seen one pain point: they didn’t automatically refund people who got caught in the middle (who paid before they made this offer). That said, I’m one of them and I’m not really upset because the larger gesture is so damn cool.

It is also a great way for the company to align its needs with the customers’ needs – they’ve essentially laid down the gauntlet that they will fix their back end issues ASAP, and in the meantime it is HBR who suffers, not the customer. Oh, how I wish other companies would think this way (my telco provider who doesn’t realize I am both a mobile + broadband customer, I’m looking at you… )

For companies in similar situations, it is worth considering…

How might you turn pain points into moments of delight?
How might you better align internal incentives with customer needs?
How might you turn a customer pain into an internal priority?

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  1. Eric Hellweg says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Amy. For the record, we are offering refunds to anyone who wants one. If all goes well, we should have the new functionality in place in a month or so.

    Eric Hellweg
    Managing Director, Digital Strategy
    Harvard Business Review

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