I've been a frequent reader of the New York Times on-line eddition for as long as I've been a frequent user of the Internet. And I still am, even though it's no longer free. But for those laggards among us - people like me who don't want to ante up, but know they eventually will - the Times is taking a smart and considerate approach.
When the Times began the transition to paid access to online content, they imposed a limit of 20 free articles per month, per "subscriber." Earlier this week, the Times entered another phase of the transition - they reduced the number of "free articles" from 20 per month to 10 per month. The fact that they've added this phase reveals how they're sincere about making it easy on the customer, by smoothing the transition, to help customers to adapt to the new subscription fee.
Over the past several years, we've seen a lot of companies in a lot of industries alienate a lot of customers by charnging for some things that were once free. Airline baggage fees, Netflix doubling its fees in last July, Bank of America's proposed $5 debit card fee,and others have been publicly demonized for suddently announcing fees in a way that infuriated customers.
But new fees don't have to alienate customers - sometimes, it's all in the delivery.
As a frequent reader of the New York Times on-line, I was initially frustrated and disappointed when I learned that they would soon charge customers for continued unlimited access to their on-line edition.
Frustrated, and mostly disappointed, but definitely not angry. Here's why:
The Times explained in simple, logical terms why they made the decision to charge (a logical, believable economic reason). And they gave notice early and often (several months in advance, and every time I logged on.)
When their new on-line fees began (or, the number of "free" views became limited), it wasn't a surprise, and the reason was clear. I wasn't happy with the situation, but I accepted it.
If you do have to begin charging your customers for something that they didn't pay for in the past, take a tip from the Times:
Explain in simple, human terms why you have to make the change.
Be honest and be sincere. Don't say it through a stuffed-shirt executive, but say it through a casually-dressed, mid-level employee; an every-day person to whom your customers will relate.
Offer a Transition Period.
And don't shock your customers by imposing the entire fee suddenly like an ice-cold bath tub, but give them a way to transition gradually, to minimize the pain.
Give them early notice in straight, honest language, and transition gradually, so when it does happen, it's old news.