Imagine my surprise yesterday when I received the following email from The New York Times at 1:04 pm.
Not me. Of course, as you may have read, The Times committed a big boo-boo yesterday when it accidentally cancelled the subscriptions of 8 million print and online subscribers. The media and Twitter scribes were all over it in the intervening three hours before the Times sent out this correction at 4:19 pm:
The Times did the right thing, of course, but I’d like to make a point about content and tone of the correction. Aren’t they in the communication business? Note the cold tone of voice and shortness of the second email. Why was the first email sent in error? How did it happen? Subscribers would have welcomed a more detailed explanation.
A Missed Opportunity to Engage Readers
A Forbes writer, who also received an email, tried calling the Times and kept getting busy signals. It’s a sure bet that many, many other subscribers had the same experience.
Sure, it was nice to receive an apology. But The Times missed a great opportunity to engage with its subscribers. The paper could have used some humor in its message and personalized it with the signature of an actual person. Can a company write a letter? Didn’t a human being write this missive?
The Times wrote a story online about the mistake at 2:29 pm and sent out this message in its official Twitter feed, “If you received an e-mail today about canceling your New York Times subscription, ignore it. It’s not from us.” Oh, yes, it was. Turns out the email was sent by a Times employee, according to Eileen Murphy, a Times spokesperson. And why the delay of almost 90 minutes before the subscribers received the apology?
The Times Email Could Have Said —
Dear Valued New York Times Reader,
Wow, did we goof! We did NOT cancel your subscription. Please ignore our earlier email with the subject line, “Important information regarding your subscription.”
It was an honest mistake — someone pushed the wrong button and we had 8 million unhappy readers for a couple of hours before we fixed things. Your email was not compromised. Everything is back on autopilot. You’ll continue to receive your New York Times as you always have.
If you’d like to vent, we invite you to visit us on our official Twitter account at https://twitter.com/#!/nytimes. We’ll also answer any questions you have about your subscription or any of our other services.
Thanks for your patience and understanding. We value you as a New York Times reader.
Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr.
— now isn’t that better than the email I did receive?