When Accounting collides with Customer Service

A few months ago I received an offer from Wired Magazine to renew my subscription and simultaneously sign up a friend for a free “gift” subscription. Since I enjoy Wired anyway, I took the bait, signed up a colleague, and didn’t think anything of it.
Then about six weeks later I received a bill for my Wired renewal, which I paid. A week passed and I received a bill for my gift subscription.
“That’s odd,” I thought, “I thought the gift subscription was free. Why would they be billing me?”


So I tossed the invoice. And another one appeared, and we went through three billing cycles before I finally became sufficiently curious to actually query the subscription services group at the magazine.
I sent in the following message:
I’m frustrated: I recently renewed my subscription and signed up for a ‘free gift subscription’ for a friend too, and now I’m getting billed $12 for the gift subscription. I don’t have the original offer, but I’m 100% sure that it said ‘renew your subscription, give one free’ and I already paid the $12 for my own subscription extension. Can you advise? Thanks!
Their response — only 48 hours later, not bad — demonstrates the kind of problems that arise when the accounting system at a company is out of sync with the marketing and customer service groups:
The offer you responded to was ” two for the price of one”. Our system will not accept a subscription with zero money; therefore, to enter two subscription for the price of one, we must split the total money between the two subscriptions. The regular rate for a one year subscription is $24.00 therefore, two subscriptions for $24.00, is two for the price of one.
I can only conclude that either everyone just blindly pays invoices from magazines (which would be a vaguely disturbing thought) or that Wired and similar Condé Nast publications face this problem all the time, with customers signing up for “two for one” gift subscriptions, then failing to actually pay that half of the invoice.
The problem, however, isn’t with us customers, it’s with the magazine billing system. If their system truly cannot accept a “gift” category or “two for one, paid” category subscription, then at the very least their gift subscription invoices should clearly explain the situation with a brief cover note.
The lack of coordination between the business units at Wired is symptomatic of a dysfunctional corporation, in my view. More importantly, this is what my Dad would call “the tail wagging the dog” too: accounting is an important function, but the central focus of any modern company must be the customer. Everything else is secondary, and everything else must evolve or change to meet the needs of a single, coherent, logical interface to that customer.

4 comments on “When Accounting collides with Customer Service

  1. Personally, I’ve grown weary of jousting with these boated old economy bureaucracies. I’ve taken a Darwinian, market-oriented approach: if they don’t want to let me swim, then I’m going to let them sink from their own bureaucratic weight. Wired, BusinessWeek, Forbes, The New York Times, Barron’s, and the Wall Street Journal are but a few of the publications who no longer receive a dime of subcription income from me, but I actually still have access to quite a bit of their published content on the net, either gratis or indepedently from other sources. And as technology evolves and cost-cutting pressures impinge on the editorial staff, the traditional print publications fall only further behind.
    Besides, with today’s internet, how much of value really gets published that doesn’t seep out into the “commons” (or blogosphere) anyway? If anybody says anything interesting in Wired, you can almost be certain that it will be blogged to death. Or maybe I should say blogged into life, since citizen journalists have a way of adding value while bureaucratic editors do the opposite.
    — Jack Krupansky

  2. My question is this: If the going rate for Wired is between $10-12 for a year subscription, why are you paying twice as much to get one “free”?
    Received that offer a few times and couldn’t justify doubling my bill for the sake of saving money.

  3. I was supposed to get a Free One Year Subscription to WIRED for attending a Tech Show in New York. I recieved 3 Months and then it stopped comming…Thanks for ‘nuthin Conde Nast/Wired!
    (I did get a nice autographed picture from
    Nasa’s Feb.Cover Girl,Nowak, who was a feature at the Show)

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