Help wanted

One of my biggest challenges at the newspaper right now, and perhaps since taking over ownership, is staffing our customer service operations. We’ve been advertising for the position from early on and have had significant interest, but so far have had trouble finding available, qualified candidates and keeping the position staffed.

It’s understandable. The pay isn’t great, we can’t offer much in the way of benefits, we’re asking folks to bring some comfort with tech tools to the work, and there are plenty of other openings for someone with good communication, technology and organizational skills to consider. (Our trial step in our hiring process also seems to throw some folks off the trail, though in most cases I think it’s served its purpose in helping everyone involved understand what actually working together would be like.)

The impact for me personally and professionally of not having this role staffed has been significant. Instead of getting to work on the business, I spend much of each day working in the business, doing front-line subscriber support by answering phone calls, helping visitors to our office, and returning emails, on top of my already significant administrative and editorial responsibilities.

I enjoy these customer service interactions with our readers and community members, to be sure. But the context switching required means I have little time left to focus on longer term needs or projects.

And, instead of being out in the community building relationships at events, meetings and one-on-one conversations, I’m tied to the office most of the time. The schedule there plus 30-minute commute each way has also had negative implications for my ability to be around and helpful in our family and parenting life, or to do other social things.

Several months of this was something I was prepared for, but at a year-plus of operating this way, it’s shifting into more of an existential threat to the future of the business, at least as we’re structured now.

Things we’ve tried, are trying, or are considering trying:

  • Posting a job listing focused just on receptionist duties
  • Adding additional benefits to make the position more appealing
  • Raising funds through donations to be able to pay a higher salary
  • Simplifying the hiring process, shortening the trial projects involved
  • Using third-party job listing/application sites like Indeed
  • Personal outreach and recruiting
  • Re-evaluating our open office hours to reduce staffing time requirements
  • Training additional existing staff/contractors to assist us
  • Considering use of remotely located contractors to help with phone and email communications
  • Shifting where our primary customer service office is to a location with a bigger available workforce
  • Making more customer service tasks self-service

Finding someone for the customer service role who is excited about journalism and local news, is rooted in the community, and who is motivated by more than the paycheck is apparently a big ask, and maybe it’s the wrong ask. I’m thinking about it a lot, searching for other paths forward, and hoping I reflect back on this time later with relief that we figured it out…hopefully soon!

Chris Hardie is a journalist, newspaper publisher, software developer and entrepreneur based in Indiana, USA. Read more from Chris on this site, learn more on his personal website, subscribe for updates or follow Chris on Mastodon.

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