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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz


Bringing back that lovin' feeling: WORLD's three-year experiment outsourcing customer service has come to an end


WORLD has over the last few weeks become a little bit more old-fashioned. For the last three years, we've experimented with a modern business idea -- but now we've decided to go back to the olden days.

The change has to do with our customer-service department -- where we've decided it's time to start taking better care of you subscribers. It's time to pamper you a bit, and we're going to do it ourselves. To set aside a new-fangled notion, we've decided not to outsource you anymore.

From the beginning of the WORLD (we love that phrase) until 2001, we handled all our customer service right here at our main office in Asheville, N.C. When we were still quite small, I think we did the job pretty well -- and with a lot of personal warmth and attention. But then, as we grew through the 1990s, the job was sometimes beyond us. Servicing 130,000 subscribers -- with all their renewals, changes of address, missed copies, and gift subscriptions to their relatives and friends -- was a major task. We knew that other publishers were turning to professionals to handle such details. Some reported that by doing so, they were able to offer better service at lower costs. We decided to give it a try.

We're sorry now that we did. The company to which we outsourced those tasks did some things very well. But we came to miss -- more than we expected -- the personal contact we had earlier enjoyed with you readers.

Now, so you don't think we've gone daffy with sentimentalism, let me get intensely practical. We Americans are a terribly spoiled lot. Whole industries have been built and thrive now on our human weaknesses. Where would FedEx be if it weren't for the universal tendency to procrastinate? "Don't worry," says FedEx. "We'll bail you out."

It's become our right to be bailed out. Now, more than ever, "the customer is always right." And at WORLD, we understand a little more every day as we seek to handle the details of your subscription with speed, with accuracy, and with courtesy, that we are competing in a business climate where others have raised your expectations to very high levels. Treating you as if you were always right is much more easily said than done.

Heading our efforts now to ensure that we do this well is Debra Meissner, director of circulation. Her professional background includes several years heading the circulation function at the Sun-Sentinel in Florida. She has a servant's heart -- and tells me believably that she wants to hear from you personally if something goes wrong with your subscription. But working with her to keep things from going wrong are Jim Chisolm, staff development manager, who joined our staff recently from Delta Airlines where he managed and trained customer-service personnel, and Charlene Duncan, customer relations manager, who has been with our company for 20 years.

You'll be able to reach these folks in a variety of ways:

Regular mail: P.O. Box 20002, Asheville, NC 28802

Phone: (800) 951-9673

Fax: (828) 537-0447


In the weeks just ahead, be watching also for details about how you'll be able to handle various issues (like renewals, changes of address, and gift subscriptions for friends and relatives) at WORLD'S newly redesigned website (

Hey, you can even walk your order in! That's how personally we are determined to treat you. And there's no better time to visit the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina than these hazy, wispy days of summer. We'll even help you find some of the best hiking trails in the area.

A legendary story (encouraged, no doubt, by the public-relations department of Nordstrom department stores) tells of the disgruntled customer who came in with four battered, bald auto tires. "They're worn out after just 80,000 miles, and I want my money back," he complained.

"Well," said the Nordstrom clerk. "We've never, ever handled tires. But just so you know how determined we are to keep you happy, here's your money back."

No, this isn't an invitation to you to take advantage of us at WORLD magazine. But I have a hunch Debra Meissner and her team are someday going to beat even the story about Nordstrom with an even better tale of outstanding customer service. That may take a little practice, and you may have to be patient while we relearn the ropes. But at least you know now that our heart's in the right place.