Which Business is Better? Harvard Business Review vs Success Magazine

I subscribe to several great magazines. Among them are Harvard Business Review and Success Magazine.

Both magazines provide terrific content.

Both magazines talk extensively about the importance of customer focus, customer support, and the customer experience.

But one of these magazines gives me terrific customer service, and the other gives, in my experience, for the most part,  poor customer service.

So when it comes to the single criterion of customer service, which magazine do you think performs best?

Let’s have a look.

Product Delivery

The printed issue of the Harvard Business Review magazine usually arrives in my mailbox some time during the month after the issue month. So the February issue for example would arrive in March.


Success Magazine on the other hand typically arrives in my mailbox before the issue month, or at the start of it.

Both of these magazines are based in the US and shipping to Australia, so we’re comparing apples with apples.

Round one clearly goes to Success Magazine. A great customer experience.

Renewal Process

A few months after subscribing to Harvard Business Review, I started getting urgent reminders by mail for subscription renewal. And they kept coming. Month after month after month. By the time I actually was due to renew at the end of a year and needed to action my renewal, I was so inured to the subscription renewal notices that their arrival was absolutely no prompt to action. The HBR subscription reminder process was like ‘the boy who cried wolf.’ Annoying and totally ineffective. It was like they were terrified of losing every single customer, every single time.

But that’s not all. When the time does come to renew, and you actually want to renew, they send you a plethora of options. It is actually quite hard to work out which option renews your current package. Last time, I accidentally got renewed (for the same price) to an online-early version of the suscription. I had to expend a great deal of time and energy to get this corrected (more on this below!).

And if you do want to renew, you get one of the paper based forms, which tells you to mail your money order or credit card details to the US for processing. Huh? We’re living in the electronic age. Did it not occur to the sales and marketing people at HBR to provide an electronic option for payments?

So, let’s look. If we head over to the HBR website, we can find ‘subscriptions’ pretty easily. Finding ‘renewals’, not so easy. And even if you do manage to find it, you get bogged down in selecting your country and subscription option details.

Conclusion: subscription renewal at the HBR is not a user friendly customer service experience.

Now, how does Success Magazine compare?

At Success Magazine, they don’t hassle you with every issue to renew. After HBR this is like a blessed relief!

In addition, to renew with Success Magazine, you can go to their website and find renewals in two easy clicks from their home page.

Round two clearly goes to Success Magazine.

Customer Support Line

I have had occasion to contact both magazines for support.

First, HBR.

Some brief details of the support case follow. I’m writing from memory, without going back and checking each email in the email trail individually, so some specifics about dates or times may be wrong but the gist of it is what I actually experienced.

At the time I renewed with HBR (my credit card payment went through online), they did not send any confirmation. Harvard Business Review do not provide a telephone support number that I could find at the time, so I emailed them to confirm my subscription status had been updated.

After what was if I recall correctly a several week delay, someone got back to me with an answer. The answer was that I most definitely had not paid for a subscription renewal. There was no record of it.

I pointed out that my credit card had in fact been debited.

They flatly denied this, stating that no transaction had been recorded in their system for me on that date. The onus was on me to prove that I purchased a subscription renewal from them. Would I please send a copy of the credit card transaction record details?

Somewhere around this point in the discussion, or a little earlier, it emerged that as an International customer I had to go through the International support centre in the Netherlands, which I was doing. But Netherlands HBR support didn’t have access to the US international payments, so discussion got bogged down while support cases were created between the US and Netherlands office and they decided between themselves who was responsible and who would help.

After this resolved, I emailed the required details, and (eventually) they managed to locate the transaction in their system. They then advised that my renewal was for a totally different product (online, not online and print). Same price.

After further discussion, it was agreed I could be put back on to the product I had been subscribing to all along for the same price.

Now this might sund like a quick process, but remember there were days or weeks between these multiple email communications. The nett impact was that for the first three months of my subscription renewal I did not receive printed copies of the magazine while this discussion ensued. Eventually they sent me back copies.

Outcome: successful result. 3 month interruption to magazine shipments. Lots of time spent emailing. Exposure to the underbelly of a labyrinthine support system. Frustration, eventually resolved.

Let’s compare to Success Magazine.

I signed up to Success Magazine originally because I went to the news agent, picked up a copy, and thought the dual audio and video disc included with each magazine was magnificent. I subscribed. One month, they decided to chop the video component and only ship audio on the CD with each issue.

I emailed Success Magazine and raised this question with them. Someone from support got back to me the same day (it might have even been just a couple of hours) and thanked me for raising the issue. The customer service rep suggested that I had made several valuable points and a couple of actionable suggestions, and she would forward them directly to the editorial and product development teams for consideration.

I still think video on the discs was a great feature of their magazine. It hasn’t been put back. But I was left feeling that the customer service experience was terrific, that the magazine listened and cared.

Round three? You guessed it. Success Magazine.

So, after three rounds, the customer service score is Success Magazine 3, Harvard Business Review 0.

As I say, both are great magazines. I’m a happy subscriber to both. Both magazines provide great content. Both magazines do great things in addition to their magazine content (for example, HBR has terrific email tips and has also set up an advisory group for continued user feedback in to the development of the magazine). And to be fair, in the end, HBR did eventually sort out the subscription issue, so in the end I was ‘satisfied’ with both support requests.

But the stark contrast is that for two magazines that each contain strong editorial content about the critical importance of strong customer service. One delivers it. One doesn’t.

Is there something different about Success Magazine being a magazine for hands on entrepreneurs? Is there something different about the HBR being a well established magazine intersecting the academic and corporate communities?

At the end of the day, Success Magazine seems to think and act differently about customer service.  There’s a far higher level of authenticity between what is said on the pages of the magazine and what the customer experiences in the delivery.

Full marks to Success Magazine! However, with the HBRs new initiatives like the HBR advisory council, I’m sure we’ll see the HBR continue to improve in this area.

6 Responses to Which Business is Better? Harvard Business Review vs Success Magazine
  1. Anonymous
    March 27, 2010 | 9:55 PM

    I assume HBR is also a lot older. So the differences are probably also something to do with organisational intertia. It's a lot harder to totally change what's always been done than to invent a totally new customer focused approach. If you've got an existing system the easy approach is to continually tweak it but that does not lead to breakthroughs.

  2. Dr. Lauchlan A. K. Mackinnon
    March 27, 2010 | 10:18 PM

    Great point! Older institutions do tend to develop more bureaucracy.

    However, according to wikipedia, Success magazine is quite a bit older than HBR:

    "SUCCESS was first established in 1891 by Orison Swett Marden as a personal achievement magazine and has since undergone many changes and reinventions."

    "Harvard Business Review began in 1922 as an editorial project of Harvard Business School’s faculty and students. In the first issue, Harvard Business School Dean Wallace B. Donham described the aims of the magazine in the article “An Essential Groundwork for a Broad Executive Theory.” “ The theory of business must develop to such a point that the executive may learn from the experiences of others in the past how to act under the conditions of the present,” he wrote. “Otherwise, business will continue to be unsystematic, haphazard, and for many men a pathetic gamble.”"

    A related comment along the lines of your point is that HBR may have been much more strongly institutionalised than Success magazine from early on, both in the academic sector and with a specific publisher, whereas Success magazine changed hands to new, entrepreneurial publishers multiple times.

  3. Anonymous
    March 28, 2010 | 9:55 PM

    Also of note is that the paper renewal of HBR offers some discounts, but the online renewal does not…

  4. Kevin Cullis
    April 11, 2010 | 3:02 PM

    And HBR costs $79 a year and Success Magazine cost $24 a year. Hmm.

  5. Anonymous
    March 3, 2011 | 1:16 PM

    Yes, yes, yes, to all of the above.

    This morning, I wasted twenty minutes on the phone (international call, no international code given on the renewal document) to an assistant in the HBR renewal dept who could not align the renewal rate posted to me, with the one I was looking at on the HBR.org screen.

    Could we get past this impasse? Apparently not. The assistant could not get access to the HBR.org page I was looking at so I offered to email a pdf of it, "no" we can't open pdfs. Could they take it on trust? I've only been a subscriber since 1997, apparently not.

    Unspeakably poor. Deserves a case study.

    Compare this with the Economist. Fast, polite, easy. My magazine has been arriving late so they are now tracking the postage that so that I receive it on time. Helpful, courteous, always a pleasure.

  6. Dr. Lauchlan A. K. Mackinnon
    March 3, 2011 | 8:29 PM

    Thanks for sharing!

    I'm so sorry to hear about your experience with HBR.

Which Business is Better? Harvard Business Review vs Success Magazine

I subscribe to several great magazines. Among them are Harvard Business Review and Success Magazine.

Both magazines provide terrific content.

Both magazines talk extensively about the importance of customer focus, customer support, and the customer experience.

But one of these magazines gives me terrific customer service, and the other gives, in my experience, for the most part,  poor customer service.

So when it comes to the single criterion of customer service, which magazine do you think performs best?

Let’s have a look.

Product Delivery

The printed issue of the Harvard Business Review magazine usually arrives in my mailbox some time during the month after the issue month. So the February issue for example would arrive in March.


Success Magazine on the other hand typically arrives in my mailbox before the issue month, or at the start of it.

Both of these magazines are based in the US and shipping to Australia, so we’re comparing apples with apples.

Round one clearly goes to Success Magazine. A great customer experience.

Renewal Process

A few months after subscribing to Harvard Business Review, I started getting urgent reminders by mail for subscription renewal. And they kept coming. Month after month after month. By the time I actually was due to renew at the end of a year and needed to action my renewal, I was so inured to the subscription renewal notices that their arrival was absolutely no prompt to action. The HBR subscription reminder process was like ‘the boy who cried wolf.’ Annoying and totally ineffective. It was like they were terrified of losing every single customer, every single time.

But that’s not all. When the time does come to renew, and you actually want to renew, they send you a plethora of options. It is actually quite hard to work out which option renews your current package. Last time, I accidentally got renewed (for the same price) to an online-early version of the suscription. I had to expend a great deal of time and energy to get this corrected (more on this below!).

And if you do want to renew, you get one of the paper based forms, which tells you to mail your money order or credit card details to the US for processing. Huh? We’re living in the electronic age. Did it not occur to the sales and marketing people at HBR to provide an electronic option for payments?

So, let’s look. If we head over to the HBR website, we can find ‘subscriptions’ pretty easily. Finding ‘renewals’, not so easy. And even if you do manage to find it, you get bogged down in selecting your country and subscription option details.

Conclusion: subscription renewal at the HBR is not a user friendly customer service experience.

Now, how does Success Magazine compare?

At Success Magazine, they don’t hassle you with every issue to renew. After HBR this is like a blessed relief!

In addition, to renew with Success Magazine, you can go to their website and find renewals in two easy clicks from their home page.

Round two clearly goes to Success Magazine.

Customer Support Line

I have had occasion to contact both magazines for support.

First, HBR.

Some brief details of the support case follow. I’m writing from memory, without going back and checking each email in the email trail individually, so some specifics about dates or times may be wrong but the gist of it is what I actually experienced.

At the time I renewed with HBR (my credit card payment went through online), they did not send any confirmation. Harvard Business Review do not provide a telephone support number that I could find at the time, so I emailed them to confirm my subscription status had been updated.

After what was if I recall correctly a several week delay, someone got back to me with an answer. The answer was that I most definitely had not paid for a subscription renewal. There was no record of it.

I pointed out that my credit card had in fact been debited.

They flatly denied this, stating that no transaction had been recorded in their system for me on that date. The onus was on me to prove that I purchased a subscription renewal from them. Would I please send a copy of the credit card transaction record details?

Somewhere around this point in the discussion, or a little earlier, it emerged that as an International customer I had to go through the International support centre in the Netherlands, which I was doing. But Netherlands HBR support didn’t have access to the US international payments, so discussion got bogged down while support cases were created between the US and Netherlands office and they decided between themselves who was responsible and who would help.

After this resolved, I emailed the required details, and (eventually) they managed to locate the transaction in their system. They then advised that my renewal was for a totally different product (online, not online and print). Same price.

After further discussion, it was agreed I could be put back on to the product I had been subscribing to all along for the same price.

Now this might sund like a quick process, but remember there were days or weeks between these multiple email communications. The nett impact was that for the first three months of my subscription renewal I did not receive printed copies of the magazine while this discussion ensued. Eventually they sent me back copies.

Outcome: successful result. 3 month interruption to magazine shipments. Lots of time spent emailing. Exposure to the underbelly of a labyrinthine support system. Frustration, eventually resolved.

Let’s compare to Success Magazine.

I signed up to Success Magazine originally because I went to the news agent, picked up a copy, and thought the dual audio and video disc included with each magazine was magnificent. I subscribed. One month, they decided to chop the video component and only ship audio on the CD with each issue.

I emailed Success Magazine and raised this question with them. Someone from support got back to me the same day (it might have even been just a couple of hours) and thanked me for raising the issue. The customer service rep suggested that I had made several valuable points and a couple of actionable suggestions, and she would forward them directly to the editorial and product development teams for consideration.

I still think video on the discs was a great feature of their magazine. It hasn’t been put back. But I was left feeling that the customer service experience was terrific, that the magazine listened and cared.

Round three? You guessed it. Success Magazine.

So, after three rounds, the customer service score is Success Magazine 3, Harvard Business Review 0.

As I say, both are great magazines. I’m a happy subscriber to both. Both magazines provide great content. Both magazines do great things in addition to their magazine content (for example, HBR has terrific email tips and has also set up an advisory group for continued user feedback in to the development of the magazine). And to be fair, in the end, HBR did eventually sort out the subscription issue, so in the end I was ‘satisfied’ with both support requests.

But the stark contrast is that for two magazines that each contain strong editorial content about the critical importance of strong customer service. One delivers it. One doesn’t.

Is there something different about Success Magazine being a magazine for hands on entrepreneurs? Is there something different about the HBR being a well established magazine intersecting the academic and corporate communities?

At the end of the day, Success Magazine seems to think and act differently about customer service.  There’s a far higher level of authenticity between what is said on the pages of the magazine and what the customer experiences in the delivery.

Full marks to Success Magazine! However, with the HBRs new initiatives like the HBR advisory council, I’m sure we’ll see the HBR continue to improve in this area.

6 Responses to Which Business is Better? Harvard Business Review vs Success Magazine
  1. Anonymous
    March 27, 2010 | 9:55 PM

    I assume HBR is also a lot older. So the differences are probably also something to do with organisational intertia. It's a lot harder to totally change what's always been done than to invent a totally new customer focused approach. If you've got an existing system the easy approach is to continually tweak it but that does not lead to breakthroughs.

  2. Dr. Lauchlan A. K. Mackinnon
    March 27, 2010 | 10:18 PM

    Great point! Older institutions do tend to develop more bureaucracy.

    However, according to wikipedia, Success magazine is quite a bit older than HBR:

    "SUCCESS was first established in 1891 by Orison Swett Marden as a personal achievement magazine and has since undergone many changes and reinventions."

    "Harvard Business Review began in 1922 as an editorial project of Harvard Business School’s faculty and students. In the first issue, Harvard Business School Dean Wallace B. Donham described the aims of the magazine in the article “An Essential Groundwork for a Broad Executive Theory.” “ The theory of business must develop to such a point that the executive may learn from the experiences of others in the past how to act under the conditions of the present,” he wrote. “Otherwise, business will continue to be unsystematic, haphazard, and for many men a pathetic gamble.”"

    A related comment along the lines of your point is that HBR may have been much more strongly institutionalised than Success magazine from early on, both in the academic sector and with a specific publisher, whereas Success magazine changed hands to new, entrepreneurial publishers multiple times.

  3. Anonymous
    March 28, 2010 | 9:55 PM

    Also of note is that the paper renewal of HBR offers some discounts, but the online renewal does not…

  4. Kevin Cullis
    April 11, 2010 | 3:02 PM

    And HBR costs $79 a year and Success Magazine cost $24 a year. Hmm.

  5. Anonymous
    March 3, 2011 | 1:16 PM

    Yes, yes, yes, to all of the above.

    This morning, I wasted twenty minutes on the phone (international call, no international code given on the renewal document) to an assistant in the HBR renewal dept who could not align the renewal rate posted to me, with the one I was looking at on the HBR.org screen.

    Could we get past this impasse? Apparently not. The assistant could not get access to the HBR.org page I was looking at so I offered to email a pdf of it, "no" we can't open pdfs. Could they take it on trust? I've only been a subscriber since 1997, apparently not.

    Unspeakably poor. Deserves a case study.

    Compare this with the Economist. Fast, polite, easy. My magazine has been arriving late so they are now tracking the postage that so that I receive it on time. Helpful, courteous, always a pleasure.

  6. Dr. Lauchlan A. K. Mackinnon
    March 3, 2011 | 8:29 PM

    Thanks for sharing!

    I'm so sorry to hear about your experience with HBR.