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A media story

Some time ago I posted a comparison of how a bank operated with how an EDM process might work (A banking story). Thanks to a friend I have another example is this genre - this time from the news media.

Old Way

A former subscriber to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) she received an offer in the mail designed to entice her back - the offer included both the print edition and the online wsj.com. The offer came in a personalized letter and had various codes identifying it. The offer came from "The Wall Street Journal. Print & Online".

  • Deciding to pay online she found a different set of offers with no apparent way to enter any of the codes from the offer letter. Nevertheless one seemed to match and so she signed up for it.
  • The first print issue arrived promptly but no information was forthcoming on the online subscription
  • A short email conversation ensured which, in the end, yielded an acknowledgment of the deal and instructions for signing up online
  • She tried to follow the email instructions but they didn’t work. When it asked for the print account number she got an error message “account already in use” on page 1 of the create account pages
  • She called the WSJ online and got a long menu of options which kept repeating what she could do online but otherwise was not helpful. After a long wait she got a Customer Service Rep (CSR). The CSR was confused by the offer but then the CSR said that she had an old account (my friend's a lapsed subscriber remember) and the CSR said it was fixed it right then, My friend tried it and sure enough the error “account already in use” went away
  • Having got past page 1 of the process (there are 4), she got to Page 3 which asked which billing period she would prefer. Of course she had already paid so she called back (same long menu, same repeated instructions, some long wait). This time she got another CSR who was also confused by the offer. After reading the notes this CSR said that “print didn’t set up a combo account” and told my friend she had to call them. The CSR transferred her but then she went back in the queue (same long menu, same repeated instructions, another long wait).
  • She then got a print CSR who said the system showed that my friend had been a print customer since 2004 and the offer was only available to new subscribers.
  • Through gritted teeth my friend explained that the offer was explicitly sent to lapsed subscribers and that it was good for anyone who had not been a subscriber in the last 180 days and furthermore that sheI had been doing this now for 30’ or more and was going to get very cranky. The new CSR read all the (now very long) notes and emails, put her on hold twice, then eventually popped on and said you now have a combo account, wait 24 hours then call online or try again.
  • 9 hours later she received an email from the online part of WSJ with instructions to set up the account and it worked.

A long-winded, customer-hostile process that damaged their brand, annoyed a customer and cost them a ton of money in CSR time (while also increasing the delays for everyone else trying to get a CSR with a knock-on customer service impact). How could this have been done better?

EDM way

  • The online environment would have had the ability to ask for offer codes or address so as to identify the customer initially
  • The online form would have shown the same offer as the offline and created the account the right way the first time
  • Even if the customer had lost the code and signed up for the wrong offer online, the CSRs would all have seen the same offers available to the customer as the system would run the eligibility rules and display those for which the customer was eligible. The systems the CSR used would have allowed them all to trigger the allowed decisions, there would be no transferring to different CSRs.
  • When signing up for the online service the re-use of the account number would have caused a sensible decision (like questions to see if this person is the same as the one who has the account in the system) not an error message.
  • Similarly when it got to the billing part if would have checked the account and seen that a fee had been paid that made the customer eligible for both online and print editions (it would know she was a returning customer who had been gone more than 180 days and who was therefore eligible for the combined service offer and that she had paid the amount associated with that offer). It would then have displayed the existing billing data, confirming the included online subscription and carried on with the rest of the process

Why is this a better process?

Well it's way more consistent - the online and offline experiences are coordinated and the decisions that need to be taken to sign customers up whether they mail in orders, use the web or talk to a CSR are all automated correctly. CSRs are empowered to focus on the customer because the system knows what decisions are allowed for each and tells the CSRs so that they can execute them quickly and easily and without the risk that they will approve something they should not. The online environment would have run rules at each step to see if additional data was required so that it did not repeat questions or get confused. Some kind of smart form would have been displayed that responded intelligently at each in the process.

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