As I was traveling for several weeks last month, I experienced multiple encounters with service companies that invest a lot of resources into acquiring customers. The question is, which ones really focus on winning that customer’s loyalty and keeping them coming back time and time again?

According to the Harvard Business School, increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. While those numbers might seem high for those of us in the media industry, they do hold a lot of truth, especially when you add advertising revenue into the mix.

Retention is something audience development professionals talk a lot about. But the real question is, do we put our time and money where our mouths are?

There are four key areas of retention that every audience executive should address (but not be limited to). Think of these steps as building blocks on a path to winning customer loyalty. 

Customer service: I know I have written about customer service several times, but it keeps coming back to me as one of the most critical pieces of the subscriber relationship.

Eric McKirdy, global customer care manager for Ask.com, says: “By 2020, customer service — not price or product — will be the key factor consumers will use (to) make brand-loyalty decisions.” That is something all of us in media need to remember, especially with ever-changing content and pricing of our products. 

The customer service arena is also changing quickly around us. More and more of our contacts are coming through e-mail and social media.

For myself, a tweet to a company normally gets me a much faster resolution than a phone call. In fact, according to a B2C post, “10 Surprising and Important Social Media Stats You Need To Know,” “53% of users who tweet at a brand expect a response within the hour. The percentage increases to 72% for those with a complaint.” 

There is a strong need to equip our customer service teams with the resources and skills needed to quickly and properly respond to these consumers. 

Engagement: Engagement might feel like a buzzword, but it really means so much more than just a metric. It has to do with all the ways we interact with our readers and subscribers. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or on our own site, we need to be measuring who these visitors are and what keeps them interacting.

I really like these five key measures of social engagement from The Moz Blog

  1. Conversation rate: This one is fairly straightforward in that it’s based on the number of conversations per post. On Twitter, this is replies to a tweet; on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram, it’s a comment on the pin, post, or photo.

  2. Amplification rate: Any time a post is re-tweeted or shared, it’s being amplified. All the networks allow you to do this, so think of this one as the number of re-pins, re-tweets, or shares of a particular post.

  3. Applause rate: Every social network out there has an “easy” touchpoint to show appreciation, or applause, if you will. Twitter has favourites, Facebook has likes, Google+ has plusses — heck, even most blogs (such as our own) have thumbs-up votes. So the applause rate is based on the number of “likes” each post gets.

  4. Economic value: This is the sum of short- and long-term revenue and cost savings.

  5. Relative engagement rates: So, you have all these engagement metrics, but what do those numbers even mean? How can you compare the conversation rate on Facebook with the conversation rate on Instagram?

    This is where the relative rates come in. Think of it as the average number of conversations happening per post, per follower (fan, encircle, etc.).

Another key piece of engagement is the use of a loyalty or rewards programme. Many programmes have been around for years, but more and more of them are being tied to digital access and social sharing to gain rewards.

This kind of programme can be a integral part of keeping your customers engaged and coming back to your site time and time again.

The Day Media Company has seen real value with its Passport programme, citing as “one of our strongest member acquisition tools.” 

Value proposition: Life happens. Seasons change. Don’t apologise for what your product is now and how it has changed, but embrace the change and communicate that to subscribers. 

Newspapers still offer an unbeatable value to consumers.

One of my favourite lines to say to a subscriber complaining about value is that they are still paying less than the newsstand rate, plus we deliver it to their home so they don’t have to get out and buy one. That’s a value that has been often overlooked over the years.

If you have a pizza delivered to your home, you are charged the same price as for carryout, but you also pay an additional fee for delivery. There is an intrinsic value in that service.

Many publishers are also experimenting or have already switched to hybrid pricing models, which include digital access with a print subscription.

Nick Zarb from Simon-Kucher says, “Price increases will have more of an effect than price decreases on affecting volume, because you obviously sometimes have a very loyal print readership that don't tend to switch and tend to be a little bit older.”

Pricing should be a topic at your property, and should be something you are looking at often on the executive management level.

Multi-platform access: This is one of the hottest new tools we have in our arsenal for retention. Media companies now can offer 24-7 access to their products, no matter where their customers are. Consumers today are looking for products that fit their lifestyle, and our ability now is greatly enhanced to meet that demand.

If a subscriber calls The News Tribune to stop her print product for vacation, we no longer just stop delivery, but we also give that subscriber digital access to our products so that she can access our content while she is are on the beach or in the ski lodge.

This is one area that will continue to evolve over the next few years, and will further erode the line between print and digital.

These might not seem like the traditional pieces of a retention programme that audience professionals are used to, but with the ever-changing environment, our programmes need to change, as well. Add these pieces to your traditional programmes, and you will continue to see your audience gaining loyalty and over time see audience growth.