How to automate communications while maximising customer relationships

By Scott Stines


Hiawatha, Iowa, USA


A Business Insider headline from May 2015 read, “Experts predict robots will take over 30% of our jobs by 2025.” That same month, an NPR Planet Money article asked, “Will your job be done by a machine?”

Pundits have been predicting that machines will take over tasks currently performed by humans for the past 70 years, and they have been right on many accounts.

Our wired society makes it possible to automate many jobs and tasks that have been labour intensive, freeing up humans to do what they do best: create, solve problems, and come up with ways to automate other labor-intensive tasks.

If robots are going to take over 30% of jobs by 2025, what will that look like at your media company?
If robots are going to take over 30% of jobs by 2025, what will that look like at your media company?

This is especially true when it comes to managing relationships with customers, subscribers, and advertisers. In fact, most of the information needed to automate communications with customers – delivering timed and targeted messages that drive transactions – has existed for some time.

Here’s a look at how news media organisations can use available information to automate marketing, sales, and service communications with customers to maximise the value of customer relationships, save staff resources, and generate incremental revenue at a lower cost.

Data – information – knowledge

News media organisations have a wealth of data. Circulation and advertising billing systems contain database fields that, when related to the way we do business, can become meaningful information. When we use this information to make business decisions, it becomes knowledge that drives audience growth, revenue, and cost savings.

Automating the process to reduce labour costs

The typical labour-intensive process involves staff manually pulling lists of customers based on available information, then creating and communicating with customers. This process consumes valuable staff time and is often performed in an inconsistent manner due to shifting day-to-day work priorities.

Implementing an automated process that is not dependent on staff being involved ensures that customers receive timely and targeted communications that drive sales and service transactions at a lower cost.

Establishing an automated process takes “up front” time to think through critical tasks (welcoming new subs, renewing subscriptions and classified ads, following up on complaints, etc.), but this initial investment yields ongoing benefits that quickly provide a return on investment.

Automating data updates and database-driven communications

The automation process starts and ends with data.

This starts with automating a daily process of getting key database fields out of the business system and into an application that can be used to time, target, and deliver relevant sales and service communications.

For example, the following circulation system database fields can be used to establish automated subscriber management e-mail campaigns that will time and target the delivery of relevant communications:

  • Subscriber ID: Create and update information related to subscriber on a daily basis.

  • Product ID: Target e-mail communications by publication.

  • Start date: Time delivery of welcome e-mail message, verify delivery, and activate account.

  • Expire date: Time renewal offers prior to postal billing, telephone call, or postcard.

  • Payment method: Isolate subscribers not on auto pay for versioning messages/offers.

  • Delivery schedule: Version message and online renewal options; renew at same frequency or upgrade.

  • Delivery method: Version message and renewal pricing; carrier vs. motor delivery.

  • Rate code: Version message and renewal options/pricing based on current subscription rate.

  • Last complaint date: Time follow-up e-mail to customers complaining about service.

  • Complaint reason: Version message and response options based on complaint type.

  • Credit card expire date: Time delivery of e-mail requesting expire date update.

  • Credit card decline: Time delivery and alert subscribers whose credit card has been declined.

Dates are used to time e-mail communication while other database fields are used to version e-mail messages and links/URLs that direct subscribers to the appropriate online form.

Once the daily automated circulation system database feed is in place and e-mails are created for each audience segment, e-mails are sent every day to those subscribers meeting the e-mail campaign criteria.

Automating response handling

Automation isn’t limited to just sending e-mail communications. The process of reporting online orders and other online responses can also be automated to eliminate labour costs.

For example, when new subscribers submit an online form reporting non-delivery of their newspaper, an e-mail is immediately sent to customer service and/or call center staff reporting the information the subscriber has provided via the online form for follow up.

While not every task lends itself to automation, establishing automated communications with customers – given the amount of available data – makes sense when searching for ways to reduce labor costs and free up staff to concentrate on other audience building and revenue generating tasks.

About Scott Stines

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