Establish a Culture that Grows Relationships

This guest article is the second in a three-part series from Mather Economics, an Atlanta-based global consulting firm that helps businesses with pricing strategies. Read Part One here.


In my article, “Innovations In Audience Strategies That Lower Churn,” published in June 2016, I described applications of analytics that have been effective in reducing churn among subscribers. The applications discussed were targeted messages triggered by customer behavior, moving touchpoints earlier in the expiration timeline and testing retention incentives to see which were most effective.

Also important for newspaper publishers is establishing a culture that grows relationships with customers, a topic that I have learned a good deal about from Xavier van Leeuwe and Matthijs van de Peppel of NRC Media in Amsterdam, a customer of Mather Economics. Xavier and I have discussed this topic at length, and he has shared with me key insights from his experience growing circulation at that publication. For most companies, building a culture that fosters customer relationships does not come easy. There are, however, a few key points from Xavier that have helped me understand how best to go about developing a culture of building customer relationships.

1. Commit to the relationship.

Committing to the relationship is a two-way street. Establishing the right offer terms are important for setting the future course of a customer’s lifetime with the publication. Trial subscriptions are not effective, are costly and lead to poor customer experience and product perception. Longer-term offers, in some cases the use of contracts that set a price during the life of the agreement in exchange for a customer’s commitment to pay, lead to greater long-term customer relationships.

2. Grow relationships with sincere attention.

Making direct contact with customers on a regular basis is priceless. “What was great about our service? What disappointed you?” NRC designed service techniques that created customer journeys for specific subscriber segments. Measure the effectiveness of individual customer service representatives so that good performance can be rewarded and replicated. Dare to make unprofitable decisions that are right for the customer. Guide these decisions with as much intelligence about the customer’s needs and wants as possible.

3. Listen through data and use the right key performance indicators.

Follow your customers in the data. Be honest with yourself about what is causing their cancellations. If many customers want a printed copy one day a week, give them that option.  Look at what customers are actually doing, which is often not what they say they will do. What is the best indicator of a relationship? Years as an active customer. NRC measures average acquisition term length in years and predicted lifetime value for each new customer. They have experimented with offers and business processes that maximize these metrics, and they have seen dramatic improvements in both.

4. Don’t break up over money.

A revenue strategy balances volume and rate. Sustainable strategies do not move too far in one of these directions at the expense of the other. Similarly, as sailing upwind requires tacking to the left or right of your goal to make progress, reaching long-term customer revenue goals may require leaning more heavily on rate or volume for a period of time, but maintaining long-term balance is critical. Giving new customers lower rates while their relationship with the publication is established will pay dividends in the long-term.

NRC’s results have been profound and encouraging. NRC is now 12,000 subscribers above where they were a year ago and the growth trend is continuing.

Audience acquisition strategies and tactics at news media companies often emphasize hunting for new customer acquisitions over farming for customer retention. Given the results we have seen from farming, maybe we should all hunt a little less.


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