The Sun ducked behind a paywall in August 2013, so now feels like a good time to find out how it’s all been going at Sun+
Beverley Mcintyre is Director of Member Services and Support at News UK. I was glad to catch up with her about customer service behind the paywall, as well as some other interesting aspects of the business, namely advertising and changes to the organisation as a whole.
What questions do you hear from Sun customers?
It’s a complete mixture.
Once we moved into the technology world, the expectations for customer service completely changed. Whereas it used to be general questions about the product, it’s now about technical elements, not just related to our products but actually to the device that they’re using.
They expect the customer service agent to help them download the app, find their settings, delete info on their tablet, so it’s a 50/50 split between general questions and technical enquiries, which is a big shift in terms of making sure you’ve got the right agents with the right skills and can help regardless of the question asked.
So it’s less about what’s in a bundle and more about things like data use?
Exactly, we had to help one customer whose actual issue was his BT hub. Fortunately the agent could take them to that technical level. It was their WiFi that had the problem.
Two or three years ago that would never have been a question seen in the contact centre, but now it’s what we accept. That’s how customers use us.
How have you been changing or training your staff in light of this change?
It’s something we recognised from our work with The Times. They were at the forefront with the tablet.
We recruit on the basis that we have agents with technical expertise as well as a customer service profile. We’ve also upskilled existing agents to make sure they’re not left behind.
We have to make sure our agents have the skills they need before the queries come through. We make sure we pre-empt what the customer, with our training team constantly having to refresh and train on an ad hoc and planned basis.
You must have lots of data you’ve haven’t seen before? Lots of personas you haven’t see before? What’s involved in your CRM process?
We use Salesforce as CRM, we’re gathering data all the time. We then extract that information and feed it into Sky IQ to profile customers.
We’re in the process of putting this data back into Salesforce to help agents to profile customers better in terms of value and churn propensity – those are the things we’ve seen significantly changed for us, that we’ve now got a whole raft of data that in the past we maybe had but didn’t take much notice of.
Now we’re starting to recognise this data suits the agents. They’re much better at conversation with the customer – it improves customer experience but also agents’ ability to upsell and cross sell.
We’re getting this information from a variety of sources – online activity (from tagging pages), usage on the site, also in-app tracking of pages and interest. We’re just at the start of bringing that in to the system to help agents dealing with the customer.
Has the organisation seen a massive shift to customer service because content/social/SEO isn’t pulling in as many customers?
It’s an approach to news. In the past we’ve always said the customer is very important but actually it was more about profit, but now we’ve shifted and customer service absolutely is our core principle.
The customer lies at the heart of everything we do. So much so that our CEO, Mike Darcey, has placed customers satisfaction as one of our five company pillars (for the first time ever). So it’s now at the exec/board level.
In order to make sure that we’re achieving in customer satisfaction, we have to change to think about that customer in a very different way. We now apply four principles to the work that we do:
- Make it easy.
- Make it valuable.
- Make it work.
- Make it distinctive.
It’s about making sure everything we do applies to those four principles. So if it’s a promotion that’s in the paper for example, will customers understand it easily, the mechanics – do they work, does it stand out and what value do they get out of it? What’s the reason for signing up?
We’re starting to apply that in everything that we do, so yes there’s a shift in approach.
It’s not really that our content’s not attracting the customer. Our customers have changed and the needs that our customers now have means that you can’t apply the same principles year after year. Customers change and therefore the way you approach the sales pitch also has to change. Otherwise you’ll be left behind and you won‘t attract the younger base.
Also, technology has changed. We’re not just a newspaper any more. We’re now looking at customers in the technical world and understanding what differentiates them, whether they come through web, mobile, tablet.
Are you focused on adding to the product as competition like BuzzFeed’s app arrives?
Obviously we want to maintain our quality of journalism. What we want to do is bring more to the product with our existing estate. There’ll be more bundling.
We have The Times Travel Magazine, we’ve got The Sunday Times Wine Club, we’ve got Sun Perks, with lots of partners. This builds upon the core product of quality journalism.
How do you embed this journalism into a lifestyle? How do you give them extras such as days out, discounts and benefits on ‘money can’t buy’ scenarios such as One Direction concerts, events with major chefs etc. Those things go over and above just being a media company. And obviously we have the power to do that, to work with amazing partners.
These things become dinner conversations. I experienced X as a result of doing something with The Sun, The Times etc. The customer starts to understand the value of an exclusive club.
How is the data working with advertisers? Is the data richer, even though scale has decreased?
It’s a lot more targeted. We are very clear about customer profiles, we can segment very well with the insight that we have. We can go to our advertisers and say ‘if you want a certain type of customer, we are the company that it’s more likely you’ll achieve that through.’
And I think the fact that we’ve got print and digital means that there are options for the advertisers. They’re not just passing through either. The paywall means that these are actually active customers and advertisers know that means eyeballs. The customers genuinely want to be within the content, they are paying for it, using it and we know how.
That means value for money for advertisers.
Have you changed metrics? Is it less about the impression and more about CPA for the advertiser?
Yes. Behind a paywall we don’t have millions of customers, as we would on our homepage, so you can’t sell it on impressions, because those without a paywall will win hands down, but it’s about quality of the customer and the targeting.
So, yes we’ve changed the way we sell and the way we pitch to potential advertisers.
Does your call centre agents deal with everything: live chat, calls and social together?
Yes, our contact centre based in Colchester and is separated between The Sun and The Times & Sunday Times. We have specific agents for the brands. All agents are multiskilled – live chat, email, telephone, post and social.
We currently have a very small social offering in customer service – the editorial team are obviously very active but that’s another side of the business, but we are just about to combine forces. I can’t tell you too much about that, but we’re about to join forces – customer service with insight and editorial to give a much better offering in social to our customers.
We’re trying to change our base, attract a younger customer and we need to be in the space they want to be in. It’s about giving customers channel choice.
We recognise that email is a channel that we don’t really want to work with for much longer. We want to work more with live chat and social because of that instant interaction. Instant feedback and insight. If we want to change or enhance something then we know straight away what the direction is.
Do you get a lot of email? Why are you moving away from it?
20% of our activity is by email at the Sun. At The Times it used to be 40%, now it’s around 26%. We know that customer satisfaction is lowest in this channel – for The Sun that’s about 40% resolution on first contact. That’s bad.
Instant resolution isn’t possible from email, the agent doesn’t always get all the information needed in the first message and then there’s a wait.
The technology is also more stringent with email spam filters etc. It can take a week to resolve an email but with live chat it’s instant. You can solve it there and then. Why continue to support a channel that doesn’t satisfy? We won’t retire it but we won’t promote email. Agents love working with live chat.
Has editorial got the message about customer experience taking precedence?
They have now. It’s taken a while. It’s of course very important and we have to maintain that integrity of the newspaper. But the customer is the reason stories are written (to be read by the customers) and editorial have started to understand they play a big part in getting people to sign up and in wanting to stay with us.
We’ll see more customer influence coming through, too. Where will adverts be placed? Where will in-house promotions for subscriptions be placed? How will we talk about events we do? Will we do follow-through on editorial pages about those events?
In the past editorial would think of about a promotion as ‘oh it’s been and gone’ whereas now they will put some content behind it post-event to attract customers into their product to read their stories.
Lastly, what was the move behind the paywall like, using only live chat and email to begin?
When we launched the site we had absolutely no idea how busy it was going to be. We knew what had happened at The Times but that was a different audience.
We made the decision that live chat and email would be the only contact points. Telephone was the biggest channel for The Times, so that was probably a bold decision. We had no idea how may agents to use so we used 20 and hoped for the best.
We didn’t know whether it would work. We held our breath. It was so busy, but because our agents can do six concurrent chats with LivePerson’s live chat software, we were able to support the site. We had 250,000 enquiries in the first month.
If we did it on the telephone, there’s no way we’d be able to support that service. We would’ve perpetuated and generated enquiries from people hanging on the phone. As it happened customer satisfaction was 85%.