The customer should always come first

During my time in the digital team at the consumer gadget and technology magazine, T3, at Future Publishing in London, we learned (mainly through self discovery and day-to-day experiences) to take the customers very seriously – from launching the UK’s first magazine app, to being the first UK iPad magazine to feature iTunes subscriptions, and then print plus digital bundle subscriptions. We were fortunate to be first – but it was down to a blockbuster launch period and first-to-market appeal for early iPad adopters.

Customer service ()

The ability to shift digital subscriptions at a fair rate made a massive difference to the revenue – clearly more appealing to advertisers – and as a result Apple put the T3 iPad Edition front and centre of their store promotional areas. The app was regularly at no.1 in the overall app store, and ahead of major national newspaper apps – we’ll never see that happen again…

We were on a roll. Great magazine content, crafted for the device, highly interactive, fantastic design, a strong product purchase point and great value, with a regular support team to counter customer enquiries. And these are the values that need to be applied to digital magazine apps.

What we hadn’t really expected was the sheer bombardment of polite enquiries, angry complaints, subscriber account confusion and sadly, many one star reviews on iTunes. Regardless of in-app simplicity and a helpful FAQ link, we found that the readers genuinely struggled to restore their previous iTunes purchases, sign in to their print subs access, archive and access previously downloaded issues, deal with device crashes, and even forgetting their own Apple ID credentials.

When faced with technical problems or app update issues, coupled with no support or response, initially, the app store rating bombed and it was angry rant after rant. Generally, I think people either give one star if they are remotely disappointed, or five stars if they totally love the experience. Although positive reviews were rare compared to people complaining! Always the way…

We learned to counter the countless reader enquiries, with an in-app email link featuring an instant automated response with answers to known issues, but more importantly, a guaranteed human response within 48 hours, often by myself, or a member of the T3 editorial team. Nine times out of ten this would solve the customer’s issue, and sometimes generate a five-star review on the app store. I recall keeping track of all the emails I had sent to customers on an app update issue one November, and it was over 2,000 personal emails within a few weeks. I’ve had similar discussions with colleagues from a couple of other publishers who have said they’ve also answered thousands of emails and queries from customers. It’s a huge issue, and one that cannot be ignored.

With the help of the T3 editorial team answering readers on Facebook and Twitter, and fully briefing the Future subscriptions team on relevant issues and problems – we managed to create an effective in-house support and customer service operation that genuinely pleased so many irate customers. We also improved the user experience, grammar and messaging in-app, and also improved the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ link across web and app – which helped greatly. All of these measures created restored confidence in the product, regained trust in the purchase point, and increased loyalty from the reader.

While what we did as a team to counter the unhappy customers was amazing, I’m not advocating that all magazine teams take on a customer support operation. It was unsustainable with everyone’s workload, so eventually, and sensibly, we worked with to help the customer support team for subscriptions to take on this part of the work. They needed training, and a guide to the app, and also control of the dialogue between customer and product owner.

Some suggestions to help your customers with their app experience

  • Write up a detailed FAQ guide to your app and test it out with some users. Use plain English!
  • Create an easy to remember email address and make it clear in the app. Make someone responsible in managing responses – particularly around new issue launches and app updates.
  • Follow up with all customer emails however small the problem, and even once a problem is sorted, follow up again – customers love being cared about.
  • Create an email newsletter sign-in where customers can get app updates and news, and offers – this counters the lack of communications with iTunes customers due to Apple’s restrictions on giving out user data. 
  • If you’re publishing to Google Play Newsstand – even a PDF purchase can go wrong sometimes! Keep on top of reviews, hunt down the enraged customer via all means, and try to respond through email, in-app, in print, or via your magazine’s website. Clarity of communication is key in all areas – and speed of response to crashes and known technical errors.
  • Have a stash of print issues ready to send out to really irate customers – this works a treat as the reader gets what they paid for despite technical issues, and they feel like they are being listened to.
  • Ensure your customer support team know all about the app, and any potential issues around subscription pricing, downloads and app errors and updates. 
  • Scour Facebook and Twitter for people complaining about your product – even one or two a week can make all the difference and you may get a positive review in response. Social media is a great way to find unhappy customers – just remember that its public and unfiltered – so it’s best to use it as an initial point of contact and move to personal emails after that.
  • Remember that not all your customers use social media – despite being a digital customer. In-app messaging can play a key part – and the wording around your updates should be better than just ‘Bug fixes’!

• Add a ‘Rate This App’ message to your app – once the user enjoys the experience – they will most likely respond to your request for a positive review. Bear in mind this can work in the opposite direction if your app isn’t technically sound and needs an update!

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