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Welcome packs – what do they achieve?

It’s nice to feel welcome and appreciated. It gives a warm glow and makes you pleasantly disposed to whoever’s doing the welcoming. And, if the warm glow continues, then you’ll probably want to extend the relationship. All of which means, says David Nutt, that it’s worth investing time and thought into making your new subscribers feel as welcome as possible.

By David Nutt

Until a few years ago, welcome packs were a largely ignored part of the marketing process. Because decision-makers in the organisation never saw them, very little was done about them; quite often they didn’t actually happen at all.

The scale of change within the overall customer relations area has meant most publishers have taken a closer look at the pack – although that look was probably not as close as it should have been.

What’s in the pack?

The basic component of the pack is the letter. Its text includes a thank you for the order, a confirmation of what it was, when to expect the first issue to arrive (if it’s not sent in the pack) and the payment details (and frequency if it’s a direct debit).

The welcome pack offers the chance to communicate with the new subscriber. Now is the time to have a friendly and ‘Welcome to our community’ letter from the editor.

Here too is the opportunity to undertake some selling: a subscription extension (often called ‘renewal at birth’ but always called an ‘extension’ in copy read by the subscriber).

While you have the subscriber’s attention, you can try a bit of cross-selling of other relevant products. Price them at an attractive discount ("privilege subscriber-only discount") and you should get some useful added value to the order.

If your offer had additional elements such as a free gift, send it in the welcome pack as well. This is much better than having the supplier post it to the subscriber. Done that way, you don’t know for sure when it will arrive and it will not have an immediate link with the magazine. This kind of customer service looks sloppy and can affect renewal rates.

At this stage, your new subscriber is well disposed towards you and your magazine, so why not suggest he / she tells friends and colleagues about it. Include several friends order forms and incentivise the offer with a free gift to the introducer – pointing out that there’s no limit to the number of free gifts that can be collected for the friends’ orders.

Welcome formats

Some publishers regard it as sufficient to send an email acknowledgement with no welcome-type text at all. While this does the job (in a minimal way), it’s not the warmest or friendliest start to the relationship.

It would cost nothing to add some welcome copy as a greeting.

First issue timing

The speed with which you post the first issue of the magazine subscription (whether or not it’s contained in the welcome pack) is critically important.

This is because (according to evidence from publishers in the US) there is a direct correlation between the arrival time of the first issue and the subsequent renewal rate (or conversion as it’s known over there) twelve months later.

Apparently, phased tests were carried out with the first issue posting delay being varied from the next day to more than 28 days.

If you don’t know what your first issue posting delay is, then find out right now. The longer the delay, the more money you’ll lose at the renewal point.

And blaming your fulfilment house and the "system" is no excuse. If they cannot be persuaded to achieve a rapid despatch of the first issue, then (within reason) – do it yourself. Get a supply of magazines (not even the latest) delivered to your office and post one to the new subscriber with a note (compliment slip, whatever...) explaining that the editor will be writing soon with details of your subscription and first issue and the enclosed issue is a free taster of what’s to come.

Customer service issues

Your welcome material will obviously include contact details for subscriber services at your bureau or your own subscription department.

You should give subscribers lots of different ways of making contact with you. For example, not everyone feels comfortable using (or even has access to) email, so never limit peoples’ contact method to that alone.

Part of your service should include an FAQ section (on paper in the pack as well as on your website) that answers as many queries as possible; this works in two ways, cutting the volume of phone calls to your people and making it quicker than phoning (possibly hanging on the phone) for the subscriber.

And some dos and don’ts for customer service:

* Don’t use the mnemonic ‘FAQs’. You and I know what it means but you can’t assume that everyone does. Call it ‘Your questions answered’ or something similar.
* When giving the hours that your phones will be answered, remember that UK consumers want to phone at the weekend and in the evening. Also, think of time zones if your subscribers are spread round the world. For the calls that come outside your times, have your answering message request a phone number and a suitable time for you to phone the subscriber back. This is much better than them leaving you a message that can be garbled and unclear – and it shows you care.
* Your customer service people have busy times and slack times, so you might be tempted to suggest that the subscriber should phone in those slack times. Why should they phone at your convenience? Have extra capacity at the busy times so that there’s no increase in the waiting time.
* The incoming call gives you a chance to upsell (extend the subscription? renew now?), cross-sell (additional relevant product?) or simply get additional subscriber information (in particular, a missing email address that’s going to be really important to your low-cost marketing).
* Do make sure the phone is answered with the magazine’s name, not the name of your company or – worse – the name of the fulfilment bureau. This is simply accomplished by having dedicated phone numbers that are picked up by the fulfilment system, allowing the screen to display the correct information.

Copy and script considerations

The best person to sign your welcome letter is the editor of the publication. He or she is the person the subscriber is most likely to come to know (the name may well have already been seen in the promotional literature).

The stronger the relationship between editor and subscriber, the more influence this will have on boosting renewal rates.

When preparing copy for the letter, think of a chatty letter from you to a friend or relative. Be informal in your choice of words and phrases. Don’t sound pompous or ‘official’ when explaining instructions or procedures.

Be very specific when giving information – make no assumptions about what the subscriber knows or understands. And don’t use jargon or abbreviations.

As a way of making the subscriber feel part of a community, give the editor’s own email address (and, if possible, direct phone number). Though the letter is signed by the editor, you should draft it yourself and then run it by the editor to get approval. Alterations by the editor should be limited to factual accuracy – not changes of style.

When preparing telephone scripts, put yourself in the position of the two people talking to each other and make the script very simple and clear.

After you’ve issued the script to the telephone staff, listen to some conversations so you can find out how the script works in real life. Having listened, you can change it to make it work better. Discuss your script with the telephonists as well so they can give you an idea of problems or awkwardness when the conversations take place.

Maintaining a dialogue

The welcome pack should be the first in a stream of communications with the subscriber. Renewal rates can be expected to increase if the subscriber feels that he or she belongs to a community.

You can foster this sense of belonging by writing or emailing with interesting messages; these might be from the editor about the content of the magazine or they could be from the publisher about developments in the company or the launch of new products.

Why not take this a step further and include the occasional small gift – a fact-sheet or poster? You needn’t spend much - it’s the thought that counts!

These communications are aside from your various renewal efforts.

Increasing revenue and numbers

This article shows you how a good welcome pack and ongoing relationship will improve renewal rates. How big an influence all this activity has is for you to find out from testing. Make changes and test by using the two versions and collecting codes (or use different addresses or web pages) at the renewal point. Unfortunately these tests are going to take a while to give you results, but it’s worth it because of the amount of money at stake.

If you’re not using a welcome pack at all, start using one. The cost to you is minute compared to the revenue generated from increased renewals.