Customer Service Could Fix Promotional Offers
When the phone rings in consumer affairs, marketing should listen in. Marketers could learn a lot about how their promotional offers are playing in Peoria—and improve their ROI along the way. Hal Stinchfield, founder of fulfillment consultancy Promotional Marketing Insights, talks about how consumer complaints make for better offers.
You contend that a company's consumer affairs department should be feeding consumer feedback to its marketing department to hone promotional offers. Why?
The information collected by consumer affairs can improve the structure, communication and execution of offers, from premiums and rebates to sweepstakes. But there's a disconnect on interpreting consumer affairs metrics into language that marketing departments can use to improve the delivery of their promotions.
What tactics can benefit most?
Mail-in offers. They're fraught with more customer-service issues than other tactics, like coupons. The development of mail-in promotions is often on auto-pilot: A marketer relies on last year's ad copy without knowing how consumers reacted to it when it ran last year. They use old copy without doing a full post-mortem. The typical post-promotion analysis looks at a number of metrics, such as response rates and dollars allocated to the reward, but it doesn't include customer satisfaction metrics: the cost of invalidating submissions, the number of phone calls received. Those things cost money, and they're critical to improving the performance of promotions.
What does consumer affairs know about consumers that marketing would want to know?
Consumer affairs departments that field calls on promo offers create call center reports that rank consumer reasons for dissatisfaction. You can see what callers are most upset about, then interpret that to improve copy and offer delivery. For example, if 50% of the calls come because consumers neglected to enclose a receipt with a mail-in offer, go back to the offer: Was that requirement in mouse type on the back of the form? Consumer affairs feeds data to marketing, but they don't know what to do with the data, so it either gets lost or ignored.
If consumer affairs has that data, why can't marketing use it?
What's needed is interpretation: What impact did the offer have on consumers' satisfaction with the brand? Without someone translating that data for the marketing staff, the marketing team can't improve its offers. In general, marketers aren't acutely aware of the cost of a poorly communicated offer.
What companies are interpreting the data?
It's rare. Some marketers in packaged goods and healthcare are just now starting to look at it. It's beginning to take shape as the focus increases on marketing ROI, and as its impact on marketing costs becomes clearer.
But most companies still react after the fact. I helped straighten out one offer that drew 104,000 entries and had half of them invalidated. When the quantity of consumer complaints is clearly out of control, that's when they'll dig at the root of the problem. Instead, every company should look at it from the beginning of the promotion planning process, rather than after a crisis has occurred.
It's not an intentional oversight. Marketers often don't have enough experience or don't run enough mail-in offers to warrant the attention. Some rely on their promotion agencies' advice, but fulfillment companies have way more experience, especially with highly sensitive mail-in promotions.
Does poor execution really rankle fulfillment houses if they have to pick up the slack.
Often marketers don't show offers to the fulfillment company before fielding the offer. A fulfillment provider recently told me, "The first time we know what to do with an offer is when consumers send in their proofs of purchase." It's not part of the promotion set-up protocol for a huge number of companies. The people that touch the mail and handle the phone calls aren't being tapped for what they know.
Marketing managers are overloaded and can't understand the nuances of every promotion they're fielding, so they rely on outside resources for more functions—including development of offers. The first line of defense is the guy who creates the offer, but he is focused on the visual, not the execution. They should rely on customer satisfaction data more, but they don't have time to get up to speed on it.
Does marketing care, anyway? Would they prefer low redemption?
Intentionally creating consumer dissatisfaction does nothing for the life of the brand. I don't think marketers do it on purpose; it's an oversight, a lack of available expertise.
Marketing managers don't have the time or energy to get down to the detail level of fulfillment. They're thinking about brand share, sales, image; fulfillment and customer satisfaction is just too far down the process to focus on it. The trick is taking the time, and interpreting the data from call centers to marketing language.