Develop a Win-Back Strategy

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In 1998, management of the Toronto Raptors was facing a challenge: how to win back fans after a 191-day lockout by the National Basketball Association.

The heart of the issue was how to keep the team's core group of season-ticket holders from walking away from a league that many people thought was placing the interest of rich superstar players and team owners ahead of fan interest.

Leveraging the "We want you back" opportunity. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the Toronto Raptors, devised a win-back strategy aimed at wooing back fans to remainder-of-season games.

"There was an urgent need to rebuild our relationship with our 4,000 season-ticket holders," said Chris Overholt, MLSE director of ticket sales. "We wanted to provide them with updates on ticket pricing, seating, new players and other benefits as soon as possible."

But a quick turnaround was critical. Direct mail and other traditional forms of communication on their own were deemed too slow or not personal enough.

The solution?

MLSE built its win-back plan around a customer relationship management technology called Ventriloquist Express, which allows a client's voice, recorded from any touch-tone phone, to reach individual customers as a personal phone message.

Ventriloquist, a technology provided by International Teledata Group, Toronto, allowed MLSE to develop five personalized and interactive broadcast messages to season-ticket holders over an eight-week period. And the price was right. Up to two-minute messages could be delivered for just 45 cents each and two- to three-minute messages for only 55 cents apiece.

Calling fans to action. MLSE developed a script for the first of five planned messages to Raptors fans. Butch Carter, then the new Raptors head coach, delivered the first message, a 90-second information summary. Carter's strong vocal support of the team during the lockout and his new head coach status made him a natural choice for the initial message.

Concurrent with Carter recording the message, MLSE forwarded the season-ticket holder list (first and last names and phone numbers) to ITG. Using its extensive audio database of first names, Ventriloquist matched fans' first names with the corresponding audio files to create a message that sounded as though Carter were calling the fans personally:

"Hi, it's coach Butch Carter of the Toronto Raptors calling for [first name]. Now that the lockout is over, I wanted to thank you for your continued patience. ... We are working towards rewarding your commitment with a winning team. ... I'll have better, younger athletic newcomers and veteran leaders ... and the new Air Canada Centre. ... I can tell you that the arena will finally show Toronto the way basketball is really meant to be played."

At this point in the message, the ticket holders had several options. They could listen for the personal message, request a callback from the Raptors, end the message, repeat the message or let the answering machine capture the message. Fans also had the option to receive no further messages from Ventriloquist.

Encouraged by the initial response, MLSE decided to use Ventriloquist to contact hundreds of Best-8 Mini-Pack ticket holders. During the lockout, these fans had been allowed to cash in their tickets for a full refund. MLSE wanted to contact these people to get them re-enlisted as Mini-Pack fans. Within four hours of the message being delivered, phone lines lit up with callers confirming Mini-Pack attendance.

Other messaging during the eight-week period included Raptors president Richard Peddie calling fans about the new six-year collective bargaining agreement as well as Glen Grunwald, Raptors' general manager, calling fans on the evening of the opening game to update them on the new coach and players and to thank fans again for their support.

But MLSE did not stop there. With the goal of rebuilding its relationship with fans, MLSE also continued with its existing marketing communication tools, including direct mail, a medium that had proved its ability to leverage the Raptors' star players.

The Ventriloquist technology is proving to support direct mail effectively. Tracking has shown that the Ventriloquist technology has helped increase direct mail response rates, in some cases by more than 280 percent, MLSE reported.

Though MLSE's win-back numbers for Raptors fans are considered proprietary and not for disclosure, the win-back program was classified a big success.

Your win-back opportunity. If you think an emergency of the magnitude of an NBA lockout is necessary before your company develops a win-back strategy, think again. With the average company losing 20 percent to 40 percent of its customers yearly - defection rates are higher for Internet companies - it is imperative that firms create hard-working strategies, not only for acquisition and retention but also for winning back lost customers and saving those on the brink of defection.

If your firm is like most, at least one-third of your customers are in some phase of defecting at this moment. And you are probably ill-equipped to manage this risk.

Our nationwide defection study conducted among a cross-section of business-to-business and consumer product and service industries found that 60 percent of sales and marketing managers surveyed had no system or process for identifying customers who are at high risk of defection. The study also found that more than 75 percent of purchasing agents surveyed reported giving suppliers advance warning about possible termination of the account. Yet these agents also reported that only about half their suppliers responded assertively to this warning.

Never before have technological tools for winning back lost customers or saving at-risk customers been more available or affordable. And with a softening economy, keeping high-value customers is more important than ever.

To maximize customer loyalty, start today to create plans for winning back lost customers, saving customers on the brink of defection and making your company defection proof.


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