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Car rental reservation system

This is complete guide explaining what car rental reservation system, how it works, essential features this platform should include and its advantages and disadvantages.

The Definitive Guide to Secondary Market Research Sources

The Definitive Guide to Secondary Market Research Sources

Starting your search for research and data to support your business plan, product research, customer segmentation or data for your next presentation to investors, employees or conference?

Beyond any primary research you will be doing, you will need access to third party data for segmentation, validation and an understanding of your market.

Check out literally hundreds of data sets for your research. Our definitive list includes business, consumer and government data. Use it for marketing, competitive research, market data and more. It includes easy-to-use data and not so easy-to-use data accessible via APIs. Much of it is free, but not all.

  1. ALEXA: With Alexa, you can find basic free competitive and search-related information on any website (if you scroll to the bottom of the homepage to find the search box.)
  2. APP ANNIE: App Annie provides quite a lot of free market data including app rankings, app market data and more. While there is a lot of free information, they do a great job of trying to update visitors of their free resources to their premium products. If you need that data ongoing, it’s probably worth it.
  3. ARCGIC OPEN DATACheck out ArcGIC if you’re looking for data pertaining to schools, park services, local businesses, and streets, check out this collection of datasets from municipal governments throughout the U.S. If you’re looking to find an optimal location for a brick-and-mortar storefront or learn about a particular metropolitan area, this resource will help you find what you need.
  4. AWS Public Data:  Amazon Web Services hosts a number of public datasets that anyone can access for free. This is a huge resource of public data, including the 1000 Genome Project, an attempt to build the most comprehensive database of human genetic information and NASA ‘s database of satellite imagery of Earth. Other examples of popular public data sets include NASA NEX and web crawl data. If you’re using any of these datasets, make sure to check each individual source’s terms and conditions.
  5. CRUNCHBASE: Crunchbase is a database of “innovation” companies with lists and profiles of companies, executives, funding and other information.
  6. CIA WORLD FACTBOOK  The CIA World Factbook offers information on history, population, economy, government, infrastructure and military of 267 countries
  7. DATAHUB: Powered by the Open Knowledge Foundation, DATAHUB is well … a hub … for data sources from all over the world. From open archaeology to medicine usage data, you’ll be able to find a random collection of information. Keep in mind, however, that the site is challenging to browse and that many of the dataset descriptions are obscure. Limit your search to a very specific set of information.
  8. DUN & BRADSTREET: D&B is a paid source for additional business data, including business linkage, to quickly gather more information about your B2B markets. They also own Hoovers and Netprospex, we suggest you research these products as well. You will be able to find basic information on companies prior to buying a service.
  9. EMARKETER: Emarketer is a a data and research hub for everything digital related with nearly 40,000 articles.
  10. EUROPEAN UNION OPEN DATA PORTALThe European Union Open Data Portal has data from European Union institutions.
  11. FACTUAL (Location-based Data): With data from more than 65 million places worldwide, Factual “enriches mobile location signals.” Basically, what you get is a really, really big data set that provides information about places. You can use this data to supplement your product development, research, or ad campaigns. While Factual’s data is a paid product, potential users can request a free API key. You can use this data to do research on locations that might be related to your business.
  12. GITHUB: You can use this GITHUB data to learn what type of content is popular in the worldwide startup community. Current data goes through Q1 2015. Entrepreneurs can use this resource to determine PR opportunities and to analyze types of content that have been popular.
  13. GOOGLE: Think with Google: If you need some benchmarks for a presentation or are looking to analyze trends in the ad industry, check out this compilation of research articles and tools from Google. This information can help you figure out how consumers are behaving online and where to spend your branding dollars. It’s a great resource and one that could provide key information for any recurring revenue business. You can even use Google’s tools to create your own infographics for a presentation. The articles are rich with information and you should explore the many topics. The research tools include:
  1. GOOGLE: Finance: Leverage Google Finance to understand 40 years’ worth of stock market data, updated in real time.
  2. GOOGLE: Google Public Data Explorer: If you’re looking for data related to worldwide population trends, start your search with Google’s Public Data Explorer. You can browse through world development indicators and economic data from sources like Eurostat, Destatis, the Central Statistics Office of Ireland, and The World Bank. This resource is helpful for anyone seeking country-level data.
  3. HEALTHCARE.GOV:  Healthdata.gov contains 125 years of US healthcare data including claim-level Medicare data, epidemiology and population statistics.
  4. HIGHBEAM RESEARCH: Explore 30 years of magazines, newspapers and press releases with HighBeam Researcha database of over 4000 titles. Search and search results are free, but you will need a subscription for full access.
  5. HUBSPOT: Want to see how website traffic varies by industry, or how effective advertising is in different regions around the world? HubSpot Research has got you covered. In addition to checking out their free research reports, you can use HubSpot Research’s presentation-builder tool to easily compile stats and charts into a customized slide deck.
  6. ICPSR: The Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR)houses political and social research data from more than 760 universities, government agencies, and other institutions. There are more than 8,000 research studies in the database-but make sure to double check the licensing terms to make sure that the datasets are available for commercial use. To access ICPSR’s data, you’ll need to be a member of one of the participating institutions. Contact your college’s alumni office to confirm whether you’re eligible.
  7. INTERNET ARCHIVE: Need to understand what a website looked like in the past? Need to find information on a competitor or product? How about validating a potential employee’s story that they were an executive at a company? There are lots and lots of uses for the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
  8. LENDING CLUB: Loan marketplace LendingClub maintains a collection of public datasets. You can browse through declined loan applications and in-progress loan applications to learn what types of loans people are requesting and why. This data could be helpful for general industry research or even content marketing.
  9. MARKET RESEARCH.COMMarketResearch.com is a portal with in-depth how-do guides, white papers and other materials, much of it paid.
  10. MONETATE: Monetate is a testing and personalization platform. They have a resource center with pipeline and close-rate assumptions. Check out their eCommerce Quarterly.
  11. NEW YORK TIMES ARCHIVE: If you’re looking for data related to content, The New York Times has an API with access to articles dating back from 1851. You can retrieve information related to books, campaign finance, community comments, geography, and even event listings. This data is especially useful for content-based research.
  12. NIELSEN: Nielsen’s MyBestSegments provides researchers with tools to understand an area’s demographic information and lifestyle habits. You can find out which areas would be most receptive to a campaign or launch, which competitors are located nearby, and trends in the area that have shifted.
  13. PEW CENTER: For years, the Pew Center-a thinktank-has been conducting and publishing surveys related to politics, health, income, social values, social media, and online consumer behavior. Consult these reports and datasets when you’re looking to pinpoint macro-level trends-surrounding changes in the digital divide, for instance. This information will give you a macro-level look into sociological trends for U.S. consumer behavior.
  14. PROGRAMMABLE WEB: Looking for an API? Look no further than Programmable Web, a directory of APIs for almost every use case. From travel to social media, sports, gambling, food, finances, and music, you can find the API that you need by browsing this site. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need to check each listing with the API provider. For one, the API listing on Programmable Web might be outdated. Secondly, you’ll likely only have limited accessibility with a free license. If you want advanced capabilities, you may need to request paid access. This resource will help entrepreneurs find APIs that could save them time in accomplishing business initiatives faster.
  15. QUANDLQUANDL offers free and premium data related to a variety of topics ranging from bitcoin adoption to commodities, markets, currencies, gasoline and metals. While many datasets are available for free, the company monetizes by providing paid access to niche sources.
  16. QUANTCAST: Get basic website traffic data, trends, demographic data and rankings at Quantcast.There is information available for free with an upsell to more detailed information and data.
  17. REDDIT: If you’re looking for an eclectic collection of research, check out Reddit’s community nominated collection of data. You can short datasets based on what’s new, hot, rising, or controversial. Examples include alcoholic drinks in Australia, water data for Texas, and open web crawls. Use this resource to monitor and discover datasets that might be related to your business.
  18. SIMILAR WEB:  SImilarWeb provides data on websites, mobile apps and more. Great for competitive research and market analysis. You can see a lot of data for free, however for a compelte data view you will have to buy the pro version.
  19. SOCIAL MENTION Social Mention is a real-time social media search engine that can help you understand what your prospective customers are buzzing about online. Search for a keyword, and Social Mention will show you recent social posts that contain that keyword, along with a list of related keywords and other insights.
  20. SOCRATA:  Socrata is another interesting place to explore government-related data, with some visualisation tools built-in.
  21. STATISTA:  Statista uses more than 18,000 sources to provide an amazing amount of data for research. This is very easy to use and has free and paid options available.
  22. UBER SUGGEST: Ubersuggest is a simple tool for doing keyword and content research. You can input a phrase, and it’ll spit out a long, alphabetized list of additional keywords.
  23. US GOVERNMENT DATA – DATA.GOV: If you’re looking for U.S. government data, start here at data.gov. The platform is home to hundreds of thousands of datasets in a variety of formats. You can browse topics related to consumer, health, business, climate, manufacturing and even agriculture. Businesses can use this data source for general industry research.
  24. US GOVERNMENT DATA – FED STATS: If you want data but don’t know which agency maintains or produces it, head on over to FedStats.gov. This no-frills data-driven site provides access to a full range of official statistical information produced by the federal government without having to know in advance which federal agency produces which particular statistic. Data is available on wide-ranging topics, including economic and population trends, crime, education, health care, aviation safety, energy use, and farm production.
  25. US GOVERNMENT DATA – U.S. CENSUS BUREAU: The U.S. Census Bureau (www.census.gov) maintains a vast repository of information that is quick and easy to navigate, thanks to a variety of over 35 Data Access Tools, including a neat interactive map that shows a mash-up of economic and demographic statistics for any town, city, or state in America. Here is the list:
  • 2010 Census Interactive Population Map: Use this tool to explore 2010 Census statistics down to the block level, compare your community with others, and embed charts on your web site.
  • Access Tools at Other Sites: Integrated Public Use Microdata Series iPUMS [University of Minnesota].
  • American FactFinder: This interactive application provides statistics from the Economic Census, the American Community Survey, and the 2010 Census, among others.
  • American Housing Survey Table Creator: The AHS Table Creator gives you the ability to create customized tables from the American Housing Survey without having to use the Public Use File (microdata).
  • Business Dynamics Statistics: This tool shows tabulations on establishments, firms, and employment with unique information on firm age and firm size.
  • CPS Table Creator The CPS Table Creator gives you the ability to create customized tables from the Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC).
  • Censtats: Applications available include: Census Tract Street Locator, County Business Patterns, Zip Business Patterns, International Trade Data, and more.
  • Census 2000 EEO Data Tool: Select levels of geography based on residence or workplace. The estimates present information for various occupation groupings by race and ethnicity and sex.
  • Census Business Builder: Census Business Builder offers small business owners selected Census Bureau & other statistics to guide their research for opening or expanding their business.
  • Census Explorer: Make new discoveries about your neighborhood through the power of statistics with the U.S. Census Bureau’s newest mapping tool.
  • Census Flows Mapper: The Census Flows Mapper is a web mapping application intended to provide users with a simple interface to view, save and print migration flows maps.
  • DataFerrett: This tool is the analytical interface to TheDataWeb and allows users to create custom tables and data visualizatons, such as graphs and thematic maps.
  • Direct File Access: Census 2010 datasets Download datasets.
  • Direct File Access: Census OUTGOING File Directory (HTTP) Pickup files from Census Employees.
  • Economic Database Search and Trend Charts Easy access to Economic Statistics using drop-down menus. Create tables in ASCII text and spreadsheet format. Display customizable dynamic charts.
  • Glossary Simple definitions of key Census Bureau terms.
  • HIV/AIDS Surveillance Database Access data from various sources on HIV/AIDS prevalence and incidence for countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Oceania.
  • Health Insurance Interactive Data Tool An interactive application for exploring data from the Small Area Health Insurance Estimates program.
  • Income and Poverty Interactive Data Tool An interactive application for exploring data from the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program.
  • Industry Snapshots These interactive pages present key statistics from the Economic Census with per capita ratios using data from Population Estimates for a selected industry.
  • International Database Find demographic indicators, population pyramids, and source information for countries and areas of the world with a population of 5,000 or more.
  • International Map Viewer The International Map Viewer web application offers demographic indicators for the world’s countries. Values based on the International Data Base.
  • Language Use Mapper A web-based interactive map application built to display language data from the American Community Survey.
  • Local Employment Dynamics This partnership offers a variety of data tools.
  • Metropolitan/Micropolitan Population Map Viewer A web-based interactive map application built to display Demographic data at the Census 2010 tract level.
  • My Congressional District Access selected statistics about your Congressional district collected through the American Community Survey (ACS) and County Business Patterns (CBP).
  • OnTheMap An online mapping & reporting application showing where workers are employed & where they live with companion reports on worker characteristics.
  • OnTheMap for Emergency Management A public data tool for accessing U.S. population and workforce statistics, for areas being affected by natural disasters.
  • Online Mapping Tools Using TIGER and the American FactFinder.
  • QWI Explorer Provides detailed demographics; geographic (state, county, and metro/micro areas); ownership information; industry information, and recent and historical data.
  • QuickFacts QuickFacts provides frequently requested Census Bureau information at the national, state, county, and city level.
  • U.S. and World Population Clock See U.S. population by date, region, age and sex, and the top 10 areas by people and density. The world view has basic facts, trade, and projections by country.
  • US Gazetteer Place name, and ZIP code search engine.
  • USA Trade Online USA Trade Online is a free and dynamic online tool, where users can access current and historical U.S. export and import data.
  • Widgets Web widgets that are intended for use on (embedding in) third-party websites.
  1. US GOVERNMENT DATA – SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION ADVOCACY: Interested in statistics about how small business is doing? The SBA Office of Advocacy conducts and publishes its own research on topics such as the small business economy, “The arrival of the immigrant Entrepreneur”, regulatory alerts, data on small business, and small business profiles. (Not to be confused with the long list of resources from the SBA below.)
  2. US GOVERNMENT DATA – SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION: The SBA provides free access to information about business and economic conditions and indicators collected by the U.S. government. Whether you sell to businesses or consumers, these sites include data and statistics on income, employment, trade, and manufacturing, and plenty more. Check out the SBA.gov’s Business Data and Statistics for access to over 88 data sets and tools. Here is a sampling:
  • North American Industry Classification System (NAICS Codes): Standard used by federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy.
  • FedStats: Provides a full range of official statistical information produced by more than 100 agencies that provide data and trend information on such topics as economic and population trends, crime, education, health care, aviation safety, energy use, farm production and more.
  • Statistical Abstract of the United States: An authoritative and comprehensive summary of statistics on the social, political and economic conditions in the United States.
  • Statistics of U.S. Businesses: A collection of data files created from the U.S. Census County Business Patterns, an annual series that provides subnational economic data by industry.
  • Small Business Research and Statistics: SBA Office of Advocacy provides research reports and statistical information on small businesses conditions in the United States.
  • American FactFinder: This service of the U.S. Census Bureau provides access to a wealth of population, housing, economic and geographic data.
  • State and County Quick Facts: Provides frequently requested Census Bureau information at the national, state, county and city level.
  • Current Population Statistics: A monthly survey of about 50,000 households conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Labor Demographics: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) makes significant amounts of data available for specific demographic categories. Demographic categories used by BLS include sex, age, race and ethnic origin.
  • Social Security Fact Sheets for Demographic Groups: Fact sheets for all demographic groups including women and young people.
  • State Population Statistics: Provides access to facts about people, business and geography.
  • Consumer Credit Data: Consumer credit data provided by the Federal Reserve Statistical Release.
  • Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft
    • Includes consumer fraud and identity theft complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and both U.S. and Canadian federal, state and non-governmental organizations.
    • Consumer Product-Related Statistics: Reports showing statistics related to children’s products, child poisonings, CO (Carbon Monoxide) poisonings and other products.
    • Inflation and Consumer Statistics: Lists of indexes offered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that measure different aspects of inflation.
    • Beige Book: Current Economic Conditions: This report is published after each Federal Reserve Bank gathers information on current economic conditions in its district through reports from bank and branch directors and interviews with key business contacts and other sources.
    • Bureau of Economic Analysis: Access to national, international, regional and industy economic accounts data.
    • Consumer Price Index: The Consumer Price Indexes (CPI) program produces monthly data on changes in the prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services.
    • Economic Census: The Economic Census profiles American business every five years, from the national to the local level.
    • Economic Indicators: The purpose of these links is to provide timely access to the daily releases of key economic indicators from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau.
    • Economic Report of the President: This is an annual report written by the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. It overviews the nation’s economic progress using text and extensive data appendices.
    • FRED – Federal Reserve Economic Data: This is an informative database of more than 13,000 U.S. economic time series.
    • Major Economic Indicators: Reports include consumer price index, producer price index, real earnings and others.
    • Producer Price Indexes: The Producer Price Index (PPI) program measures the average change over time in the selling prices received by domestic producers for their output.
    • Reports on the U.S. Economy: These reports provide broad and targeted economic data, analyses and forecasts for use by government agencies, businesses and others.
    • U.S. Economic Indicators, 1998 – Present: This browse page provides access to monthly Economic Indicators from January 1998 forward. Documents are available as ASCII text and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF).
    • White House Issues: This provides easy access to the White House plan for improving our economy
  1. WEBSCRAPER.IO:  Webscraper.io isn’t a dataset, per se. Rather, it’s a web scraper tool that you can use to crawl websites and create your own datasets. Using a free Chrome extension, you can scrape data to be exported via CSV. Use this resource before collecting any data manually.
  2. YAHOO LABS: Yahoo Labs maintains a library of “scientifically useful” datasets for non-commercial use. You can research information related to languages, social media behavior, computing systems, and images. All datasets have been reviewed to conform to Yahoo!’s data protection standards, including strict controls on privacy. Use this data for your own learning, but don’t use it commercially.
  3. ZOOMINFOZoom Information is a database of businesses and people. While much is behind a paywall, you can utilize their business search to understand sizing of business segments. If you sign-up for their free version, you will get access to their full database which is very powerful for keyword searching business segments, businesses and people. We suggest you sign-up with an email that you do not use on a regular basis as when you sign-up, you will be agreeing to “share” contact data in your email client.

Building Customer-Focused Products: Tracking Your Competition

Building Customer-Focused Products: Competitive Analysis

We all know who our competitors are. Or do we? 

So Who ARE My Competitors?

It’s impossible to either identify or monitor all possible competitors. Further, if someone like Google decides to take on our business model, very few of us could hold them off. But maintaining a list of – and information on – our various competitors can be done by identifying Direct, Indirect, Substitute, and Potential Entrant businesses. 

  • Direct: These are competitors who go after the same audience, with a very similar business model, such as Time and Newsweek.
  • Indirect: These competitors offer a similar product, but with a business model different from ours. A good example would be a publication that’s subscription-based, versus one that’s advertising-supported.
  • Substitutes: Competitors here offer alternatives to subscriptions, that fill the same needs but in a different way. For subscriptions, this could mean topic-themed cruises, hands-on activities or classes.
  • Potential Entrants: Often these are businesses that complement our subscription offerings, but then decide to expand their offers into our core subject area. A sports magazine that starts a runner’s weekly news magazine, for example.

Source: Subscription Insider

What Information Should I Gather?

Whether it’s one hour each quarter or one day each month, set aside regular time to review key competitors. Establish specific questions to answer on each visit, such as:

  • New or discontinued products.
  • New pricing, shipping or bundles.
  • New drop-down menus – why?
  • New tone in the marketing? Have they gone from an informal, playful tone to more serious?
  • New endorsements, advertisers or affiliates?
  • What are their subscribers saying in their endorsements? What do they like; what are they frustrated with?
  • Google your customers – are they in the news? At tradeshows? Speaking at events?
  • Be sure to look at their company Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

Setting aside regular time to gather information on our competitors is critical, but it’s also critical to know when something big happens with a competitor as soon as it happens. What are some easy ways to make sure you stay on top of important events in your competitors’ organizations?

Customize Google News:

This is easily done by clicking on the “Personalize” button on the home page of Google News, then typing in the names of each competitor.

Lastly, be honest about your competition. If our product can’t compete, we need to find a way to make it do so, or find another market to enter. 

Set up an RSS Feed:

While the death of the RSS feed was predicted when Google shut down its reader in 2013, there’s been a minor resurgence in both apps and use of RSS feeds. They are still a great way to easily gather timely updates on multiple competitors.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. In short, a way companies enable interested people to keep up to date with what’s going on with them via a feed of information that’s pushed when something new happens.

  1. Log on to your competitor’s website.
  2. Do they offer an RSS feed? Not all of our competitors will. If they do have an RSS feed, it’s usually found at the bottom of the home page. It will be an RSS icon like that above, or the letters RSS.
  3. Click on the RSS icon or the letters RSS. This will take you to the website’s RSS page.
  4. Follow the instructions on the RSS page.
  5. Then, install a news reader that will display the RSS feeds you sign up for. Free and nominal fee readers include Feedly, Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, and NewsBlur.

Sign Up for Newsletters

While this is my least-favorite option because of the low volume of meaty data versus marketing and selling pitches, getting your competitor’s newsletter will provide a window into their marketing and sales strategy as well as products and pricing models.

The Most Difficult Competitor to Beat: Doing Nothing.

Understand how important your product is to your markets. The vast majority of us fall into the “nice to have” category. There’s nothing wrong with that – according to TheNest.com, 30% of an average individual’s after-tax income is spent on discretionary items! But, in that “nice to have” category, you should think about how emotionally important your product is. One good rule of thumb: the more specialized, complex and integral to your subscriber’s way of life your topic is, the likelier your competitive position against “nothing” will be.

Building Customer-Focused Products: Market Segmentation

What is Market Segmentation?

Market segmentation is the practice of dividing existing customers or prospects into groups based on some set of commonalities. The main goal of segmentation is to identify where the greatest opportunities and risks are in your business. Examples include segmenting individual subscribers by age, income, education level and sex. Business subscribers are often segmented by line of business, title and job function of a subscriber. Any type of customer could be segmented by type of subscription, length of time subscribed or geographic location.

As subscription businesses, we serve many markets. We serve buyers – who may be providing a service (such as libraries) or gifting a subscription to another, subscribers who buy and use our products, and advertisers. The metrics and recommendations in this article can largely be used to research any type of market, although the examples throughout focus on the Buyer + User.

What Can Market Segmentation Achieve for Your Business?

  • Customer segmentation has the potential to allow marketers to address each customer in the most effective way. Using data available about your customers (and potential customers), a customer segmentation analysis allows marketers to identify discrete groups of customers with a high degree of accuracy based on demographic, behavioral and other indicators.
  • Market Segmentation tells you how big a current or potential market is in terms of the number of people or businesses in it, which you can use to make assumptions about revenue potential.
  • Market Segmentation can provide characteristics, such as age, that will indicate the best way to market to that segment (e.g., mobile-enabled offers for subscribers under age 30).
  • Market Segmentation enables you to manage and track your business smartly, effectively and supports your efforts to focus on your most profitable market segments.

Must-Know Customer Segmentation Questions

“Who are your best customers?” is a logical question for investors, board members or even new hires to ask. But – what makes a customer “best?”

Is it that they’ve been subscribers for a long time, or that they just spent a lot on a special product we offered? What if they’re our top customer in terms of how much they spend every year, but have been reducing that spend every year for the past five?

The best way to solve this dilemma is to be prepared with one of the answers – ideally the one that gives the most meaningful (if not the most positive) information about your business. If you have the time and inclination, run several options, but don’t think you must.

Those asking the question are usually looking for a directional answer, and proof that you’re on top of your business. Deliver a concise, confident response and you win

While you may be asked incredibly detailed questions about your market, the following are the questions you’re most likely to be asked, and most expected to be able to answer:

How Do I Get Market Segmentation Data & Information?

It’s easier than it sounds! The following is a step-by-step workflow to gather the answers to the questions above:

1) List your data sources.  Make a list of all the systems you have for prospecting and keeping track of customers. This may be systems you use for subscription billing, accounting and any marketing mailing lists you have. Paper files will be hard to work with, but if you have even a bunch of Excel spreadsheets you can coordinate data fairly easily.

2) Gather the data. To do this, you should perform an “Export” of the complete list of the businesses or individuals in each file, along with all the data that goes with each record. Choose to export to Excel if possible, and to a .csv file otherwise. Not sure how to do this? Investigate your online system help tools or get in touch with their support team.

Tip:  Be sure to perform this process separately for subscribers and advertisers! You may want to know how many of your advertisers also subscribe, or vice versa, but not now.

3) Consolidate Data/Step 1: Bring Data Into Separate Sheets/Tabs in One Excel File. Files from different systems will each open a new Excel document and export the data there. You will need to cut-and-paste the data from each file into separate tabs in a single Excel document.

4) Evaluate Data.  Review each sheet of data to see what you have, and how it’s configured. You may have the subscriber’s name in each spreadsheet, but it could be collected in two separate cells as First Name/Last Name, or both first and last name could be in one field. You may have an exact age for an individual (or number of employees for a business) from one source, and a range from another. You may also find that there are garbled, incomplete or nearly blank records. Get a sense for what you’re working with, then proceed.

5) Lay Out Your Master Spreadsheet.  Now that you know what data you have available, you should create a master sheet/tab in your Excel document. This is the one where you’ll consolidate all your data into one “360-degree view” of your customer. Based on what you learned in your investigation so far, create column headings based on a balance of the data you want to include, and how easy or difficult it will be to put it in the order of the columns you create.

6) Consolidate Data/Step 2: Reconfigure Data on Each Sheet. Beginning with the first spreadsheet of exported data, reconfigure the data columns to best reflect the columns of your master spreadsheet. Complete this work for each data source spreadsheet you have.

7) Consolidate Data/Step 3: Remove Duplicates and Consolidate. Now that all the records are in a single Excel sheet, you’ll need to combine information that pertains to one subscriber from your many sources into one record (or row in Excel). To do that:

  1. Sort the spreadsheet by Last Name or Business Name.
  2. Identify duplicates.
  3. Consolidate information from duplicates into one row.
  4. Delete the other duplicate rows.

Now, you’re ready to sort and filter these records using Excel tools, to discover the most significant characteristics of your current subscriber base. But what if you don’t have any data on these customers other than their mailing address – maybe even just their email address? We address that next.

How to Find More Information About Your Customers

Here are three ways to get the information you need to understand who your customers are:

  • Look it Up. Google your customer and look at Facebook, LinkedIn or White Pages to get limited information on age and family situation, or go to a business website to get the number of employees and type of operations. While cheap in terms of money this is, unfortunately, an extremely time-consuming way to gather information. This is perfect for a small data set or perhaps an internship project.
  • Send a Survey. Survey Monkey is an easy, free tool to create a customer survey. There are many ways to use Survey Monkey, but in this case, a quick “we want to know more about you!” survey to customers for whom you have email addresses would be the cheapest and fastest way to get important demographic data. (See our Customer Survey’s Done Right article for more information on creating surveys and survey tools.)
  • Money Well Spent: If you have $1-3 per customer to spend, consider adding to your own customer data with details from an information firm such as Dun & Bradstreet (if you sell to businesses) or Acxiom (if you sell to individuals). This is the fastest and most accurate way to learn important details about your markets that will help direct your marketing efforts and understanding of who your best – and most at-risk – customers are.

Examples of Information Available from Information Services 

Location Complete address, HQ or branch location, website and email addresses. Home and email addresses.

Demographics Line of business. Age, race, sex, education levels, income, political and religious affiliations.

Buying activity Prior purchases (amount, type, date). Prior purchases (amount, type, date).

Events New location, move, bankruptcy, merger. Move, death, childbirth, divorce.

Prospects You can also obtain lists of prospects that look like your existing subscribers, to help you drive new business.

Tip:  Don’t forget to track acquisition sources for use in your segmentation. For example: Keep track of whether a subscription was bought as a gift! This information is very valuable – you can market not only to the gift-giver market but also to the gift-receiver market. So you may market your fantasy football league to men aged 18-34, but also to women of those ages (or about 25 years older, with sons) to give as a gift.

Market segmentation is critical for understanding how your business, your programs, your products are working. It doesn’t take a big budget and it doesn’t require a PHD. It does require that you start and the best companies figure out what they want to track and monitor changes over time. They key thing is, to get started!

Building Customer-Focused Products: Why Do Market Research?

Building Customer-Focused Products: An Insider’s Guide to Market Research

Building Customer-Focused Products: An Insider’s Guide to Market Research, is a series compiled by product owners with decades of experience in creating and launching successful subscription products. The series is full of specific tips, checklists, examples and tools as well as best practices and foundational knowledge that will help you select the suppliers that are the right fit for your business.

This series is written with the beginner in mind. The content is explanatory and foundational, designed to give someone new to product leadership the practical tools necessary to build a product in a timely and efficient manner. 

Building Customer-Focused Products: Why Do Market Research?

What you think you know about your customers, opportunities and markets is actually about 80% correct. The 20% “market knowledge gap” is typically based on history, beliefs, and experience. The biggest mistake we observe is not validating assumptions. There are things we simple don’t know and trends we can’t keep up with. We may be so busy serving our customers that we haven’t been watching the market. Even the most experienced among us need to validate assumptions, trends, and past research to inform current decision making. So why do market research?

  • Convince Outsiders. Your boss trusts you. Your teams trust you. Your investors, the board of directors and others trust you. But, they’re still going to want facts to prove out your assumptions and support your recommendations.
  • Justify Expenditures. Whether it’s for Kickstarter, your bank or an IPO – investors will require a business plan that includes details about the customers, the market, and potential revenue. 
  • Create a Common Understanding. Not everybody on your team has the same experience and world view. Market research creates a common set of facts and priorities from which everyone can work.
  • Prioritize Options. Leverage market research to help your subscription business prioritize important projects and decisions. Ranking opportunities based on data such as market size and other facts provide clear comparisons versus the opinions of you or your team is critical to making food, informed decisions.
  • Reduce Emotional Decision-Making. Reduce the “but all our customers want that product feature” dialogue by using proof points to avoid wasting time on opinion-focused debates.
  • Create Effective Marketing. Every customer is different, but with research, you know how to optimize your marketing dollars.
  • Improve Forecasting. Knowing key metrics like average time-to-sale, order value and lifetime customer value are critical to forecasting.
  • Communicate the Risks. Establish your credibility with your team, your board, your investors by understanding and communicating the fact-based risks involved in your plan. All key stake holders will then understand and be involved in making the right go-forward, or don’t go-forward, decision, based on those risks.

Components of Good Market Research: The Four “Cs”

Sometimes we spend a lot of time and money on research, only to find out it doesn’t tell us anything we can use. How can we avoid performing research – and a creating new product – that’s broken from the start? A good foundation is the four “Cs”:

  • Context. Understand what benchmarks are appropriate for your specific market. For example, it MAY be that your conversion or renewal rates are different than broad industry averages but for your specific vertical and focus they are perfectly fine. Another example is a survey tool called NPR, which stands for Net Promoter ScoreÒ, and is a method for surveying customers to understand their satisfaction with your business. A perfectly good score for one type of business could mean an issue for another. 
  • Comparison Over Time. Measuring key performance indicators over time is the best way to understand whether your subscription business is meeting the market’s needs.
  • Clarity. Clear market-research goals will help us create clear questions. For example, do you really need to know how good your customer service is or would “what percentage of the time does our customer service team satisfactorily answer our customer’s questions?” be more insightful.
  • Credibility. When using online data sources, use the most credible source you can find with the time and budget you have. The U.S. Census Bureau and Small Business Administration are obvious examples, but there are also specialized and authoritative services available. The most credible sources are those that offer recently updated data, those that offer results of original research and those that cite the population surveyed and give a margin of error.

Bringing Strategic Leadership to Market Research

Understanding WHY we do research, and WHAT it takes to do solid research, are two of the three preparations for good market research. The third? Fitting market research into your own company goals, budgets, and timelines.

Many companies, both small and large, perform formal strategic-planning sessions every year and adjust action plans by quarter based on ongoing results and market pressures. These strategic plans are generally focused on budgeting and understanding how the strategic objectives for the new year will be supported by product, technology, marketing, and sales. Often, all this strategic and planning work goes by the wayside once the planning is done. Often times, the plans are too optimistic (too many “Tier 1′ priorities. More often than not, the research that supported the strategic plan was executed in a way that was not truly objective or didn’t support the strategic vision. This results in poor performance in some way or another. Don’t let this happen to you.

  • Keep it Legitimate. Don’t engage in or encourage biased research. Do we really want to knowingly deceive our company into building a subscription nobody wants? 
  • Align Effort with Options. Don’t do full-on market research into opportunities you can’t fund or concepts you won’t build. Establish a few easy criteria an opportunity should meet to qualify for a deeper look.
  • Align Effort with Strategic Goals. It’s your job to tie all work back to the strategic mission and vision of your company, and most of us do that in our heads. It’s very important to spell out how the results of the research will help drive direction.
  • Align Effort with Expectations. You can do a market sizing or competitive analysis in a half a day, or half a year. You can use blunt, basic tools or highly sophisticated systems. Which one is right? The one that gets you just to the result you need, and not a minute more. If you’re going to need the name of a high-profile market research firm stamped on the PowerPoint in order to give your results credibility – to make them actionable – then either spend the money or walk away. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a small business loan, Kickstarter or an alternative micro-lending alternative, you can probably get away with a couple days tooling around the web and Survey Monkey.

Creating an Unbiased Research Plan

Whatever your method of collecting and analyzing data, it’s important that you:

  • Clarify what it is you’re trying to find out. Be as specific as possible. Know the answer to “what will knowing this answer let us do?” before you begin.
  • Understand the quality of the data you’re using. No data is perfect. If the data is weak, make a note of it and treat the results accordingly.
  • Embrace the fact that data is directional. Market research helps you find broad opportunities, averages, and trends; it will not be an accurate representation of any one subscriber.
  • Learn enough to justify a decision, without wasting time overanalyzing.
  • Accept what the data tells you. The goal is not to manipulate figures into presenting a different picture, but to have the right facts to make the best decision. You may decide to go ahead with a product in spite of data that paints a risky picture, but you’ll look much more credible if we identify and communicate those risks upfront.

Getting Your Product Out the Door: Who Does What in Product Development?

Introduction

Sometimes, the challenges to new product development are as much about internal friction and confusion as they are finding and meeting a market need. Successful product development is a delicate balance of encouraging input and choosing a direction, of creating a collaborative environment while keeping progress on track. Doing this can be difficult when the people involved communicate and process information in different ways, or are unclear about how they are expected to contribute to the effort. As the product owner, it is your responsibility to help clarify the roles and bridge communications gaps to ensure success. And make no mistake – companies that are good at product management will win over companies who aren’t, every time.

Getting Your Product out the Door: Who Does What in Product Development? is the second article in a six-part series compiled by product owners with decades of experience in creating and launching successful subscription products. The series is full of specific tips, checklists, examples and tools as well as best practices and foundational knowledge that will help you clarify the roles within your

This series is written with the beginner in mind. The content is explanatory and foundational, designed to give someone new to product leadership the practical tools necessary to help an engineering team build the product in a timely and efficient manner. 

Getting Your Product out the Door: Product Development Basics

Who Is the Product Owner?

While product decisions are sometimes made directly by the CEO, or shared between sales, technical engineers and editorial or operations teams, most high-growth organizations increase effectiveness by establishing a function specifically responsible for it – a product management team. 

Sometimes this function is split between a product marketing manager (who assesses the market need through interaction with customers, sales and other outward-facing stakeholders) and a product owner (who takes the broad market mandate and works with the technical engineers to deliver a product that meets the need). Even when the role is performed by a single person, you may hear “product manager,” “product leader” or other title used to describe the role. For the purposes of this article, the term “product owner” will be used.

The product owner is often responsible for analyzing market conditions and defining features or functions of a product in response to those conditions. The role of product management spans many activities from strategic to tactical and varies based on the organizational structure of the company. To maximize the impact and benefits to an organization, Product management must be an independent function, separate from sales, editorial or IT.

Product Owner versus Product Manager

You will often hear “product owner” and “product manager” used interchangeably, and in many organizations it’s correct to do so. But, strictly speaking, there is a difference.

The “product owner” is used specifically in Scrum (the framework of Agile product development, discussed further in our third article in the series: Working with IT) to describe the individual accountable for maximizing the value of a product by identifying, describing and prioritizing new features.

The “product manager” role existed prior to Agile/Scrum, and most generally refers to the person who represents the target market of the product during the development process, and is the person who defines overall product development direction as well as ensuring tactical delivery milestones are met. For our purposes, the two roles are conflated in order to provide a broad overview of the responsibilities that may apply in your organization.

Common Responsibilities of the Product Owner

  1. Represents the market within the company. The product owner gathers information about the market from many sources including your own customer service and sales teams, online behavior or product-use patterns, industry journals, regulatory and legislative events and of course the market itself.
  2. Understands the competitive environment. As a result of this research and investigation of other companies who seek to meet the need, you are the one who knows what motivates a customer to subscribe to your product, what alternatives they have and how your product is better (and not as good).
  3. Creates the justification to move forward. Working with finance and engineering, the product owner sizes the market opportunity for a product as well the expenses to build it, to provide a justification for senior leadership to move ahead. Defending the forecast and working to get resources is one of the most critical activities of a product owner.
  4. Defines the “what.” The product owner describes what the product should do through the creation of business requirements, epics, user stories or other method of detailing the “what is to be built.” The engineering team will be responsible for figuring out the “how,” including the technical platform on which the product will be built, and integrating the product with other software, databases or applications. Defining the “what” also includes prioritizing which features are built first, and when a group of features is worthy of a formal announcement to the market, or is rolled out without fanfare as a “software update.”
  5. Brings the teams together. The product owner ensures that team members’ ideas are heard and their activities coordinated to ensure timely product delivery and successful launch. For example, the product owner will ensure that marketing materials and sales campaigns are ready to go while the product is in its final stages of development, and make sure that sales gets a chance to offer its ideas on what customers want. Even when there is a project manager keeping track of the schedule, it’s still the product owner’s responsibility to help move everything along.

Product management is, in many ways, an inter-disciplinary role, bridging gaps within the company between teams of different expertise, especially between engineering/IT teams and Sales and Marketing. Sometimes it’s even called the “mini-CEO” role, as successful product owners must listen carefully to many constituencies, leverage what they learn to create a clear vision of the future product, and effectively lead a team to deliver it. 

Why is Product Ownership Important?

Your organization may have never had product owners as such. You may have had Publishers, or Editorial Directors focused on your subscription content, leaving the “technical stuff” to the IT team. If you’re a newer business, your entire org structure may still be evolving, or you may have been small enough that you didn’t need a product owner – everyone worked on everything together.

However, as a business grows, functional units are formed and the company is just too big for every good mind to be involved in making every business decision. A product management team both clarifies what the market wants and speeds up the delivery of that solution. When you create a product management team, you free up sales, marketing and engineering to focus on what they do best while still ensuring that their expertise is tapped to create the best possible product.

Product ownership is important to improve customer focus, build awareness to competitive threats and get products out the door faster (to bring sales in the door faster). Unfortunately, the titles and terminology that surround product management aren’t uniform from company to company, causing both confusion and friction among teams. Even in established businesses, roles change as teams grow and individuals begin to specialize in one or another part of the product management spectrum of activities. So, clarifying roles is crucial to effective new product development. 

Clarifying the Roles

How can you clarify roles? The process itself is simple, and can be accomplished in four steps:

  1. Identify the actions to be taken in your product development process.
  2. List the people/functional roles involved.
  3. Match actions to people, detailing the level of responsibility each has for completing the action.
  4. Communicate the results clearly and consistently throughout the organization.

Matching individuals to responsibilities in this straightforward way creates the clarity that all team members need to understand and execute on product development, so performing this step is critical to successful product creation going forward. Thinking through each step is a strategic exercise, completed by the executive leadership of your business.

RACI Chart

The easiest way to illustrate the breakout of roles and responsibilities is by creating a responsibility matrix, or “RACI Chart.” While you can use the RACI chart shown later in this chapter as a model, you can also create your own unique categories on your own, in Excel or via software such as Edrawsoft. Following are the designations to be used on a RACI Chart:

R = RESPONSIBLE. This is the person (or people) who actually complete the task. The degree of responsibility this person has is determined by the Approver. 

A = APPROVES or ACCOUNTABLE. The accountable person is ultimately answerable for the activity, deliverable or decision. This includes “yes” or “no” authority and veto power. Sometimes this person is referred to as the Decider. Only one “A” can be assigned to an action – this rule is the one most frequently broken in the RACI method, but the most critical to adhere to.

C = CONSULTED. These are subject matter experts (SMEs) who provide some type of specific insight or opinion in the product development process. Input from the designated position is required.

I = INFORMED. These may be people who will carry out specific activities pertinent to the product rollout, and must be informed after a decision or action is taken. While this is, strictly speaking, a one-way communication, listening for signs of uncertainty, stress or disagreement from those Informed is only logical.

Sample Roles

Again, as long as there’s clarity, “who does what” can be assigned in any way you feel is logical for your organization. That said, the following example of a RACI chart for a subscription business is a good place to start if you’re looking for some guidance:

While there are no right or wrong functional areas or actions in a product development workflow, there are some guidelines to assigning the roles via a RACI document that help to create a clear, effective process:

  • Use “action verbs” to create Actions above, such as: Write, Test, Schedule, Identify, Quantify, Monitor, Collect, Conduct, Code, Train, Publish.
  • Assign only one “Approver” to each action/decision. If it seems critical to get multiple approvals on an action, break it into parts (e.g., “Gain Marketing-level approval on business requirements.” AND “Get IT approval on business requirements.”)
  • Push decision-making authority as far down into the organization as possible. You can also push decisions farther down over time.
  • Many individuals or functional areas may be indicated as Responsible in the RACI Chart; often many contribute something to a deliverable. Make sure each person with an “R” next to their name knows exactly what it is they’re responsible for.
  • Add an asterisk to the Responsible person who will be coordinating the elements of the deliverable. For example, if Joe in Marketing is working on the brochure for the new product and Laura from Sales is helping out with some customer quotes, put an asterisk by Joe’s name if he’s the one who will actually prompt Laura for her deliverables and deliver the completed brochure.
  • Review the RACI Chart with the team at the outset of the project to make sure there are no questions.

Insight: The steps are easy to execute, but sometimes difficult to communicate. You may discover that team members expect more – or less – decision authority than they actually have, and that there will be surprises, and a need for discussion. Some team members mistake role clarity for an excuse to say “that’s not my job” or assume because they are the Approver that it’s appropriate to make unilateral decisions without getting the input of the group. Neither are true, but in order for product development to proceed smoothly, the team must be clear on who does what. In other words, the more difficult you anticipate this conversation will be, the more necessary it is. 

Pitfalls to Avoid

While it’s important to focus on the positive behaviors above, it is equally important to identify and remedy the warning signs that the product development effort is headed for disaster. The following scenarios should be red flags that you resolve as quickly as possible after you realize they’re occurring, or that they’re part of “business as usual” processes within your teams:

  • The team isn’t clear why they’re building the product or why someone would want it.
  • The entire project is already laid out in great detail before any engineering work begins.
  • Sign-off from all teams is required before work even starts.
  • Engineers don’t know when requirements have been updated.
  • Engineers (or other team members) don’t participate in the product development process or, worse, allow you to request something that could be more easily accomplished if executed a different way – i.e., creating “gotcha” code.
  • The product owner writes requirements without the participation of the team.
  • The product owner will not prioritize features and functionality, but rather insists that “everything in the requirements is a top priority.”

As the product owner, you “own” most of the decisions about what the product will look like, the features it will have and how and when it will launch. What’s important is that you remember that you’re speaking for the customer, not yourself, and that your team members have an advisory role because they have something to add. Make sure you get the best product you can be leveraging teamwork in the following ways:

  • Bring developers in to customer interviews.
  • Meet regularly with customer service to understand what is frustrating customers today. 
  • Attribute features and other good ideas to the person who brought them to the table; share credit liberally!
  • Ask the developers their opinions on how best to create an online workflow. What are the best practices for forgotten password resets? How about customer feedback? 
  • When you work together throughout the process, you’ll find that your written requirements, wireframes and other documentation can be less detailed, and that development goes faster and launches smoother because everyone is invested around a common goal.

Why Is Product Development So Challenging?

Clarifying roles in the product development process is a critical step to eliminate roadblocks to success. But it’s only a first step. Because product development is not only a company-wide effort, but also a company-wide dependency, the stakes are high. The good news is that most product development pitfalls are widely recognized, and can be mitigated with awareness and planning.

Summary: 

Product development requires an understanding and awareness of every function of the business. You need to know the motivations, responsibilities and communication preferences of creative, quantitative, analytical and emotional individuals and cultures, and must mix them together against a looming deadline played out in a public spotlight. Product development is not for the faint of heart!

But still – relax. If you plan ahead, ask for and reward input, and communicate clearly, you can do this. Keep in mind that the roles of product owner, product marketer and product marketing manager can, in practice, be performed differently from company to company. There is no absolutely correct methodology, so use what works best in your own environment. If there’s a system already in place in your company, ask specific questions until you clearly understand what you should expect of others, and to do yourself.

Defining team member roles can seem time-consuming and pointless (“we all know what we’re supposed to do”). Then, you realize too late that teams are working at cross purposes and that nobody has de-bugged the product because the person you thought was doing it says “that’s not my job.”

So, spend enough time on role definition to enable success. Use these tools to help your team work more quickly, and to better effect. The time you devote to this clarification will give you the focus you need to bring the team together around your solutions.

Getting Your Product Out the Door: What is Product Development?

This first article of our series Getting Your Product Out the Door: Product Development Basicsoffers a look at the history of subscription product development, defines the role of product owner and its importance to the organization and details the elements of new product development.

Introduction

The products we build are our reason for being. We build them to offer subscribers something they need or want, that we love to provide. But while the inspiration for creating a new product is all around us, the mechanics of defining, developing and launching that product are both complex and daunting. And if you’re new to product development, either as a result of just beginning in the profession or being a startup where you’re doing it all, it’s hard to know where to begin! Except to know that you’d better, or your competitors will.

Getting Your Product Out the Door: What is Product Development? is our first in a six-part series of articles compiled by product owners with decades of experience in creating and launching successful subscription products. The series is full of specific tips, examples, and tools as well as best practices and foundational knowledge that will help you kickstart your new product development process, and provide you with a solid grounding in the fundamentals of the craft.

Getting Your Product Out the Door: Product Development Basics

How Subscription Product Development Has Evolved

Magazine and newspaper publication has its roots in the pamphlets, broadsides, and almanacs that “mass” printing technology made possible in the 17th and 18th centuries, with The Boston News-Letter being the first official newspaper published in the U.S., in 1704.[1] Both advertising and subscription revenue were part of these enterprises from their earliest inception.

Print media products proliferated throughout the 19th century, and the subscription model more formally splintered into three sub-models: paid (those who received the periodical paid for it), unpaid (distributed for free) and controlled (free distribution to a select audience, such as doctors or lawyers).

It was just 30 years ago, in 1986, that the Academic American Encyclopedia was published on CD-ROM; the first reference publication to be so. It’s hard to imagine; the CD-ROM was new technology in many of our lifetimes! And yet, this technology – and others following quickly on its heels – began blurring the line between publication dates and backlists, throwing the expected norms of “subscription” into turmoil. Instead of reports, magazines or newspapers, many subscription-business product owners began to think in terms of databases, custom compilations and tiered content access.

By the 1990’s, major newspapers were experimenting with online versions on the World Wide Web and, a decade after that, “born-digital” news such as TechCrunchHuffington Post, and Mashable began to compete with those same traditional news sources and product decisions around what would sit in front of or behind the paywall were make-or-break for product owners, the question of “freemium” content was pervasive as was the question of how to handle user-generated content.

Publications were no longer primarily, or sometimes even secondarily, paper-based products. While there have been technical aspects to publishing since the printing press was invented, they were largely handled by the production shop, and the “product” team was represented by the Editorial and Business, or Advertising Sales, teams. The “product manager” didn’t exist. But as technology increasingly defined not just the delivery mechanism of the product (print, CD, computer terminal, online or in-app) but became the product itself, the need for product management grew, and the process of new product development changed radically in just a few years.

Today, subscription businesses are being challenged to expand product lines to actively engage subscribers through real-time surveys and comment capabilities, to maintain and offer not only data-based content but distillations in the form of raw data -and even the metadata about authors, readership and positive and negative response to articles. The ability to easily share works has challenged copyright and trademark boundaries and the concept of a periodical – versus real-time, 24-hour a day, multi-media, dynamic content streams – is being challenged and changed.

A far cry from the CD-ROM era, much less Gutenberg’s printing press.

And what’s next? Book Soundtracks? A shift from copyright to economic rights enforcement? Or possibly a more aggressive face-off between publishers and their subscribers on ad blocking? Each of these is rising in urgency now, so it’s likely that the answer is “all three.” Add to that the explosion of innovations in the subscription-box business, and the subscription space is dynamic indeed.

Whether your product is the abstracting of scientific research, a periodical for astronomy buffs, or a science experiment-of-the-month box, the content you deliver is often only as good as the user experience through which you deliver it.

What did this evolution do to give rise to the need for Product Development in the subscription industry? While the goal of this handbook isn’t to offer product ideas for you to develop, the changes wrought by recent history are the foundations of today’s modern product development, and the expansion beyond editorial, business and production teams to a hybrid including data analysts, technology engineers and “the product owner.” As we move ahead, it will be on these aspects of product development that we’ll focus.

Who is Responsible for Product Development?

Product development is a fairly straightforward activity. For the purposes of this handbook, “product development” is defined as the process of responding to a lucrative market need by delineating, building and launching into the marketplace a solution to meet that need. Deceptively simple, the successful performance of this activity will make or break your business.

While the definition of product development is simple, determining who’s responsible for making it happen can be answered in many different ways, depending on the size and structure, experience, products offered and culture of an organization. While there is no right or wrong answer, the answer itself should be clear, with responsibilities clearly defined throughout your organization.

So, who actually leads product development?

The Product Owner

While product decisions are sometimes made directly by the CEO or shared between sales, technical engineers, and editorial or operations teams, most high-growth organizations increase effectiveness by establishing a function specifically responsible for it – a product management team.

Sometimes this role is split between a product marketing manager (who assesses the market need through interaction with customers, sales, and other outward-facing stakeholders) and a product owner (who takes the broad market mandate and works with the technical engineers to deliver a product that meets the need). Even when the role is performed by a single person, you may hear “product manager,” “product leader” or other title used to describe the role. For the purposes of this handbook, the term “product owner” will be used.

The product owner is often responsible for analyzing market conditions and defining features or functions of a product in response to those conditions. The role of product management spans many activities from strategic to tactical and varies based on the organizational structure of the company. To maximize the impact and benefits to an organization, Product management must be an independent function, separate from sales, editorial or IT.

Product management is, in many ways, an inter-disciplinary role, bridging gaps within the company between teams of different expertise, especially between engineering/IT teams and Sales and Marketing. Sometimes it’s even called the “mini-CEO role,” as successful product owners must listen carefully to many constituencies, leverage what they learn to create a clear vision of the future product, and effectively lead a team to deliver it.

Why Is Product Ownership Important?

Your organization may have never had product owners as such. You may have had Publishers, or Editorial Directors focused on your subscription content, leaving the “technical stuff” to the IT team. If you’re a newer business, your entire org structure may still be evolving, or you may have been small enough that you didn’t need a product owner – everyone worked on everything together.

However, as a business grows, functional units are formed and the company is just too big for every good mind to be involved in making every business decision. You will find that a group dedicated to gathering the input of experts inside and outside your business, synthesizing it into a clear set of product requirements and working with the functional teams to deliver it will create efficiencies as well as market expertise that will allow your business to keep up with your opportunities.

Why Is Product Development So Challenging?

Clarifying roles in the product development process is a critical step to eliminate roadblocks to success. But it’s only a first step. Because product development is not only a company-wide effort but also a company-wide dependency, the stakes are high. The good news is that most product development pitfalls are widely recognized, and can be mitigated with awareness and planning.

Stages of Product Development and the Tools Used to Succeed

There is no right way to organize the work and create the documentation necessary to deliver a good product. Some organizations opt for very detailed business requirements, others have done away with them altogether in favor of user stories and wireframes. The critical point is to have a process and use it so that you and your teams aren’t bogged down by confusion over who does what, and what it is that’s supposed to actually be done.

These are:

Customer Persona

The customer persona is a generalized description of your ideal customer. It brings your market research and customer knowledge to life in the form of a story that includes all the meaningful information about the overall market and why they want your product.

Ideally, you’ve already created a set of customer personas from which you can choose to illustrate the overall motivations of the market you’re building this product for.

Project Plan

The project plan is what keeps your project on schedule, and makes sure everyone knows who is responsible for what, and when it’s due. It can take the form of a Gantt chart and task list built with the help of an app such as Zoho (which has a free, one-project option I would recommend to anyone who wants an easy tool to manage a project), or as simple as an Excel spreadsheet (here is a template you can use or even a paper list. Whatever form it takes, it should include milestones (when the technical programming should be complete, when content for the first issue must be finished, when the direct marketing campaign will begin, etc).

Statement of Strategic Fit

A statement of strategic fit is a short explanation of how this product fits into the overall vision of your company. Short and to the point, this statement provides context to the team so they understand how the work they’re embarking on fits into the greater direction of the business.

User Themes, Epics, and Stories

While this part of the product owner’s job can seem daunting, it’s really about writing down what the customer wants, from the customer’s point of view. Themes, epics, and stories are very similar to the building blocks of any article – they represent the subject, the lead and the details. All three are usually referred to as “User Stories.”

Use Cases and Business Requirements

Use cases are similar to user stories, in that they describe a process that a subscriber does. Business requirements may take use cases a step further by providing a specific workflow solution or functional direction for the engineering team.

Wireframes

Wireframes are a representation of what you want the product to look like, from the perspective of the customer – similar to storyboards used in movie production. While most closely associated with website creation, wireframes are useful in any type of technical product development.

Minimum Viable Product

If you’re developing a completely new product, it’s good to determine what the least amount of features you can put into the product in order to launch it and make it attractive enough that you can learn how to continue forward. This “bare bones” scenario is called the “minimum viable product.”

Product Testing/Acceptance Testing

In many technical product development methods, testing happens throughout the process, and is performed by many different people to ensure all facets of the product are working as they should.

68% product development executives indicate they have too many projects for their resources.  Product Development and Management Association

Launch Plan

This is the step all your hard work has been leading up to, putting the product in your customer’s hands. The launch plan is your roadmap to building market awareness of your new product while also making sure your organization is ready to promote, sell and support the product. The launch plan will detail the steps of your public relations, marketing, training efforts, and should begin almost as soon as your product development initiative gets approved.

Summary:

Product development is a relatively new organizational function and profession, yet it has risen to mission-critical status in its few decades of existence. While the elements of the development process can be tailored to meet your organization’s unique needs and strengths, incorporating the function and process is foundational to future success.

Customer Service: The Basics

A Brief History of Customer Service

There was a time when customer service wasn’t so complex. The first known customer complaint was recorded in 1750 BC and involved a dispute over the quality of copper ingots and the subsequent indifference of the offender. Customer service as we know it today originated in the industrial revolution. With the advent of mass production, railroad expansion, Rural Free Delivery (mail) and the lowering of postage rates for catalogs to one cent per pound – the time was right for mail-order merchandise, made famous by Sears-Roebuck’s catalogs, and telephone order-taking and support. As telephone use expanded greatly in the early 20th century, customer service “operators” became a must-have for businesses. Customer service had evolved from the personal one-on-one experience of shopkeepers to assisting someone the customer service representative would likely never meet. 

Since those early days, we’ve seen customer service evolve as it has leveraged new technologies, processes, and tools. From the Money-Back Guarantee (first offered in 1868), phone support (after Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone in 1876), Interactive Voice Response (the automated attendant customers love to hate was invented in the 1980’s), email and the web (invented years prior, became popular in the 1990’s) – to newer customer service tools and tactics such as CRM (mid-1990’s), Live Chat (late 1990’s), Off-shore Outsourcing (late 1990’s), Online Help Desks (mid-2000’s) and Social Media (Twitter was first used to respond to customers in 2006). The sophisticated analytics, surveys, video chat, mobile interaction capabilities and more available today continue to expand the options for how to interact with your customers. Yet these new technologies have brought higher customer expectations. 31% of Millennials expect a response to a social media inquiry within 30 minutes, and will leave a company after just one bad experience. This is the brave new world for customer service!

What Does “Customer Service” Include?

As the trends described above hint at, one of the biggest changes to the practice of customer service is its overall scope. Today, customer service begins before you even know someone might want to subscribe, and continues through their cancellation and beyond. It encompasses not just the interaction itself but also the speed and number of updates involved. Resolution must be not only speedy, but pleasant and sincere. Customer service should be given consideration in all product development, marketing and pricing decisions, and the department should be asked to provide statistical as well as qualitative insight on the types of questions coming from subscribers. The facets of your customer service efforts include:

INTERACTION: Speaking or typing with a customer in a positive manner that makes them feel valued, listening intently to pinpoint true issues and remaining patient, pleasant and professional with even the most trying customer.

INFORMATION: Communicating information that will help customers use your products fully, understand service gaps and be ready for changes as your product evolves. Examples include answering questions about pricing, online user tools and delivery failures/downtime and explaining the features and benefits of various packages. “Providing information” also refers to the internal communications of customers’ needs, frustrations and fears to help continually build better products.

FACILITATION: Solving problems. Whether performing ID/password resets or walking through the registration process, solving problems is a foundational role of customer service. 

REIMBURSEMENT: Particularly when solving problems or providing refunds or retractions, customer service should be performed with as few internal handoffs and delays as possible, with regular updates as decisions are being made. You should have clear policies and processes for different types of issues as well, including technical issues, complaints, refund requests, questions about auto-renewals and escalating upset customers. Make sure whoever is in the lead for customer service at your company has clear instructions and have practiced difficult requests and situations that map to your expectations on how to manage a subscriber.

Why is Customer Service Strategy Important?

Customer service is the front facing team of your business to your customers, even more so than the executives or other “personalities” your business may or may not have. This is the team your subscribers call when in need. This is the team that potential customers will call with questions. This is most often the first touch for media or partnership inquiries. This team may the first line of technical issues or even up-sell offers. Beyond all that, why is customer service strategy so important? Here are our 6 key answers:

  1. LOYALTY: Thinking through the experience of your customers and how your customer service leads the way in that experience will not only create customer loyalty but advocacy. According to Gartner, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020. Today, 64% of people say the customer experience is more important than price in their choice of a brand. 
  2. EFFICIENCY:  Mapping the customer service process of who is responding, how they are responding (phone, social media, call), the timing of the responses (ASAP, one hour, one day), and issue escalation creates operational efficiencies. Thinking through how to handle a billing dispute or even a refund, so that the front-line customer service reps can resolve as many issues as possible without requiring multiple approval layers will save hours of time at all levels of your organization. 
  3. CRISIS MANAGEMENT: Related to above, like a fire drill, knowing how and where to escalate major issues will result in better and faster resolutions. Clear, consistent and good communications between a customer service rep, management and teams on a situation will help your company avoid an issue getting out-of-hand. We all know of issues where a poorly handled issue has resulted in a social media firestorm.
  4. UNITY: As with any clear and well-thought policy, good Customer service principles send an internal as well as external message of company commitment and brand awareness.
  5. IDEA FUNNEL: A great customer service team and process is a source of product enhancement and new product ideas. What you think is a product improvement, perhaps even one that justifies a higher subscription price, may not interest your customers at all. Leveraging the knowledge gathered in Customer service allows you to deliver the product enhancements customer really want.
  6. COMPETITIVE INTEL: Good Customer service creates authentic rapport with customers, which leads to honest discussions of your strengths and weaknesses compared to your competition. Solid back-office data integration quantifies these comments to help identify areas to improve your subscription offering, or points of differentiation to tout in marketing materials.

Key Trends in Customer Service

So, what is happening in Customer service in 2016? As you begin to formulate the customer service plan for your subscription or membership business, there are five key trends to keep in mind: 

1. Expected Speed of Response

As noted earlier, customers now expect responses in minutes, not hours – and certainly not days. This doesn’t mean that the resolution is expected in that short period of time, but rather an acknowledgment of the customer’s need and a commitment to resolve it promptly. The “Speed of Response” expectation impacts the total number of communications that are necessary more than it does the speed of resolution. (PS: You should track and measure this!)

2. Expected Knowledge of the Customer

In the days of personal interaction and small local shops, both customer and shopkeeper knew each other. Guess what? Even though your company doesn’t personally know each and every customer, your customer expects you to know about them. Your customers are experiencing this level of service from others, and they expect it from you. No, they don’t expect you to know (or want you to know) their personal info-only the info related to them and your business. Make sure you have their history and other information about them ready. Leverage technology that helps personalize their user experience and preferences.

3. Number of Inbound Communication Channels 

Nearly 100 years elapsed between the proliferation of the telephone and the rise of email as a tool used in Customer service. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology became available in the early 1980’s. In the past 20 years alone, company-created and crowd-sourced help, remote desktop support, online live-chat, online shipping trackers, and how-to videos have created a massive amount of customer touch points which must be filled with content, tools and feedback loops. The good news here is your customers can reach out to you in a number of ways and you can leverage free or low-cost tools that make information more easily accessible than it was even five years ago.

That proliferation technology cuts both ways, however. In 1983, someone who had a bad customer experience would tell 10 people. Through the explosion of social media, that customer now reaches 1,375 people! Customer service is no longer a one-to-one dialogue with your customer, but a complex stream of communications, reviews and information-sharing activities. Keeping up with the inbound customer questions from all of the various social media channels is challenging enough, but monitoring reviews on Amazon or through affiliate partners can be daunting.

4. Expanded Staffing Options 

The options for staffing your Customer service department are as varied as the communications channels are. Options range from in-house, to outsourced, to even virtual customer service representatives. This allows even a very small organization the ability to offer reasonable access to a live person when help is needed. In addition, IVR technology (both telephonic and text/online) and shipping and workflow tracking software are great equalizers for smaller firms.

5. The Need to Be Proactive 

It’s not enough to be responsive to customer needs when they ask for help. In today’s connected world, customer service needs to implement “outbound” service practices for monitoring review/rating sites and blogs to discover the issues subscribers have that they’re not even telling you about. Companies now leverage teams with titles such as “customer success manager” for onboarding, increasing utilization of services and updating payment information. Leveraging CRM tools to identify emerging problems and having a communication plan ready is now an expectation of the market, not a “nice to have.”

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Making it difficult to find help.  Some subscription businesses offer free trials, with automatic billing that begins at the end of the trial. But when a subscriber tries to unsubscribe, he finds it nearly impossible to complete the process. Links and phone numbers are nowhere to be found, online processes are cumbersome and confusing, and sometimes even require a faxed or mailed request for discontinuance – for an online subscription! Subscribers may cancel for a variety of reasons, only very rarely do they because of disgust with your company or product. Don’t give them a reason to feel this way.
  • Not empowering the team. A customer service team that must continuously request approval to resolve issues causes poor internal morale as well as poor customer service. It also creates a sense of unease with the customer. If company leadership doesn’t trust the person answering the phone to put through a small billing credit, why is that person working there?
  • Assuming you know what customers define as “good service.” Some subscribers are willing to leverage live chat for their questions, others are not. Don’t assume. Ask your customers what “good” means to them.  
  • Over-surveying/Aggressive surveying. On the other hand, popping in a survey every time your subscribers visit your FAQ page, or worse, badgering them for a high mark, will backfire. Asking for input is a delicate balance between caring and harassment.
  • Secrecy. In November 2015, Microsoft announced that, as a result of a few customers vastly overusing its free and unlimited OneDrive service, it would be setting a cap on most accounts and offering paid options for larger storage limits. While these changes take something away from existing customers, the announcement provided reasons, a schedule for the changeover and several other subscription options. Whether we agree with this change or not, the transparency of the decision is admirable.
  • Ignoring “buy” signals. Many Customer service reps choose that career path because while they enjoy dealing with customers, they hate to sell. Many businesses are leery of seemingly hard-sell tactics being used at a time when subscribers are most likely upset with what they’re already buying. While sensitivity and problem resolution is job number one for Customer service, listening for buying signals and offering a product to help resolve a problem is not out of line.
  • Sending them back to the website. Customers call because they want to speak to a person, or email because they want a helpful response. They may not have exhausted all the online help options, or even tried online help, but help is something you offer on your their terms.
  • Not apologizing. You don’t have to agree with a customer’s position to sincerely apologize, nor does an apology imply that you are at fault. Taking responsibility for resolving the customer’s problem begins with empathy, and empathy begins with “I’m sorry.”
  • Arguing with customers. Even if you’re answering extreme rudeness with real facts, arguing with a customer will end only one way: you may win the argument, but you will lose the customer. Most loud or rude customers will lose steam after a few minutes of extreme behavior, if allowed to have their say. It can also be helpful to remember that the extreme point of view the customer has may be the result of fear or disappointment – perhaps they couldn’t access an article needed for an important presentation, or the gift subscription bought for a special loved one wasn’t what was expected. In any case, answering rude with rude is not an option.
  • Rudeness. This seems incredibly self-evident, but 42% of customers leave buying relationships because they are put off by rude or unhelpful staff. Particularly in person and on the phone, rudeness and sarcasm are very easy to detect. Patience and good humor are as important as any skill in a customer service rep.

Summary

So, as we review the tools and practices of Customer service, keep in mind:

  • Know who your customers are. Whether you use a sophisticated CRM system or a handwritten list, make sure everyone in the organization knows who your top customers are.
  • Anticipate common questions and be ready for them. Again, whether in a Business Information (BI) system, or in Excel, keep track of common questions and their answers. Ideally, put this list on your website.
  • Be open, communicate upcoming changes and make it easy for subscribers to get help. Make sure your phone number and an “info@” email address are prominent on your website.
  • Always be calm, empathic and truthful. It can be challenging – and upsetting – to work with very angry subscribers, but keeping your cool will reap benefits no matter what the outcome of the conversation.
  • Plan for various Customer service scenarios. Encourage your teams to bring “what if” customer service questions to team meetings, and discuss how to handle them.
  • Measure your success. At first, just getting a handle on who’s contacting you, how often, and why will be a big effort. As you implement integrated CRM, Call Center and Marketing systems, you can track various metrics by frequency, duration, response times and satisfaction.
  • Share the knowledge you gather throughout your organization. The team meeting, again, is a good place to do this; so is the company intranet. Transparency here works best too – good or bad, let the Customer service team know how they’re doing, and work on continuous improvement.

Establishing a Customer Service Department

A primer for setting up your own customer service department.

The Establishing a Customer Service Department primer below provides you with the details you need to consider in setting up your own customer service department.

Establishing a Customer Service Department

Whether you’re new to running customer service or at a growing company that is just building out a formal customer service department, preparing a customer service plan for your company should start with what you already know. Like any journey, the secret to creating an effective Customer Service department is starting with a compass and a map – and refining as you move forward.

  • Understand What You Need and Want from Customer Service
  • Map External Touchpoints to Your Company
  • Creating Your Customer Service Response Plan
  • Activating Your Customer Service Plan

Understand What You Need and Want from Customer Service

Answer these six questions to understand how you needs and philosophical approach for setting-up your customer service team.

1. How accessible can you be? As a sole proprietor, or even with a small staff, there’s no way you can offer 24-7 response, respond to emails within minutes or always answer the phone. Larger organizations may need to grapple with specific support skill sets, such as technical expertise or subject-matter knowledge, language and time-zone issues. So, before you begin to staff up, ask yourself what service level you can offer to be responsive to customers, produce your product and leave time to sleep?

2. Who are you providing Customer Service to? Most subscription businesses sit in the middle of a complex network of subscribers, gifters/non-user buyers, advertisers, sponsors, and investors. Each of these audiences will need help – often very different kinds of help. And it’s wise to include the press, analysts and agencies in your plan, too. Will they be using all or one particular communications channel that you mapped out earlier?

3. What sorts of issues will your customers have? Some common, subscription-oriented customer-service challenges include:

  • Inability to access subscription/didn’t receive subscription box
  • Billing inconsistencies (double-billed/credit card billed after cancellation)
  • Gift subscription not delivered
  • Forgot ID and/or password
  • Forgot security question
  • Unsure how to comment, share or like an article

4. What is the solution to each of these issues? Having well-thought answers to your most common questions at the ready will save you time and effort when you need it most.

5. How do your subscribers define good service?Many definitions are universal, such as prompt refunds when overbilling occurs, or being treated pleasantly and offered a sincere, “I’m sorry” when problems pop up. But your customers may prefer text messaging to email, live chat to telephone calls or require live help access on the weekend, versus a Monday-through-Friday schedule. Establish a customer service standard that meets the known or estimated needs of your market, and adjust as you come to learn more about them.

6. What automation do you have in place to help? Are you using a live-chat or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system already? Have a contract with a call center? Take an inventory of the response and routing options you have at your disposal today.

Map External Touchpoints to Your Company

We recommend an audit of all touchpoints and identify who is getting in contact with your company, and how they are doing so. Depending on its size, you should revisit this on at least an annual basis. What channels (e.g. phone, email or social media) is the public reaching out to you on, and in what volume? Are there ways your customers will contact you in the future that you need to think through? Are there ways you do NOT want customers contacting you? To help you get started, figure #1 below shows the number of ways and different types of inquiries you should be thinking about as you map this out for your company.

Creating Your Customer Service Response Plan

There is no one right way to set up Customer Service. Budget, scale and volume of your business, industry specific requirements, how your subscribers or members prefer to interact with your business (e.g. online, mobile, social) and even how quickly you need to respond (minutes, hours, days) all determine the best plan and approach specifically for your company.

To create a customer service response plan, take the information you identified on running your customer service function as well as your map of how people are contacting you.

It’s important to note that this plan should be company-wide, not just for your customer service team. Having a company-wide blueprint avoids mishandled customer service inquiries that result in poor customer service and an angry customer or partner, potential lost revenue, or a “helpful” employee unwittingly providing information to an investor, reporter or even customer that you want to keep confidential.

Your company’s customer service response plan will include an availability schedule, issues map, executive issues escalation map, and a repository of reference docs for those who are handling the inquiries, as well as links to any resources such as pricing, policy guidelines and escalation contacts.

1. Identify Common Problems and Their Resolutions

Once you have identified how you want to run your customer service functions and have documented how customers, partners, media and others are reaching out to you, you are ready to create the customer service blueprint for your company.

Essentially what’s needed is a combination of your common questions and answers into a fact sheet that will become the customer service blueprint for everyone in your company.

Think through how quickly you want each touch point ideally handled:

  • Who or what team in your company is the “owner” for following up? For example, who do media inquiries go to and what are your expectations for that follow-up?
  • Who handles questions from potential customers who may subscribe or join your service and how quickly do you expect to get back to them?
  • If a visitor or customer has a technical issue, who does that issue go to, how to you respond to the customer, how to you address or fix that technical issue and ultimately close it out?
  • Is there a difference between the communications channels in the follow-up that you need to plan for? For example, should inbound phone calls be treated differently from email, which are treated differently than social media?
  • Are there ways your customers will contact you in the future that you need to think through?

Your company customer service blueprint also should have links to any resources such as pricing, and include policy guidelines and escalation contacts.

Here is an example of some issues and items that would be included in a customer service company blueprint:

2. List of Executive Issues

In addition to the frequently-asked questions, you should also make a list of those instances when a call should be routed directly to an executive. Depending on the size of your business, this may be the owner or CEO, the legal department or head of PR or investor relations. Some examples of these questions include:

  • Call from a board member or investor
  • Press inquiry
  • Service of subpoena or other legal notice, or contact from an attorney representing a client against your business
  • Accusation of plagiarism, fraud or other illegal activity
  • Threat to personal safety of the customer service representative, other employees, or the company as a whole

3. Availability Schedule

This is a simple spreadsheet of who will cover what media at what times, and how that person can be contacted if a customer inquiry comes in another part of the company. There are certainly tools you can leverage as your team gets bigger, but a simple document outlining who is covering what and when works whether your company is two people, one hundred or more.

We recommend you set up:

  • Who is covering what by inbound channel (e.g., phone, social media or email)
  • What is the expected service level (SL) of that channel (e.g. goal of how fast your response is)
  • Specifications for the types of customers

4. Repository of Materials

Make sure your customer service team has access to the most recent technical specifications, policy guidelines and special offers by centralizing these materials in one place. Whether that includes binders on a shelf, files in Dropbox or a sophisticated Business Information (BI) system, appoint someone on the team to make sure the repository is current and complete.

Activating Your Customer Service Plan – 12 Best Practices

With your customer service plan now in place, make sure your team is following these foundational 12 customer service best practices, if they are not doing so already:

  1. Make sure your website makes it easy for customers to get help. Your help phone number and email should be visible everywhere on your website, invoices and shipping materials if needed.
  2. Be transparent about limited availability, or risk disappointing customers. Communicate hours of operation to manage expectations that you won’t have customer service reps available 24/7.
  3. Set up multiple emails such as “info@” or “helpdesk@” or “media@” other email based on source, issue or destination that delivers right to one (or more if you have a larger team) group inbox, so you can prioritize answering.
  4. Establish an FAQ page with answers to the questions you already know might come up. Make sure your customer service team is pulling from an internal FAQ and answers list so your company is providing consistent answers to questions and saving valuable time.
  5. Make sure calls go straight to voicemail when your offices are closed and set a different greeting. Leveraging a good cloud-based phone system makes this easier.
  6. Set extended-absence email replies when you will be unavailable to respond within a day.
  7. Consider setting an ongoing “extended absence” greeting on your “Help@” or “Info@” email address, with the reply, “Thank you for your message. ABC Subscription will get back to you within 1 business day.”
  8. Invest in a toll-free number for subscribers who might be using a land line.
  9. Expect and plan to answer the phone as many customers still believe it to be the quickest way to get an issue resolved.
  10. Set up automated responses to customers who fill out forms on your website. These are easily set up via most Forms plugins, and ensure that your subscriber knows you’ve received their question.
  11. Establish and maintain a “Do Not Send” list. Failure to respect DNS requests could land you on the bad side of the CAN-SPAM folks, hindering delivery not only of marketing but business emails as well.
  12. Maintain a “bug” log. Log all requests from customers including bug fixes, pricing questions and ideas for enhancement. These are excellent drivers of new product development, pricing and refund policies.