This is not a considered post at all – wait for the proper one on validation :)

As a working mother of two girls, one cat, a dog and 26 fish (long story) – I write, but sometimes it might not have as much thought as one who does not have quite so many responsibilities – the fish are a ‘mare, they are tropical.

This is one such occasion. I want to tie up the iphone story, but it does not sit naturally with my ‘brand’ whatever that may end up being. So I will explain what has happened, with no moral, no value to the story, however perhaps you will be better informed the next time someone says: iphone or N95?

Justin Kerr-Stevens very kindly dug out the number of the Director of Communications for O2, Europe. As soon as I had the details I contacted him, and within minutes received a response. I must admit that I emailed from my FCO account… hmm. Anyway, he responded and by the afternoon I had some chap – sorry Alan Chapman – a very good chap – from O2 customer services, dealing with ‘my case’.

He sorted my iphone, well nearly, it should be working tomorrow sometime (27th March 2008). He sorted the fraud, he accepts that I have not tried to defraud O2. It is all so perfect, well kind of, I am still smarting about the fraud and inconvenience to be honest… and then:

‘Emma, I need to speak to you about your iphone’.

Tentative: ‘Uhuh’

‘I know we have sorted your original complaint of the iphone not working’ … well sort of… ‘ and fraud… ‘um yes, if I were to commit fraud I hope I would be sensible enough to do it to SAVE money…’

‘… well I have just looked at your account and you upgraded two months ago’

Me: ‘Yes, I did, it was due and I made a good saving on the tariff’

‘… thing is, you signed up for 18 months’

Me: ‘Yes I did, it was a good deal and I knew iphone would obviously override that as I was buying one at some point v soon’

‘… thing is, the 18 month tariff you signed up for is now defunct (or equivalent word) because you have chosen an iphone tariff’

Me: ‘Er yes because that is all that was on offer, the one on my Sony was better can I have that one?’

‘… there are three options, and you have chosen the middle one… so we now need you to pay us either – and we are being kind here – the full amount of your original contract… some £400 plus OR… we will be lovely and let you only pay £269’

Me: ‘Right… so the cost of the iphone again?’

‘… yes, because only two months ago we gave you a very expensive phone free, and now you have bought your own’…

Me: ‘Might be an idea to introduce this charge at the point of sale? And you can have the Sony back now…’

‘… did they not tell you? Where did you buy the phone?’

Me: ‘An O2 store, and this telephone call from you is the first I have ever heard about a charge of at least £269 to get my number migrated to my iphone’

‘… I shall go and listen to the recordings of your conversation when you upgraded last’…

Hmmm, OK – do I have to spell it out here? No, you can do the maths… equals me introducing head to wall

I want my iphone… what on earth, and more importantly who on earth do these companies think they are dealing with?

I will blog a far more constructive post about this customer behaviour shortly… but for now? Do NOT buy an iphone unless you are loaded – or want to pay for mine – currently a pile of junk on desk.

I HOPE that by posting here and gathering insight, we will be able to have the iphone and not be fleeced! Hurrah 🙂

This is the last word on customer retention

As a champion of social media I am struggling with the moral dilemma of writing a new post based on the one-to-one conversations I have been having in light of my recent musings. How can I credit you all when you do not want to post your opinions in the comments? Only solution I see is to wrap up my own work and include highlights of what you have all taught me. Everything that you have sent to me has been really useful, thank you. Special thanks to Adam Burr from Logica who has been hugely educational and whom I shall quote extensively.

At the end of my post yesterday, I said that I would tie it all up for you: what I have done so far, benefits measurement and Press Office.

To start with the latter: you need to let them know what is happening, give them lines to take on what you have done with the website.

Benefits measurement: Ben ‘just wikipedia me’ Hammersley (yes I name-dropped, and?…) says that we should be fine with 404 stats. I agree to a point, however, if the technology is OK and we work it well that does not necessarily mean that we have reassured our stakeholders and readers whilst we play online pick-up-sticks. (More on this later).

My suggestion is that you put an error 404 capture on, just to see how you are doing and remedy all 404s as they come in. In addition, you run a customer review on the site, every three to six months. I would use a specialist company to do this. This would enable the e-media team to feel fully confident that the people they are delivering a service for – and the people they are delivering the service to… are happy. Not only feeling confident, they will be able to back it up with real user insight.

How did we get here…

Original post explained the following:

Exec sum – or similar

In researching this subject I spent many hours on the internet looking for the words: keeping your customers when changing url/retention of online customers. Surprisingly, I found nothing that gave any practical advice. Through contacts in Google, in the dark arts of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and in the National Archives, I have found that the answer is:

1. not simple or singular and

2. relies heavily on user input.

The two things that strike fear into the heart of all professional communicators.

In this blog, I have tried to simplify those principles that are imperative to the retention of customers. I have also attempted to provide an action point(ed) list of things to do to complete a diamond, bronze and tin version of customer retention – but would welcome all thoughts… please!

The rest is down to you, your comms team and marketeers.

This blog should also help you avoid time-consuming pitfalls.

Since then I have learned much and have changed my view. The 301 and 410 redirects will do it all for you, but as a business you should reassure your customers through old-fashioned comms. For this you need

  • some kind of reverse linking tool to see who is driving traffic to you
  • analyse that and ensure that the top 150 referrers are well looked after
  • put a page on the site that you can point people to
  • ensure that you are retaining your customers through measures

Now, Ben started an interesting (although offline) argument about the value of being this anal. Adam Burr put it most succinctly:

Why the URLs are changing

The existing URLs are, for the most part, not good at all. They are being changed because they are being improved! Anyone who has been on the fco website and clicked around for even 1 minute will have seen the ugly URLs I am referring to.

Why there should be comms

Because authoritative 3rd party sites such as blahblah.gov.uk are trusted by search engines. If these sites continue to have the old links then they are effectively asserting (with implied authority) that we do indeed have content at that URL. Ben is right that things will work, but an outdated link is still an outdated link. The nuances he is missing are…

  • Some of the outdated links will lead to the “page gone” holding page. This will refer people to site search and TNA, but this is not ideal. It would be better for 3rd party webmasters to provide a link to the next-most-helpful-page on either our website or someone else’s.
  • The 301 redirects shouldn’t be necessary in perpetuity. For one thing, they lead to a slower user experience, particularly if the user in question is in a part of the world that is distant from our servers and not well equipped from a bandwidth point of view. After all this is the FCO site! They also add to the load on the server as the mapping list will be large. It should be possible to monitor the number of 301s being issued and remove the redirects when the frequency of their use reduces to below a set level. The 410s can take up the slack.
  • And finally, it is inelegant and not “joined-up gov” or “partnership” to not inform the third party sites of the redesign and consequently leave the Internet littered with harder to type, harder to remember, non-up-to-date, soon to be obsolete and slower-performing links.

Aside

I accept that partly it depends on one’s philosophy to web URLs. When an organisation publishes a piece of content at a URL, are they really accepting responsibility to respond to requests for that URL in perpetuity? (I accept that PQs are a separate case as Law seems to mandate the answer – but what is the principle that dictates this for every other URL?) I think change is OK as long as there is a good reason and as long as it is properly managed, which is what we are planning to do!

He was not happy with that and continued:

“Gone off on one” a bit trying to understand whether URLs are some kind of perpetual obligation under accepted webmaster etiquette and bet practice

I found this essay which is interesting. It contains an interesting quote:

“Any URL that has ever been exposed to the Internet should live forever: Never let any URL die since doing so means that other sites that link to you will experience linkrot.”

But also quotes the World Wide Web Consortiums standard that a server may return a 410 in which case the requester should remove their link or a 301 in which case they should amend it. So clearly, there is some room for debate as to where the burden of responsibility actually lies or perhaps how it should be shared.

I think that the practical reality is that no-one wants to maintain forever all the 301 redirects for any page that they have ever had on their domain. I feel that there needs to be a statute of limitations whereby once honour has been satisfied they can be withdrawn.

I am afraid that I cannot be any more explicit than this – it is an interesting discussion (for anal people like me). Would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Customer retention: update 3

For this to make sense you do really need to read my last two posts on customer retention… or you can just not and read on here but it might be a bit muddling… quick update:

We know about the 301 and 410 redirects and switching these on permanently is sensible. Hansard and The National Archives (TNA) are being superstars in a) accepting our proposed solution for parliamentary questions that contain answers which link to the current FCO site and b) harvesting the whole of our site before we cut-over – to sit forever behind TNA wall and remain available in perpetuity should any queries arise.

Next question was about the blogs. Obviously we need to keep the stuff that we have and we need to ensure that RSS feed readers will obey 301 and 410 redirects. I am assured that this is the case – relief all round!

So far so simple.

Now it is my turn to tackle the comms. I got hold of a Nedstats report of our top 1000 referrers – but anyone can get this info from Google reverse linking – and:

1. Deleted everything after the first 150 referrers (this was because when I looked, there were so many dupes after the first 150 it was silly)

2. Deleted all search engine referrals (we are handling them with redirects and xml sitemap)

3. De-duped the remaining sites

4. Categorised them into: (a) those that we owned, (b) those that we are associated with (in this case .gov.uk domains) and finally (c) private sector sites such as Expedia etc

5. Stopped to admire beautiful and small list of key referrers

6. Created key messages for each group

Bingo

Now all I have to do is:

  • create a standard by which the success of customer retention can be measured
  • talk to the Press Office about all offline comms/printed matter and assess the size of the task there – do we need to reprint anything?
  • Wrap up all that I have done these last two weeks and precis it, with detail of whom I have spoken to and what we need to do next in each case

I feel strangely inadequate. What started as a dramatic and scary task has broken down into something beautifully simple. I shall update you all at the end of my fortnight.

Update on customer retention

After writing about how to retain customers, I was duly summoned by the FCO (my employers at the time) to put my theory into practice and go ahead to make it happen. I am half way through my fortnight of doing so, but thought it might be useful to update you all with how this translates in reality – with some incredibly brilliant help from Adam Burr from Logica.

Disclaimer: my boss, the wonderful Tracy Green (head of the e-media team in FCO) knows that I share this information, it is within the bounds of public sector knowledge share, and full accreditation is given where it is due.

The FCO web project is Prince 2 certified (I am assured there is a Prince 1 by the fabulous Dave Briggs, but cannot remember what it supposedly did) . Anyone who is either Prince 2 certified, or has worked on a Prince 2 project will realise that there is a requirement for minutising your work – which in this case is rather handy for blogging! My project manager, Darren Roberts from PA Consulting, insisted that I turned my musings into a set of deliverables over two weeks. This helped focus the mind…

In between writing the original blog post and the FCO asking me to make this real, I spoke to a contact in Logica, who could answer the technology questions for me – as it had become obvious that there was a relationship between technology and comms, and the money needed to be spent in one or other area. I learned so much and clarified the problems we were facing as follows:

1. Not annoying those who regularly use the site

2. Retaining the support and authority of key ‘linkers’

3. Checking that all Parliamentary Questions held at The House – containing answers referring to FCO web pages, would continue to point to the relevant information (pretty key)

4. Doing the decent thing with the thousands of people/companies reliant on regular updates from the FCO and associated sites

Adam read through my suggestions and proceeded to talk in a succession of numbers. After two meetings, several emails and a document, I think that I can explain what he suggests we do (from a technology/automated point of view). It is beautifully simple – so simple that I am sure it is the perfect answer.

Bear with me whilst I explain.

Glossary first, before I go on you need to know these two things:

Error 301: this code means that an old url which contains content that has moved, will be discreetly redirected to the new url – however, it sends some silent message to search engines that will ‘accelerate the correction on the search egine indices’ (quote Adam Burr). I suggest that you explore this further off your own bat if you need a full explanation.

Error 410: this a code that works better than a usual 404, because it explains that a page has moved permamently rather than being temporarily out of action. It also enables you to tailor redirects. Once again, this explanation could do with more research, do go off and look it up of your own accord.

Right, now you are ready for the beautifully simple automated solution.

We have identified two problems: Finding:

1. Content that has migrated to a new home on the beautiful new FCO website

2. Content that has not been migrated to a new home on the beautiful new FCO website

There are differing sets of reasons for why we need to ensure that all content is re-findable, but who cares? If we can solve the two redirects – we are winning.

So, the decision that we are musing over most seriously is for:

Problem 1: Content that has migrated – we put an error 301 ‘page moved’ notice on. This will help our readers, and the search engines.

Problem 2: Content that has been archived – we put an error 410 on, giving the reader a splash page with the opportunity to go to the new page and find updated information, go to the new website search page to hunt down what you need, or go to the old page that has been stored in The National Archives (this is a whole other story I am not so sure you readers will want to hear about, but if you do… yell)

How beautifully simple is that?

Now all that is required is a dissemination of the stakeholders, linkers and subscribers, and three tailored messages for each.

I will update you next week on how we handle the comms around this, and the other brilliant stuff that Adam Burr has un-earthed that might be even MORE useful!

Customer retention

Keeping your customers when changing urls

Exec sum – or similar

In researching this subject I spent many hours on the internet looking for the words: keeping your customers when changing url/retention of online customers. Surprisingly, I found nothing that gave any practical advice. Through contacts in Google, in the dark arts of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and in the National Archives, I have found that the answer is:

1. not simple or singular and

2. relies heavily on user input.

The two things that strike fear into the heart of all professional communicators.

In this blog, I have tried to simplify those principles that are imperative to the retention of customers. I have also attempted to provide an action point(ed) list of things to do to complete a diamond, bronze and tin version of customer retention – but would welcome all thoughts… please!

The rest is down to you, your comms team and marketeers.

This blog should also help you avoid time-consuming pitfalls.

Point one: start with your customer behaviour

Any online communicator worth their salt will have sat through hours of customer insight/research – in other words, watching people using your website. This is useful for gleaning individual insights, but also useful for an exercise of this kind.

Our issue is: how are we going to keep our online customers/consumers/users when moving from one url to another?

What becomes blindingly obvious when observing real-life interaction with the web, is the lack of patience vs. loyalty to brand. As this is being written with a public service in mind, I am going to disregard the loyalty to brand. With government there is no choice – except on election day.

So, we have an impatient customer, who is used to coming to a url to get information or interact with the host.

Point two: Assumptions that must be made with the online customer

Increasingly, the online customer is sophisticated in expectation of immediate information/response from the web. To clarify, the person looking for the information provided by your current url has adapted to getting all they need, and if they do not find it with you, they will happily look elsewhere. However, brand loyalty buys you a few precious seconds.

Do not assume that your online reader is going to remain loyal to you regardless, and come back tomorrow. They won’t.

Point three: practical stuff you can do

So, your problem of changing url needs to meet the need of your customer: to get the information they require – immediately, or if your brand is strong enough, within a few clicks that pick up and carry the information scent.

Simple checks you can do

  1. Check all rss feeds (if you have them) – send a personalised message to your rss subscribers giving them warning of the date of migration and new url. This message needs to be personalised, if you have no time/money use a CRM system to manage the message, if you can hire a temp for two days, email them all with a personalised message about how they use your site, and can continue to do so. This will reap benefits in spades.
  2. Use the reverse feeder in search engines to see who is linking to you – most search engines provide this service, just write it into ‘help’ and you will find out what you need to do. Again, private message all people linking to you and warn them of the change, give them the date, the new url and include a message that is personal to them explains how they can benefit from continuing with the link to your service.
  3. Utilise any stakeholder information that you have, speak to the Press Office, everyone in comms, senior management… it is unlikely that the audience you seek to retain is managed through any central database – go on an information drive and gather as much information as you can on key stakeholders. Once again, personalise the message if possible, if not – write an alert that will be read by the audience you are reaching out to, so try to do a ‘catch-all’ communication. Ideally you should micro-manage the stakeholders and if you have any cash, spend it in educating your stakeholders on the importance of retaining the service you are providing. If you are using a third party to manage your migration, see if they can help with this
  4. Possibly the most obvious – but hardest to manage – is to have a permanent redirect on your old url ( SEOs will tell you to do this). OK this will point your impatient reader to the Home page, or deep link (if you have been fastidious in your linkage – more later). Points to remember here:
  • It seems like an easy out – it is, but with consequences
  • This is the first *sigh* that you will get from your reader
  • Have you redirected them to the page they need? If to a generic Home page of the revamped site – unlikely; take some time to walk through a few customer journeys from the old site to new. If you are keeping the old site live but not ‘visible’ the least you can offer your loyal customers is a chance to revisit the pages they use – if you take this option you MUST provide updated instructions on each page to let the reader know how to get this information in the future. (Bear in mind that they will already have sighed at least twice and you are testing their patience – the final instruction on the page needs to be simple, directed and reassuring – or whatever you value as important to your brand).
  • Perhaps you have managed to maintain all redirects to the new location of the information they require (fastidious linking) – in this case fabulous (but in most site rebuilds the information is re-scattered and it is not as simple as replacing one page with another). This is where it gets complicated. The easiest thing to do is to re-direct to the Home page, with explicit instructions on how the new Information Architecture (IA) works, with perhaps a helpful link to the site map. Again, if you are managing this change with cash, give the reader an opportunity to ask you for help – and assure a 24 hour response time (but this is a risk to customer retention, given the 20 seconds or so of attention that you have managed to attract).
  • Social media – blogs/wikis/twitter – easy. Put up a clear message at the end of every blog post, on the Home page of all wikis and Twitter once and leave it up for everyone to see. Be simple in your instruction, remember point one, your reader is not an idiot.
  • Finally – it is imperative that you herald the upcoming move. Banners, flashing text, large text – anything that you can implement on each page of the website that allows regular readers to know that you are moving – helps. This is retention of customers 101, but is often left until the last minute, do it now, even if you don’t know the date of the switch over, communicate the imminent move, and update your customer as you would your line manager.

Offline comms: all printed matter has the old url/we communicate mainly offline/how can we explain to the rest of the dept/business how important this move is?

Herein lies the rub and the reliance and collaboration of your team, be it comms/policy/press etc. Any change of url should carry the same implication as cultural change, or at the very least: change of logo/brand. This is a brand shift and in an ideal world would be supported by the equivalent funds. But in reality that is not the case. So… the only option is to educate.

In most url shifts there is immense interest/pressure on the technical applications – granted is important! However, useless if it sets you back to square one with the customer base that you have established.

It is your collective responsibility to ensure that your customers know what is going on. It is easy enough to highlight changes – through simple headers on pages. If you can, try to ensure that the management applies some time and funds to this education as well as the technology. If this is not possible all is not lost. Refer to the ‘tin’ version of moving urls.

Point four: the conclusion

Tin: this is the very least you can do with little cost and effort

  1. Put a notice on your home page which explains that you are moving, with a link to instructions on how to update bookmarks
  2. Put a redirect in place for three months that has a splash page to explain why the customer is being redirected

Bronze: if you have a bit of cash – do this

  1. Put a notice on your home page which explains that you are moving, with a link to instructions on how to update bookmarks
  2. Put a redirect in place for six months that has a splash page to explain why the customer is being redirected
  3. Complete a reverse linking exercise with all search engines – mass mail each of them with information on what you are doing, why and how they can find you in the future. (Be explicit in your instruction).
  4. Check with key stakeholders, inform them of what you are doing and seek advice on how to retain them and any associated stakeholders. Be humble but firm – and clear on the implications of not keeping SH up-to-date.
  5. Ensure that all printed material is up-to-date with the new url – look to see where you can get some offline awareness of the move – interviews with CEOs etc.

Diamond: If you can spare the expense – do this

  1. Put a notice on your home page which explains that you are moving, with a link to instructions on how to update bookmarks
  2. Put an eternal redirect in place that has a splash page to explain why the customer is being redirected
  3. Complete a reverse linking exercise with all search engines – individually mail each of them with information on what you are doing, why and how they can find you in the future. (Be explicit in your instruction).
  4. Check with key stakeholders, inform them of what you are doing and seek advice on how to retain them and any associated stakeholders. Be humble but firm – and clear on the implications of not keeping SH up-to-date. Keep a record and individually email each stakeholder with detailed information on the move, and provide a communication that they can copy and send on to their contacts.
  5. Establish an offline awareness drive. To be truly diamond, you need to tie all marketing/comms with an emphasis on the new url, and associated blurb on why the re-vamped online service will continue to service the customer need refer back to point 1).
  6. It is always valuable to establish a value of the customer retention/visitors to the site. In the e-comms team. If possible, put up a screen in the e-comms office that tracks visits, preferably breaking this down into repeat custom vs. virgin visitors. Always a good idea to set target/values by this to encourage team enthusiasm. For example, when we hit the first 1m visitors, we all go home early – And such like.

    Do NOT:

    • Waste time trying to retain all of your customers

    Do:

    • Ensure you retain those you value

    Do NOT:

    • Assume your customers do not know how to use the resources available to them on the web

    Do:

    • Educate, inform and make things simple to achieve

    Do NOT:

    • Undervalue your brand – you are providing a service and as such, the responsibility is yours to continue to provide that in accordance with your brand values

    Do:

    • Spend time working out how you can best serve your current customers, and take them with you into your new journey of communication