For Pro Farmer, Using Net Promoter Score Brings Audience Closer

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Towards the end of a Connectiv webinar last month titled The Paywall Shift: Turning Users Into Subscribers, a question was asked of Joe May, marketing director for SIPA member Pro Farmer, the paid content division of Farm Journal: "In the member surveys you send out, what responses most surprised you?"

After his detailed presentation, May could finally laugh. "Answers to a survey are always interesting," he said, letting listeners' imagination wander. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We have such a mix. But some respondents would say the reason they gave us a 9 or 10 was because they like the advice we issue. It made them money. And the detractors would say, 'Your advice is horrible. It lost me money.' Same advice. They're responding to the exact same thing with different scores."

Fortunately, the point of getting that feedback was not a celebration of unity but to be able to act on it before the renewal process kicked in. (For Pro Farmer that's about six weeks prior to expiration.) Before using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) method, May said, the "issue we faced was we didn't know how they feel about us until renewal time. So we didn't know if they were unhappy until they canceled or didn't renew. We wanted to find this out sooner.

"[Our members] were basically wandering the desert alone. Plus trying to save them after they've made a decision is hard. Even if we do save them, it's typically less valuable—because we might have to offer certain concessions."

The Implementation

Pro Farmer partnered with Connectiv member Signet Research for this work. May was complimentary, saying that NPS would be pretty hard to do on your own because although the question asked of members is a simple one, there are many data, tracking and follow-up components needed to make the process effective.

Respondents are simply asked, "On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend Pro Farmer to a colleague or peer if you had the opportunity to do so?" To make it even easier, May said that they embedded the question directly in an email. So no links were needed. Scores of 9-10 signaled Promoters, or loyal enthusiasts; 7-8 are Neutrals, satisfied but vulnerable. And 0-6 are Detractors, unhappy and negative

With NPS implemented prior to the renewal cycle, "it does two important things for us, "May said. "Number one it gives us real-time feedback on how members are viewing us. And number two it gives our members a sense of importance. We're asking them for their opinion. People like that."

May does offer a couple tips, however. The first one is, "Stay small. The tendency might be, 'If we're asking them this, let's ask them this.' Don't do it. The second one is to have a plan on what you'll do with the feedback." (That reminds me of the advice given to those who conduct employee surveys: If you're asking for feedback, be ready to implement some of it.)

Pro Farmer followed up the survey responses by asking the 0-6 scorers, "How could we have done better?" and the 7-10 folks, "Why did you give this score?" "That was it," May said. "That was the full survey. It did include open text responses so we could ask what they find most valuable. Text responses can then be grouped into a report. Again, getting all this data is great, but have a plan before you survey."

Pro Farmer's plan was to target specific sub-segments—try to get the 5-6 people to 7-8 and 7-8 to 9-10. "The lower detractors do need to know that they're heard," May said, and "the 9-10 need to be made feel warm and fuzzy. But that's not where our focus was."

The Results

"Our survey resulted in multiple concerns from those text responses about user log-ins and passwords to the websites," said May. "So what we did was proactively remind our users the basics—how to reset their password; how to set their browser to remember their credentials so they don't have to enter it every single time. That's a simple action that we probably all take for granted but for our audience, 50 years old is considered a young farmer. Age range can go from a farmer in their 20s to a farmer in their 80s. If simple reminders and how-tos are all it takes to get their score from a 4 to a 7, that's going to result in measureable retention increase scores."

They also simplified the messaging as much as possible, including screen shots and a step-by-step process of how to reset the password. They also reminded members of the benefits they receive by using the website so they know it's worthwhile to log in.

"Lastly, we re-survey our audience 3-4 times a year just to make sure our responses are acceptable," May said. "It also gives us the opportunities to identify any new issues that crop up that we can address. The real value of the NPS Survey is monitoring results over time. We can't just hope for better results. Between surveys one and two you have to address concerns. We'll track it down to the individual level—monitor our text analytics."

It is still too early to tell exactly the effect this outreach has had on retention, but May is optimistic given Pro Farmer's increased interaction with its members.

Some Final Advice:

Don't ignore your Promoters. "Continue to remind them how you're helping them," May said. "Give them a warm and fuzzy so they remain a Promoter through their entire subscription with you."

Be optimistic about response rate. About 11% of their total email send responded. "When we look at percent of users engaged in our website, however, that went up about four times, May said.

Try a flexible paywall. May said it gives them more flexibility to try different pricing tests and lengths of service.

Listen to the entire webinar and view slides here.


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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…