BellSouth using romantic greeting cards to woo back long-distance customers

June 13, 2004|HERB BROCK

When companies lose customers, they may place recorded phone messages or send form letters signed by the president to the former patrons. BellSouth is using a unique approach in its efforts to woo back long-distance customers who have switched to other carriers.

The Atlanta-based phone company is sending greeting cards.

And these are not just any greeting cards. The flowery art on them make them look like Valentine's cards, and the writing is done in a definitely romantic tone, with a "breaking up is hard to do" theme as if they are being sent by jilted lovers seeking to rekindle a flickering spark.

One of the cards sent to former customers in the Danville area, where there are thousands of BellSouth regular service as well as long-distance customers, is buff, blue and light pink with roses on the front and this message, written in fancy burgundy script: "Okay, we admit it, we let the romance slip away."


Open up the card and there are panels where the message is continued: "Maybe we didn't say 'we care' as much as we should have."... "Please come back. We promise to be really, really good to you from now on."... "Maybe you were right about everything."

But between the burgundy lines of love are black words of wooing as the company goes from the poetry of softening the heart to the prose of getting down to business: If a wayward customer comes back to BellSouth long distance, "We'll even send you a sweet bouquet of bucks to spend any way your heart desires - $100 cash back."

The cash comes back if the customers sign up for BellSouth's Complete Choice Plan, which includes caller ID deluxe, call waiting deluxe, three-way calling and call blocking, plus unlimited long distance service, 24 hours a day, and voice mail service. The come-back customers get all this and more for "only" $51.49 a month, which is $5 less than the regular cost, and they also will get $5 off their monthly bill for 12 months.

It appropriately began the campaign around Valentine's Day

Not surprisingly, BellSouth has dubbed its woo-back campaign "Romance," and it appropriately enough began the campaign around Valentine's Day, said David Weller, BellSouth's regional manager for central Kentucky. The company decided to continue the campaign because it has been working, he said.

"BellSouth was looking for a new and different way to try to convince long distance customers who had changed to other carriers to come back to us," said Weller. "They wanted the campaign to go beyond the usual automated, recorded phone messages and the 'this is just advertising, so toss it' mailings."

Weller said the marketing department of the Southern-based Baby Bell gave the job of coming up with a novel campaign to Luckie and Co., an advertising agency in Birmingham, Ala., and the agency developed the idea of sending romantic greeting cards to those customers who had dumped BellSouth.

"The agency came up with four or five different cards, all with similar messages written as if they come from someone who had been dropped by a girlfriend or boyfriend and wants to do what they can to make up and renew the relationship," said Weller.

Thus far, the cupid campaign has been "very successful," he said. "We don't have the numbers all added up just yet, but we can say that several of the customers who left us are coming back."

Deregulation led to an increase in carriers

Whether they are using soft-sell love letters or hard-sell form letters, long-distance carriers are trying to gain whatever edge they can in a highly competitive market. They are involved in a ferocious fight for customers because the numbers of carriers has increased significantly in recent years due to deregulation, according to officials with the Kentucky Public Service Commission.

"In 1996, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act and that deregulated the long-distance phone business," said PSC statistician Bill Feldman. "At that time the act was enacted in 1996 there were 253 long-distance carriers registered with us and doing business in Kentucky. Today, there are 361.

"The number of carriers peaked at 420 in 2001 but several have been kicked out of the state for failing to pay assessments and fees," Feldman said. "But the 361 long-distance carriers we have today still is 108 more than we had eight years ago, and it is starting to grow again."

Feldman wouldn't comment specifically about BellSouth's "Romance" campaign but he did say he was "not surprised at what carriers will do to regain former customers, given the intense competition for customers out there."

Former customers? They may be former customers to some long-distance carriers, but to BellSouth they are former lovers - former lovers the jilted company hopes will come back because of a gushy card and a "bouquet" of cash.

Central Kentucky News Articles