In this guest post, Scott Spiegel shares his feelings about a new direction for Sirius XM subscriber relations.
Almost immediately after beginning my internship at Sirius in the summer of 2006, I was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. While I do not feel as though as I ever violated this agreement, a recent visit to my former bosses and colleagues made me feel as though while I hadn't done anything illegal, I had, in fact, violated their trust.
I only started writing for this blog (for free, I might add) in the hope that someone might notice my writing and want to hire me for a 'real' job. I considered my unique perspective as a longtime subscriber (pre-Howard), former intern (in Industry and Talent Relations), and patient stockholder (the first shares I purchased were priced at around $6-a price not seen in over two years), would make my writings both interesting and informative. I think I have lived up to my own high expectations.
My writing was noticed... by SiriusXM executives. Word got back to my former internship supervisor, and his reaction to seeing me in the company lobby was not positive, to say the least. Now, after my recent experience at the worldwide headquarters of our favorite media company, I came to realize that I value the relationships I cultivated in my short time there more than making a buck. It is with that being said, that I now present my final (at least for the near future) Sirius XM themed blog entry.
I have been saving this article for such an occasion because it is about the subject I feel most passionate about when it comes to this company-SUBSCRIBER RELATIONS. There is not one aspect of the company that frustrates me more than the feeling of only being a notch on the belt. It seems as though once they get our money, the company is no longer concerned with keeping us happy. They rely solely on unique content to keep us around (which for some is more than enough), but I would argue that an invested subscriber (one who feels like they have at least a little say in what happens), is the best marketing tool a company can have.
We are passionate about this company. We want to see it succeed, yet we want to see it improve. You wouldn't be reading this post on this website, if the passion weren't there. Try a google search of the phrase "comcast blog". Seriously, go ahead, take a look at the first listing. The title of the listing is "Comcast Sucks". The point is: no other company, whose main source of income is subscription fees, inspires such heart-felt love and passion. We care deeply about this company. Let these two questions be asked... how much do you love and expect from companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint? How much do you care for and expect from Sports Illustrated or Newsweek, or Your Local Newspaper, for that matter? Here's what I'm trying to get across: as long as the aforementioned companies give you the minimum amount of reliability, you're happy not to have to deal with them. With Sirius XM, we don't just want our receivers to work. That's always a nice aspect, but it's not enough for us. It's time subscribers exert their will and help change the company for the better.
There are plenty of opportunities right now to capitalize on the current media climate. Here are a bunch of ways for Sirius XM to improve it's relationship with subscribers, while improving the company's profitability and recognition as a dominant media force:
Subscriber + Stockholder = A Truly Vested Interest
Many of us became stockholders because of how great the Sirius XM product is. Satellite radio has been in my life for close to five years, and I've been financially invested for much of that time. This might sound crazy, but what if the company offered some type of subscriber-investment plan. Own X amount of shares, get a discount on your fees. Buy stock directly from the company at $Y per share, get a new receiver as a gift. Hell, PBS and NPR have been pulling that move for years. You get subscribers financially involved, I guarantee, they'll talk up the company better than any paid advertisement. I did not invest in this company solely to make money; I did it because I believe in the idea of satellite radio. Those of us that believe in this company would do anything to see it succeed, even if it meant investing some cash.
Get Us Involved
Maybe I'm in the minority on this, however, I believe some (if not, many) subscribers would volunteer their time to talk up Sirius XM, for free gear. It doesn't take many people to run a booth at a local concert. Some might do it for a couple of free t-shirts. Some would go for a free concert ticket (work half the show, watch half the show). Some might even do it for a sticker or two. Get subscribers out on the street and I guarantee you the numbers would improve.
One thing I've harped on in the past, is my distaste for pre-recorded voice tracking. Non-active listeners may not notice a difference, but just for a minute, imagine the following scenario: two days after Michael Jackson's death, a DJ says on the air that they are really looking forward to his upcoming concerts. While this did not actually happen (to my knowledge, at least) the risk of such an embarrassing moment alone should make the need for live broadcasters to be very apparent. Local R and B stations around the country immediately switched to all Jackson programming the day of his death with DJ's and callers sharing memories. Having nothing but pre-recorded content limits SiriusXM's ability to improvise.
In addition to having having DJ's be live, there is more room for improvement with each individual channel. I knew many channel programmers (two of which I'll speak about and who will remain anonymous) during my time at Sirius. The two that immediately come to mind were in charge of two stations at once (others had more, even up to four or five). They worked 60-70 work weeks at a minimum, and each was responsible for "non-mainstream" stations. The fans of these stations are some of the pickiest music snobs, so their programming of these channels comes with lots of criticism from listeners. What does all this have to do with anything? These two would gladly be more out in front of listeners to hear ideas if they weren't so overworked. There's only so much an individual can do, so my suggestion is to give each programmer one station and make it his/her baby. Treat each channel as its own radio station, give each its own personality, and the result is that listeners will be more attached to their favorite channel.
Make Subscribing Worth Something Special
SiriusXM needs to sponsor subscriber-only events. If Sirius put on a Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson, or Dead show for SiriusXM listeners only, many would get the service for the sheer ability to see these shows. The company needs to capitalize on the relationships it has developed with these artists. As a jam_on listener, I know for a fact that tens of thousands of Deadheads (or Phishheads, for that matter) would gladly subscribe for 3 months for a chance to see an exclusive show. And while we're at it, how about more live broadcasts from all kinds of concerts? If Wilco, or Metallica, or Paul McCartney takes over a station for a week, why not have the week conclude with a live broadcast of the first show of the band's tour? Even better, have the band take over a station, while on tour, and have them check in from a new city (where plenty of subscribers are) each night.
There are plenty of other ways SiriusXM can improve its relationship with its loyal customers. Happy customers will happily talk up the product the way that no commercial, special offer, or store salesman ever could. To ensure subscriber loyalty, they could possibly use the technology to offer optional local content on each channel, they could create channels dedicated to their top-20 markets, or they could use the partnership with Direct TV to offer TV/Radio packages to customers. The fact is, there are plenty of ways to improve customer relations. What needs to happen is SiriusXM needs to appreciate the people that keep this company afloat and give them the chance to give a hand.
Established media companies want to see satellite radio fail in the same way over-the-air television broadcasters wanted cable to fail. Satellite radio offers a truly unique product- free of decency restrictions, excessive advertising, or formulaic content. In order for this technology to succeed (with the odds so stacked against it), the company must exceed expectations and make news that can't be negatively spun. With all the content that can't be found anywhere else, it's time SiriusXM became a PRESENCE that the mainstream public can't ignore. Satisfying existing subscribers is best way to get started.
Scott Spiegel is an aspiring broadcast journalist. His online reel can be viewed at youtube.com/sspiegel024.