Guest Blogger: WBNS Op's Director Frank Willson

Today’s guest commentary on customer service comes from Frank Willson, director of operations at WBNS Columbus. Frank’s got some good actionable tips about going the extra mile to address viewers’ questions and concerns.

Customer Service Isn’t Just For the Advertiser

Easy steps to blow your viewers away with customer service.

Imagine you’re sitting at home relaxing with your family when your Blackberry buzzes with an e-mail from one of your bigger advertisers. Would you answer it immediately? Most of us probably would.

But what if that same e-mail was from a viewer asking about a story they saw on your newscast or inquiring about tickets to one of your syndicated talk shows. Would you treat that e-mail with the same customer service?

Viewers often write to television stations expecting a form letter response, if any response at all. When a viewer gets a direct response from someone at a TV station, that impression will pay dividends with them and everyone they tell about their customer experience (and they will tell.)

I became the Director of Operations at WBNS-10TV (Columbus, Ohio) in 2003. In the new role, one of the first things I focused on was how to improve the experiences our viewers (customers) have with WBNS. Be it a copy of a recipe they saw on the noon news or how to acquire tickets to The Price is Right, we quickly realized that a viewer’s request is just as important as an advertisers and we put systems in place to make sure they were answered.

We called our system Viewer Services and it has three main components; phone correspondence, e-mail, and our website.

The first step was after-hours communication. One of the biggest needs we discovered was a way to address NFL fans who were upset because one game was shown over another. Being in central Ohio, we have large contingents of Cleveland Brown fans as well as Cincinnati Bengals fans. When the two teams are scheduled at the same time our choices upset a lot of our customers.

Using a digital voicemail system, we set up a voicemail box that explains our decisions on the outgoing message and then gives viewers the chance to comment as a voicemail. That voicemail is sent to my e-mail address as a digital audio file with a transcription I can read on my Blackberry.

One instance where this came in handy was when an upset caller left a message asking why we weren’t showing the Bengals the next day. I called the viewer back immediately (while going through a car wash with my kids) and explained that the Bengals were on another network and weren’t an option for us. He couldn’t believe he got a call back, he was able to watch the game, and he said he would share his customer experience with others. I took this as a good sign, considering the gentleman was a priest!

The majority of our correspondence comes via e-mail. While these can be a challenge, there are easy steps to make responding to your viewers much more simple and immediate. One of my best tools is “AutoText.” If you use Microsoft Outlook, this is simple to set up. You can easily program your e-mail to substitute simple letters or phrases into full sentences. For instance, when I complete a note to a viewer I type the letters “TYVS”. The AutoText changes it to:

Thank you for writing 10TV Viewer Services.

Frank Willson

Director of Operations


Or, if I type the words: “responseclose”, it types:

I hope this reply shows you that your e-mail was read and addressed personally. We feel this is an important customer service at WBNS-10TV.

This is a manageable compromise between form letters and a custom response. I have approximately 50 AutoText messages set up for everything from a viewer asking for a story to be investigated to someone asking how they receive a copy of our newscast. I can type a custom response in a matter of seconds. I often get replies from viewers very impressed that they got their question or concern answered so quickly. If you don’t use Outlook or AutoText then simply keep a document handy with responses that you can cut and paste.

The last component is the web. Make sure the page is easy to find and addresses every conceivable question a viewer might have. It will save the viewer (and yourself) the time of dealing with an e-mail.

The Viewer Services page on has everything from how to get tickets to Oprah to instructions on obtaining a copy of a newscast. Even directions to the station can be helpful.

Additionally, there is a form where viewers can direct a question or comment directly to a certain department.

However, make sure that you preach customer service as a top down/station wide commitment. If one department doesn’t take the plan seriously, some viewers won’t get the positive customer experience you’re hoping for. At 10TV, every department agreed to no more than a 24-hour turnaround to answer a viewer e-mail. From the news department to the engineering department to the sales department, we’ve had great success by working as a team for our viewers/customers.

But don’t let your customer service just be passive. Reach out to viewers when you can. We regularly address viewer questions on our facebook and twitter pages. Plus, in some instances, you can take your message to targeted message boards. Recently we had a situation where we had to preempt the Browns playing early on Sunday to show the Bengals in the late game. FOX had the double header and we had to make a choice.

To preempt the onslaught of upset viewers, I went out to the top Browns fan web forum and posted a note explaining the situation. Here are some of the actual responses from the post:

I applaud you for coming in here and telling us straight-up what’s going on and why.

I tip my hat to you, sir.

Kudos to the (Director of Operations) for coming in here and giving fair notice of the station’s intentions.

I like the fact that Channel 10 comes on here and gives you the heads up.

As always, Frank–thanks for the heads up. I would have been in for a shock on Sunday if not for your message.

The posting had over 1,400 page views in a couple of days and many of the readers posted on other sites. Effective communication= great customer service.

These are some simple tips to make your viewer’s experience with your station more personable, immediate and effective. The dividends paid will be increased loyalty and higher ratings all of which helps that other customer base, the advertiser.

Frank Willson is the director of operations at WBNS Columbus. 

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.