How Angie’s List engages prospects even when its web site is down

Publication: Internet Retailer
July 30, 2009

Angie’s List, the online company that helps consumers find services to maintain their personal health and homes, continues to engage prospective customers even when its web site is down for maintenance, vice president of technology Gary Rush tells InternetRetailer.com.

“We hate to miss an opportunity to get prospective subscribers’ information when we perform site maintenance,” Rush says. “Even from 2 to 3 a.m., we might be able to collect information on several hundred interested parties.”

Angie’s List decided to deploy a method to capture information from prospects earlier this year to coincide with a major site upgrade that would require several hours of downtime, Rush says. The company initially launched its health care section in April 2008, which allowed subscribers to rate and research information on medical offices and facilities, just as subscribers also share information on home improvement contractors and other businesses.

But after realizing that users of its health care section also wanted to rate individual practitioners within health care facilities, Angie’s List implemented a major upgrade to its web site infrastructure that would require a site downtime of several hours in April 2009. “We were reluctant to not have a mechanism in place to capture visitors during that period,” Rush says.

When visitors came to AngiesList.com during that downtime period, they were greeted by two messages: One was a standard notification that said the site was temporarily down for maintenance and apologized for any inconvenience; the other offered a promotional code to motivate visitors who were not already subscribers to leave contact information. To accept the promotional code, visitors clicked a button that would take them to a form hosted by FormSpring to enter their name and e-mail address.

At the start of business the following day, Angie’s List marketing managers logged onto their FormSpring web application to download the file of names and e-mail addresses collected during the outage, uploaded the file to an ExactTarget e-mail marketing application, and sent out promotional codes that included a waiver of the $15 sign-up fee for joining Angie’s List. Downloading the file from FormSpring LLC and loading it into ExactTarget takes about five minutes, Rush says.

“When we use FormSpring to capture names and send promotional codes, we get conversion rates close to what we get when our site is entirely live,” Rush says. He adds that Angie’s List may eventually set up the application so that it automatically transfers files of new customers to the ExactTarget e-mail system automatically e-mails the promotional codes.

Angie’s List will also use the application, which is hosted on FormSpring’s web servers in a software-as-a-service environment, for shorter, ongoing routine maintenance periods and to support internal I.T. operations, Rush says.

When someone in the I.T. department needs an authorization from Rush to upload a software patch to AngiesList.com’s infrastructure, for example, he’ll communicate with Rush through a FormSpring form accessed from an iPhone or other computer device. With the request and the authorization saved on FormSpring’s web servers, Rush or other executives and auditors can retrieve records of software changes and authorizations whenever necessary through their iPhones or any web browser, Rush says.

“If we see a drop in site visitor activity at 11 a.m. on July 19, we can go back and see what technology action we took at that time that could explain that change in consumer behavior,” he says.

The FormSpring application costs Angie’s List about $50 per month and covers “more users, forms and data storage than we need,” Rush says. He adds that he also paid a one-time fee of $9.95 on Apple Inc.’s App Store to download a FormSpring access tool to his iPhone.

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