When ‘Surprise and Delight’ goes wrong: How Regal, Universal, and Comixology almost won me over only to fail on fulfillment and support

I’ve worked in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for years and have run many email campaigns designed to engage and reward customers. Fulfillment is a crucial piece of this, and it’s often hard to do well despite the best intentions. Things like data lag can mean you either have to do extra work to reward customers in a timely manner or risk their rancor if you wait and do a fulfillment sweep at the end.

Recently I was on the receiving end of CRM emails from Regal Cinemas. At first they were highly successful and convinced me to become a more avid Regal customer. But then the bottom fell out on more than one front, making me reconsider my allegiance.

It started in February when I took my wife to see Happy Death Day 2U. We noticed in the pre-screen entertainment that there was a potential reward of digital copies. The next day, my email inbox contained a promo reinforcing the offer and providing notification that I had received bonus credits for seeing my first film in the trio.

Regal/Universal Movie Bonus offer

Regal/Universal Movie Bonus offer

Now, we knew we wanted to see Us when it came out. We were on the fence about Glass, which had been out for several weeks and would be exiting theaters soon. There wasn’t much time to decide so I went and saw it solo, ensuring we’d complete the set. The next day, I received an email letting me know that additional bonus points and a free popcorn had been loaded to my card.

In the meantime, other movies we wanted to see – such as Captain Marvel and Fighting with My Family – were coming out. We began favoring Regal over the other dominant local chain, AMC. It seemed like their coordinated campaigns were building good will and inclining us to choose Regal more often.

We saw Us, as planned, and the last piece of the puzzle unlocked:

Regal/Universal movies unlocked

Regal/Universal movies unlocked

I read the fine print and found that my first digital code would likely arrive in early April:

Digital movie rewards will be delivered within two weeks of each movie’s home entertainment release but no sooner than 4/5/19.

A hero rises only to crash and burn

Around this same time, I took my son to see Shazam! in 3D at Regal. I was unaware of the opening weekend promotion to receive digital comics from Comixology, a service where I’ve spent hundreds of dollars. I went to redeem the code the day it arrived, but something went wrong. The code said it had already been redeemed. I was unsure whether the code was redeemed when I clicked the link in the email and then signed into my account, or if someone had stolen it somehow (which seemed unlikely) or something had just gone horribly wrong with fulfillment. There had been some message on the Comixology site about notifying me when my comics were available, which didn’t really make sense either.

I immediately wrote both Comixology and Regal support, describing the glitch as best I could. In the Regal request, I also noted that Glass had been out digitally for a week and we had passed April 5 with no fulfillment of the digital movie code.

At this writing (some two weeks later), Comixology support has not responded at all. Regal responded several days later telling me they had run out of codes but had sent me a second code (they had not). I was traveling at the time but re-opened the original mail they sent on my phone only to find the message “SORRY ALL CODES HAVE BEEN CLAIMED” in the place where a code once had been:

Regal/Comixology Shazam comic codes claimed

Regal/Comixology Shazam comic codes claimed

Now codes are tricky in CRM, but when we send them out we use a system where a code is assigned in real-time from a pool of codes when the customer first opens the mail. That code is then permanently associated with their email so if they open it a week, a month, or a year later, they’ll still see that same code. We also monitor how many codes are left so we can request more if it appears we are burning through them and will run out.

As best I can tell, with Regal’s system a new code is assigned whenever a customer opens the mail, and when the code supply is exhausted, they see a message that basically says “You missed out.”

This is bad CRM on a number of fronts. First, I received a code but it didn’t work and my attempt to rectify this by contacting support failed. I even purchased some $40 in comics from Comixology at the time when I was trying to redeem their code. This should have ensured support treated me like a valued customer and not a grasping freeloader.

Apart from the fact that I acted in a timely manner and had a code in hand, both companies should have been motivated to provide valid codes to ANY eligible customer. Shazam! is a movie with crossover audiences. Non-comic fans who want to read the free comics and try Comixology are great acquisition targets – get them into the ecosystem and encourage them to the next level (free comics and then eventually paid). Annoy them with a system that fails them right off the Billy Batson, and they may never come back.

For comic fans who already have Comixology accounts, this is a way to bank some good will and ensure they stay fans and maybe buy more Shazam! comics down the road. It’s not like an endless number of people saw Shazam! opening weekend, attended Regal, and had Regal accounts. Fulfilling everyone who is eligible and wants the comics should have been a no brainer even if it meant stretching the campaign budget a little and working with support to make sure everyone who complained was fulfilled.

Glass, broken

I’m also still waiting for my Glass code, and I really hope this system works significantly better than the Shazam! debacle. Regal support informed me that the release of codes could happen up to two weeks after the disc release of the title, which is two weeks after the digital release. This is another fail for avid digital movie collectors like me. I noticed the first day that Glass was added to Vudu, which I use pretty much every day. To be fair, Regal’s hands are tied if Universal won’t release the codes in a timely manner. But there’s really no reason to wait a full month unless Universal is hoping that some customers eligible for digital codes will forget or become impatient and purchase the movie anyway.

Most of us won’t – we’ll just become more and more annoyed while we wait for fulfillment and hope something doesn’t go wrong (e.g., email box is full, code doesn’t work, support neglects or ignores us). Campaigns like this are inherently fragile, with the risk that you’ll do more harm than good. The only way to ensure they don’t break is to put the customer front and center in your planning and execution.

Customer-centric CRM for the win

I recently worked on a huge CRM campaign for a major gaming company. The first thing we did was fulfill millions of customers who pre-qualified for a reward so they would become our ambassadors and harbor no ill will for accomplishing something before we had even dreamed up our campaign. We didn’t have to do this – our Terms and Conditions could have excluded them, which is fairly typical for these sorts of offers. But we realized this would alienate our base, which is never a good idea.

Once the program launched, customers who did not already meet the criteria had a month to do so. We engaged them on multiple channels including email. We could have waited until the campaign had ended and fulfilled everyone who participated at once but we chose to send out codes weekly. Each week after the initial launch send, we fulfilled the customers who were newly eligible for the reward. Due to a data lag of 2-3 days, some customers were always being omitted but would be picked up in the next week’s data pull.

After two weeks, we noticed that my wife had not received her reward (which she earned with me just before the start of the promotion – too close to be included in the first group). By the second week, I received my reward but she still had not. We used her edge case to identify a significant segment of customers who had been missed due to a flaw in the targeting query, and we fulfilled them the following week and in subsequent sends. A week after the promotion ended, we sent the final batch of codes. To my knowledge, we received zero complaints from an active community that would have rightfully sounded the alarm had we messed up in any way.

First, do no harm – or else, do no CRM

Good CRM should consider the customer’s reaction to it and strive to err on the side of delivering what was promised. Had our campaign failed to reach everyone, we had extra codes we could have provided our support team to give to any customers who might have felt slighted.

All I can say for Regal, Universal, and Comixology is that my opinion of you has dropped measurably. I will probably never intentionally participate in a theater chain offer to receive digital copies of movies again. I see that Lionsgate has a “see four movies, get digital copies” campaign running at Regal now but I’m not even tempted to pursue it. I hope Lionsgate thinks better of their customers than Universal does, and sends them codes as early as possible rather than waiting until they are well past digital and physical release and likely already marking down the titles for sales.

Because how you treat customers in these situations shows just how much you value them. And you’re essentially spending money on a program that may ultimately generate more ill will than good. In that situation it may well be better to have no campaign at all than one that turns “Surprise and Delight” into “Sorry, Charlie!”


On April 30, exactly two weeks after the physical release of Glass and pushing it on the terms and conditions of the offer, Regal delivered. Not only did the they send the code for Glass, they included Happy Death Day 2U on the day of its digital release (no more waiting a month, it seems!) and provided a timeline for delivery of the Us code (June).

Regal provides codes for two movies at once

Regal delivers two movies at once, and provides timeline for the third

This is a vastly better customer experience and goes a long way toward repairing some of the damage caused by sloppy fulfilment (at least for the Universal offer; I never did hear back from Comixology). I’m still reticent to participate in this type of offer again but I am much more likely to retain Regal as my preferred cinema brand.

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