The following information was gained from an interview with Rudolfo, MD of Valentinos, a highly successful “Personal Introductions Agency”. Although they have been very successful and have made major investment in the Internet they are becoming increasingly worried about their market share and continuing profitability. They have asked you to advise them on their strategy and how they might further exploit technology. Their current technology was at the cutting edge 10 years ago but a lack of recent investment in this area is beginning to worry their senior management.
There has always been a need for matchmakers throughout history, in all levels of society -Valentinos has successfully filled this role since 1976. There are over eight million single men and women in the UK between the ages of 18 and 64, so it might be thought easy to meet someone special. However, people usually only meet at work or within the confines of their social circle and even though they may have an interesting job and a busy social life, the perfect partner could still be difficult to find. The quality and integrity of the introduction agency is very important.
How established they are, how they will respect privacy and how they will provide value for money. In terms of cost, service and the number of people you can meet, Valentinos claim to provide the best value for money at ? 150 for one year’s membership. Carefully selected by Valentinos, these people will already have many things in common. Whether clients are looking for friendship, love, marriage, or just want to get out and meet new people, Valentinos will help them start off on the right track. Most of their new applications come from advertising, which is one of their major outgoings.
They advertise in newspapers, magazines and on public transport. Valentinos have over twenty telephone lines with qualified personnel and ready to talk to clients and offer advice. The Valentinos system has been developed over the years to provide a comprehensive and efficient service. They communicate by telephone, post and increasingly by e-mail. Valentinos unique combination of modern technology coupled with the personal touch has made them the world’s leading and most popular agency of its kind. The Valentinos service is, of course, completely confidential.
They apply the strict rules of the Data Protection Act, so a name will never appear on another company’s mailing list. They take great pride in their reputation. Clients can request as many introductions as required and, for reference, on each provide a copy of the information held about them. Without charge, and at any time, clients can change any of their details or requirements to ensure that they get the most compatible matches. Valentinos experienced staff are always available to help and advise in any way they can. If, on any computer list, the client gets fewer than three introductions the next list is without charge.
They can ask for just their address, telephone number, or both to be given out, and on each computer run Valentinos will automatically print out the names of the people who have been given their details since the last run. Valentinos is a computerised matching service which covers the whole of the UK. To become a member, applicants need to complete a comprehensive questionnaire which they receive in their initial information pack. The questionnaire asks a number of questions about the person and also, about the type of person they wish to meet.
They are asked to indicate the areas from which they would like their contacts to come. Once Valentinos have received the completed application form, the details are entered onto computer which then matches the client with the six most compatible members in the area chosen. It is then up to the client to contact their matches by letter, telephone or email. The proportion of members using the Internet has risen considerably in the last few years, but still 25% of new members don’t have an email address and only 45% choose email as their preferred means of communication.
It seems that, in affairs of the heart, Valentino’s members still prefer the personal touch. Valentinos normally send the list to the client by post but some clients now prefer to receive their details by email. If clients wish, their name can be given out to appear on other compatible members’ lists, so they can be contacted in the same way. Clients can request as many lists as they want, over the membership term, until such time as they have met someone. On a matching run Valentinos send out the names and the contact details of up to six compatible members.
Clients can then make contact with them using whichever means they have told us to release. Clients can ask for their matching runs to be e-mailed, and can then access the members’ area of the website and get further background information about the members with whom they have been matched. This may include a page written by the member themselves, in which they often include their photographs or links to their homepage elsewhere on the Internet. Their web site is maintained by a third party and is currently information only – matching cannot be done on-line.
The members database uses Oracle with an old version of Oracle forms used by Valentino’s staff for maintenance of the data. The matching program (written in C++ with embedded SQL) works well but was written more than 10 years ago by a skilled employee who has now left. Current IT staff struggle to maintain this system which is poorly documented. A link between the database and the website enables members details to be displayed on the Valentino’s site if they so request it but it can take several days for this to happen.
Valentinos have tried to make the service as flexible as possible •clients can define (and easily change) the location of their matches •clients can control how much information is released to other members •clients can define how they can be contacted by both Valentinos and other members •clients can request further names at any time using our secure payment system – remembering that if they get fewer than three names on a matching run the subsequent one is free. •clients can alter their requirements at any time clients can if they wish, include their photograph for other members to see Statistics show that 93% of the people who join Valentinos are looking for one permanent long-lasting relationship. Since they were established in 1976, their safety record has been excellent. This is perhaps due to the fact that, not only do Valentinos know so much about the members who join, but additionally do not accept members unless they can provide private residential addresses. (Ie, no work addresses, P. O. Box numbers, temporary addresses etc).
In fact, statistics show that the majority of undesirable incidents occur when people meet through other situations – chance encounters in nightclubs, pubs and parties etc. Due to the constraints of the Data Protection Act, no dating agency is allowed access to police or local authority records. Even if it were, this would not identify potential first time offenders. On joining, Valentinos provide a sensible guide on how best to manage the first date – the advice is the sort that mother would give – don’t invite anyone to your home on the irst date, don’t accept a lift home, and make your first meeting a brief one, in a public place. Payment of ? 150 for one year’s membership is required on joining; this can be by credit card or cheque. The first list of introductions is generated on joining and this contains up to six introductions. It rarely takes more than five working days to process an application and it is common for the first list of introductions to be sent the day after receiving the questionnaire.
Subsequent lists are ? 5 each, and can be requested as required. Valentinos recommend applying for a new computer run every three to four weeks in order to be matched with new members and any members who have returned their details to the active list. With a large database of members, it is usual for members to receive a list of six introductions each time they request a new list, although this depends on an individual’s details and requirements.
On average there are 70,000 applications to join Valentinos each year, coming from all over the UK. The density of membership follows the population patterns of the country as a whole. Valentinos members come from all walks of life. From production workers to company directors, the common thread of our members is the lack of opportunity to meet new people, as opposed to the inability to do so. The majority of Valentinos members fall into professional groups. Most clients do not wish to meet a partner at a pub or club.
They may work in a single sex environment, or simply do not have the spare time to go out and look for someone. Valentinos wouldn’t be prospering today without regular personal recommendations from members who have met their partners through our service. A great many people are joining Valentinos each day, not only because of the excellent reputation and high standards of customer care, but also because we can offer our members an introduction agency with the largest number of members, which is fundamental in effective matching.
Valentinos are the foremost introduction agency in the UK and clients really do stand a better chance of meeting the right people through them than with anyone else. Generally the fees to join other agencies are substantially more. Valentinos have been in business for thirty years, and the reason for success has been the great number of people matched over that time, the largest database of members and the high quality of service. Valentinos Current Organisation Chart