Four key ways to improve how your company emails customers

business and consumers, business cheers and jeers

As I’ve written in other entries, I’ve become buried in e-mail, and so my “unsubscribe trigger-finger” has become a bit more itchy.

Often times, I do the (unsubscribe) deed with little remorse.  Hasta la vista, baby!

Other times, though, it’s more of a frustrating decision.  Take Vistaprint, for instance.  They offer well-made products such as business cards and address labels at generally reasonable prices.  My customer service experiences have been pretty decent with them, too.  I’d like to get email updates from companies like this, within reason.

But when it comes to VistaPrint’s email list, they’re like that attractive but thoughtless jerk on the subway who talks your ear off about nothing important every five minutes. 

Okay, let me give some more specifics…

A snippet from a recent VistaPrint email I got:

SUBJECT:  We need your feedback!
Dear Adam,

As a valued VistaPrint customer, we are interested in your opinions. To better serve our customers we would like to ask a few questions. Simply click here to complete our survey and we will both benefit.

As our way of thanking you for your time, we would like to offer you Premium Business Cards for only 6?. That’s 99% off the regular price of $19.99!

Here are some more details about VistaPrint’s current practices:

– They email me seeemingly EVERY month with the subject line “We need your feedback.”  Yeah, right.
I’m sure it won’t shock even the most dim-witted person to discover that VistaPrint likely doesn’t really need such solicited “feedback” every month; they are just looking for any excuse to garner additional traffic and purchases.

– They email me about every week with new “specials.”  “6 cents business cards!”  “Totally Free postcards!”
Except that, for one, the shipping and handling tends to be usurious.  I don’t know about you, but that overrused perversion of the concept “free” is annoying and offensive to me.  And I’m also peeved when “totally free!” stuff turns out to include a count of, say, 10 postcards.  Whoopeee!

– Even when I really *do* want to buy something from VistaPrint, I’m tempted to wait another month or two months until I get an email noting a price reduction.
Because their specials, while not ongoing, are hardly infrequent.  And ironically, since I may really want those new business cards *now*, I may be more apt to just go get them done across the street at Office Depot instead of feeling gypped by “overpaying” during a non-specials period with VistaPrint.  I know, that’s an emotional, not a logical reaction, but I’m sure I’m not alone.

– At the end of the day, it’s like the boy who cried wolf.
“Amazing special!” “Fabulous deal… just for the next 5 days.”  Yeah, yeah, yeah… just shut up, will ya?  You’re worse than my gym (24 Hour Fitness): “Last 5 days!” [until we run this same “special” next month].  It’s a massive credibility shredder.  Why can’t more companies be like the fabulous Trader Joe’s?  No coupons, no “specials,” just decent prices and outstanding service.  They rock!  But I digress 😀

Back on the topic of email lists… the most frustrating thing for me is that there are no options in between “obnoxious and frequent mailings” and “total silent treatment from VistaPrint.”

*  *  *

So with that said, here are some recommendations of GOOD customer-communications practices:

– Ask me how frequently I’d like to get email from you.  I find it thoughtful when my options are, for instance:

Send me emails…
A) As often as daily.  I LOVE you guys!
B) Every couple of weeks to update me on your latest products and specials.
C) Only when you have *major* announcements (about 2-3x a year)

Three choices.  A world of difference.  Not only does this make me feel at the outset that they respect my time and preferences, but it also potentially lets the company “hold on” to people who might otherwise totally unsubscribe.  For instance, if I clicked on an unsubscribe link:

Wait!  We show that you’re on our “frequent mail-to” list.  Would it be cool with you if we just emailed you every few months?
A) Okay, that’s fine.  Write me LESS OFTEN: about 2-3x a year.
B) NO!  I don’t want to ever hear from you again.  We’re done!  Finished!  And give me my t-shirt back!

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit over-the-top for an email list for, say, the Everglade Casket Company.  But it’d be a super fit for a gaming newsletter, or perhaps Southwest Airlines, etc., and for others only the tone’d need to be changed.  I do think *all* companies that run email lists should give us frequency choices.  Not everyone has the same needs, interests, or attachments for a given company!

– Give me non-email choices to keep abreast of your latest info.
Like RSS feeds.  How about one on “Super specials!” (and dammit, make sure they really *are* super specials!).  And another one on “Announcement of new major products or product lines.”  You get the idea.

– Consider on-demand per-product emails or feeds.
“Notify me when this price drops to [x]” (several airline-price sites already offer this useful service!)
“Let me know when this product is in-stock again.”
“Tell me when there are significant price breaks on accessories for items I’ve already purchased.” (e.g., SD cards or waterproof case for my camera…)

– Consider even offering an IM option
If it’s to be used *very* sparingly, you could tell me stuff like “The campfire stove you put in your cart for $79 last week is now $29!  Click here for more info.”

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The bottom line:
– Improve your email practices.  Ask yourself:  Do people really find these emails useful?
– Offer a choice of contact frequency
– Enable your customer to request future communications on a more micro-scale.
– Provide other communication options (RSS, IM)

*  *  *

Do you agree with these observations and guidelines?
How would you improve the email communications you receive (in tone, content, and frequency)?

5 comments… add one
  • Mitzi the cat May 20, 2006

    Ooooh, “Totally Free postcards!”?!  Did you know that my Meg collects postcards?

  • Adam Jul 16, 2006

    Mitzi… I’ll see what I can do for your owner.

    Sarah… a pleasure to hear from you and ‘tis especially that you both registered on my site and commente.  I do hope that you haven’t ended up as a speck of dust, however!

  • John Feb 26, 2008

    I don’t know how but, daily i am getting mails like view your free post cards…
    When i just click on that link it’s shows me to do sign up which is paid.
    With out i had make any subscription with that website, how they could send these kind of mails?
    Let me tell you some where unsubscribe links not work.

  • Online Shopping May 22, 2008

    Dear John,
    IMO you should not follow those links or even open those emails, once you get that those are spammers, than why do you like to follow such links and mails. Just select those mails and click on delete button.

  • allergy Jun 19, 2008

    really very useful to my company

What do you think?