E-commerce Link: Inbound E-mail
In e-mail marketing, most of the focus is on the outbound programs and campaigns marketers launch to their lists, and the resulting actions recipients take. Let’s put the spotlight on the inbound e-mail communications that these campaigns generate and discuss why attention to this often overlooked area can pay dividends in preserving the size of your list and generating future sales.
Today, e-mail is a core component of the marketing strategy for most companies. Yet, many marketers miss important customer interactions. Why? Because recipients do not always behave the way you would like them to. They may:
• Directly reply to your e-mail;
• Set a filter to challenge e-mails from anyone not in their address books; or
• Include important information in their auto-responder messages.
These customer interactions often are forgotten or not handled on a timely basis by organizations. Whether you use an in-house system or a third-party e-mail provider, timely and efficient e-service requires a commitment to customer care.
Most marketers see at least 10 percent of their sales generated online, and the year-over-year improvement is substantial. As a result, effective online customer service is becoming a prerequisite for success.
Let’s look at the types of inbound communication marketers receive and then analyze what inattention to these messages means in terms of numbers and the impact on a business.
Types of Replies
Opt-out requests and standard inquiries. Good marketers have standard links in the footer of their e-mails that enable recipients to opt out, change an e-mail address and modify preferences. However, instead of using the individual links provided to handle these activities, your recipients might decide to reply to opt out, ask a question or provide a change of address.
Opt-out requests must be processed to keep your company in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act.
Messages that contain questions or requests for literature also are important since they afford you the ability to nurture a relationship and generate future sales. Many questions from customers and prospects relate to rate, price and product information.
These are one-to-one e-mail communications, and each of these replies needs to be handled manually. Unfortunately, the report card for prompt and efficient handling of such customer e-mails has never been good, and it’s not getting better. An April 2007 e-mail customer service survey conducted by Hornstein Associates found half of all customer e-mail goes unanswered, and only 33 percent of companies that respond to customer e-mail do so within 24 hours. This is a direct result of an inadequate inbound e-mail response program.
Auto-responder messages. Most of these messages note that an individual is out of the office and give a date of return. But there are nuggets of gold in some of these e-mails. Some auto-responder messages explain that the individual is no longer with the company and include his or her new e-mail contact information. Most inbound e-mail filters have rules in place that fail to catch the e-mail-change-of-address situation. This is a missed opportunity.
Challenge responses. Some businesses and Internet service providers allow their users to establish settings so that no mail comes into their inboxes unless the senders are listed in the recipients’ address books. If mail does not meet this criterion, an automatic challenge goes out to the sender. The challenge usually contains a relatively easy task to complete—such as re-entering a code that displays on the screen—and once the sender submits the response, the mail goes through.
It’s a simple process. All challenges requiring a response are delivered to an administrative inbox. However, they must be handled within a few days or the responses will be ignored.
Challenge responses are easy to deal with—the only catch is that they require manual intervention. If you are using a third-party e-mail service provider, ask if it is handling this task on your behalf. If not, designate this responsibility to someone in your company.
A Sampling of Results
I’ve been privy to some private studies conducted by marketers who’ve put a focus on online customer service. Some of their findings are eye-opening in terms of reducing e-mail list churn and the ability to generate future sales.
For example, more than 2 percent of outbound e-mails result in challenge responses.
The number of opt-out requests sent in replies is only 20 percent less than the number of clicks on the opt-out link in the footer of the outbound e-mail. Customer respect and legal compliance are overlooked if these e-mails are not addressed.
Based on outbound e-mail volumes, more than .25 percent of changes of
e-mail addresses were captured from auto-responder messages or direct replies. And more than .15 percent of outbound e-mail resulted in a customer-service reply or a request for price, product information or literature.
So, pay attention to your inbound e-mail. Then make the commitment to timely and efficient e-customer service. The returns are more than worth the effort.