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Are you telling your customers off?

Do you consider yourself customer-friendly? Always looking to start the conversation—or continue it? You might be surprised to find that a common practice is undermining any friendly sentiment your e-mail recipient might receive. I’m talking about donotreply@ e-mails. Often, with today’s smartphones and e-mail preview panes and popup alerts, the sender’s name and first lines of the e-mail are your first impression coming through the inbox door. If you are presently using a donotreply@ address in your e-mail marketing, stop what you’re doing right now and spend some time figuring out how to get over it—because a donotreply@ address in your e-mail marketing is about as effective as halitosis in a breath mint salesman.


Image by Libby via Flickr

I detest donotreply@ e-mails. What impression do you think this gives your e-mail recipients?


Perhaps I should consider how to REPLY INDIRECTLY to advise them how to disengage the caps lock key. Check out the following for more weirdness: you want me to add someone who doesn’t want to hear from me to my cherished contact list, shoulder-to-shoulder with my mom’s address?

Subject: Here is your XXXXXX Newsletter
Preview: Please add to your contact list

As much as we marketers agonize over open rates, subject lines, and staying on the right side of the spam filters, we ought to pay a modicum of attention to our return address and the first line of the e-mail.
Imagine this scenario. You’re at a business conference, and a stranger approaches you:

“Hi, someone told me I should get in touch with you because you were interested in us. Here’s information about us. But please, don’t respond—it is really a bother when you respond to us. You see, we really think you should listen to us because we have big important things to say, but we don’t have the time to listen to you. Because you write with all kinds of little stuff about you, and we don’t want to take the time to sort through it all and pass it on to the right people. So just don’t respond to us.”

“OK. Well, what if I want to ask you something about the information you’re giving me now?”

“Well, you can go to our Web site, and poke around until you find a way to contact us. Or you can contact us like you have before.”

“I’ve never contacted you before.”

“What’s that? Oh, don’t bother responding. Look, I’ve got other people to meet. Read over that information I gave you, OK?”

With modern e-mail management tools (as opposed to the steam-powered tools we had back when we started) it is relatively trivial to set up some public facing e-mail accounts such as service@ , sales@ , suggestion@ , or anything else you can think of that would pass muster with the mail servers. Those e-mails can then be distributed to individual recipients—or multiple recipients—for response. It isn’t hard, honestly. But it does take a bit of collaboration between IT and marketing and sales. But if you can’t convince your own IT department of the merits of providing good customer service, should you really be in sales? (Hint to my friends in IT: customer service is a GOOD thing.)
I checked my own mailbox, and without breaking a nail I found 40 e-mails addressed from “donotreply@’ followed by the domain name of the sender. One of these is from a social marketing site—can you imagine? That’s annoying and off-putting, but it could be worse.
Some companies aren’t even careful enough to use their own domain, where they at least have a modicum of control over any inconvenient responses. Instead, they use … at which point the friendly folk at get that info to do with as they will. By that method, raises money for animal protection charities from companies that want their e-mails removed from public view. See, as a foster dog parent, I’m good with that, but perhaps you could just send the money directly to a charity organization and skip the faux pas of potentially exposing your customer’s data to the world.
What can you do instead of bludgeoning your contacts with apathy? I reviewed the real, live e-mails I found at hand and quickly brainstormed some alternatives:

  • If you’re a social marketing site, and you e-mail me a birthday reminder for a friend, why not set up the reply-to address so that it generates a post to my friend? The devil’s in the details here, but it could work pretty sweetly. And you get a validated action to show that my e-mail’s still live and in use—as a bonus!
  • If you’re a site traffic monitoring provider, why not send replies to your sales department? Perhaps if I have questions about my site traffic, I might be ready for an upgrade.
  • If you’re a professional organization sending an order confirmation, why not set the reply-to for the customer service department, in case I have questions about my order or want to add more items to my order?
  • If you’re a veterinary services provider reminding me that my dog needs shots, why not set the reply to the appointment scheduler?
  • If you’re inviting me to a Webinar, why not have my reply interpreted as an acceptance of the invitation?

One e-mail I reviewed had me stumped for a few moments. It was a flight confirmation, with plenty of additional information included about baggage handling and where to get flight status and the wonderful tropical destinations I could go to as alternatives. Should replies to such an e-mail go to service, or to an autoresponder with flight status, or the sales department to set me up for Cabo San Lucas? I pondered until the obvious occurred to me—the message was too cluttered to be effective at much of anything . Review your messages. and if you’re having trouble figuring out where to send replies, your customer probably won’t have a clear idea of how to respond either.
I understand the technical reasons that we might have for asking for an address to be added to an address book (so that it doesn’t get marked as spam for being an unknown recipient), or for advising a mail recipient that the e-mail box is unmonitored. Truly, I do—I’ve run campaigns where the blow-back of replies is truly amazing. But there are a plethora of parsers, a slew of scripts, scads of sequential autoresponders. and plenty of personnel available to handle these replies.
Experts can advise you on e-mail usability–usability matters a lot in relationship building. E-mail marketing is a two-way channel. One-way communication with e-mail is nothing better than telling your customers off.

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