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Goof-Proofing Your Emails -- and Using the Channel to Enhance Customer Service When Issues Arise

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by: Darryl Bolduc (@darrylbolduc)
26 April 2013

As email marketers, how has our role in sending marketing messages evolved through the years? I’m not sure it’s changed for everyone in the same way, but I do know the difference between companies that get it and those that don’t. Service and customer loyalty have as much to do with the offers you promote as they do with the way you handle a problem. In many cases, it’s the reaction to the mistake that happened that makes or breaks a long-lasting brand relationship.

It used to be with email marketing that you only had to worry about goof-proofing your own operations. Now, many marketing organizations are utilizing email along with social, SMS and other channels as part of their communications arsenal. This isn’t happening by chance. Savvy businesses have access to a wealth of data, and many have integrated operational, predictive and behavioral data in the mix. This marketing intelligence enables us to more proactively and effectively clean up service issues and improve the customer experience.

Now, where is your organization? Aren’t there precautions that we can take using best-in-class organizations as an example to minimize the potential for error and make the most of mistakes when they happen? The answer is yes.  

Automation is one way to approach anticipating and accommodating these additional “damage control” email campaign activities. Let’s take a look at how we can goof-proof our marketing efforts and best prepare for and react to problems as they arise.

Phase 1: Good Quality Assurance

  • Get access to what’s important: Just like getting indicators of who’s likely to purchase next, get a feel for who’s most likely to complain and why. Collaborate with customer service groups and develop proactive programs around this idea.
  • Know your intended customer: Whether managing an urgent list or preparing to schedule an automated campaign, who do you plan to reach? List counts, test seed lists, dynamic rules, query checks, and suppressions all help QA recipients.
  • Content in context: What’s the key message you’re trying to convey? Visually? Literally? Check prices, images, alt tags, instructions and buttons. Call the phone number included. Make sure the legal is approved. Be thorough and think outside of the creative process that got you there. Make a list of the typical perps, and check them again.
  • Channel your inner grammarian: In addition to proof-reading your copy, make sure punctuation, spelling and capitalization all fit a consistent approach.
  • Check function as well as fashion: Does the thing work? As part of your regular proofing process, put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and make sure you’re delivering a positive user experience.

Phase 2: Establishing and Following Processes

  • Harness the chaos: If your process is chaotic, the quality will suffer. Plan, schedule, create, review, execute, and measure – then repeat. Speed and efficiency can be introduced in different phases of the process, but don’t make the process unstructured.
  • It’s not just the place you work: Organization means different things to different people. Make sure your team communicates regarding naming conventions and how and where things are saved to avoid files being overwritten or misplaced.
  • Promote excellence: If you have brand standards, you’re farther along than many. Knowing where to push the boundaries actually helps in maintaining them.
  • CIT is not another way to spell cat: Continuous Improvement Teams are concerted collaborative efforts to focus on operational improvement. Having these subcommittee-type groups — or even just setting specific goals and objectives that will help you achieve business success—will create a framework for tactical improvements and, at the same time, foster innovation. 

Phase 3: Keeping Calm When Mistakes Happen

  • Face adversity with preparation: Maintain a triage plan that will allow you to take a deep breath and walk calmly through the steps that solve the issue rather than perpetuate it. Set up plans for individual, limited and wide-reaching issues.
  • Understand the issues: Talk with service reps, review social sentiment, and meet with an internal task force to determine reach, impact and consequences to your overall business. Then, think about how the customer would perceive the issue.
  • Determine the response: A recommendation that will drive the tech, creative and communications needs to happen quickly. So, have an easy-to-edit template ready.
  • Communicate the issue: Develop a small notification team that can help distribute the plan for resolution. This will help with approvals and limit unapproved reactionary actions.
  • Act on the issue:  Carefully craft your response, and consider adding a message to customer accounts after login, through social networks and via other channels.  Be genuine and apologetic. 

How will you know your goof-proofing efforts have made a difference? Other than the obvious (less late night clean-ups), you’ll be able to act swiftly as the situation dictates, your customers will feel informed, and loyalty will increase. Then, when a mistake happens again (and it will), it will be a blip on the radar that will actually contribute to your success in the long run.

Related Resources:
1) Slideshare: “13 Tips for Dealing with the Inevitable Email Marketing Mistake
2) Tip Sheet: “7 Tips for Creating an Effective Modern-Day Loyalty Program
3) ebook: “Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Email Marketing"


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