Moan, Moan, Moan – All You Ever Do Is Complain! Part 3

Posted by Guy Hanson on

Last time out, we looked at why new subscribers might complain when they start to receive emails from your program – even though they had provided consent at the time. This was largely to do with failure to recognize the sender, and the reduction in trust as a result. In this installment we are going to consider why more mature subscribers complain – people who have been part of your email program for a reasonable while, but have now made a decision that it’s no longer for them.

Part 3: Relevance

Deeper into the subscriber life cycle, complaints may happen for different reasons.  These often reflect volume, frequency, and mis-matched expectations. In this blog post, we consider some of the most common variations on these themes.

  1. You’re not sending me what I thought you would: The importance of sending emails that continue to fulfill initial expectations cannot be over-emphasized. If subscribers thought they would receive newsletters and now all they get are offers, they are more likely to complain.Recommendations:
    • Explicitly reference what email messages will be sent at point of sign-up.
    • Reinforce this in your  privacy policy.
    • Provide links to examples of the emails that will be received.
    • Provide a preference center link so default settings can be changed.
  2. You’re sending me too much: This point aligns closely with the previous one. If new subscribers thought they would receive weekly emails, and they’re actually daily, they are highly likely to complain. Particularly where email activity is peer-generated (e.g. social, dating, etc.) initial levels of email activity can be overwhelming, and even threatening.Recommendations:
    • Explicitly reference how many emails will be sent, and even what days they will be sent on.
    • Don’t default new subscribers to automatically receive all email message types.
    • Make it easy to change email frequency by putting a preferences link in every email.
    • Frequency can also mean too little – traction with engagement can be lost as a result.
  3. Your emails don’t reflect my interests: Sign-up forms will often request data about new subscribers’ interests (for example, “what are your preferred holiday destinations?”). If the resulting emails don’t reflect these interests, complaint activity is a likely outcome.Recommendations:
    • Only collect this information if it’s going to be used
    • Use progressive registration to slowly build up more detailed subscriber profiles.
    • Use other data sources (click-through categorization, browse behavior, purchase activity, etc.)
    • Use data and behavioral triggers, which are more relevant and time-specific.
  4. What – you actually want me to pay? Many email programs allow new members to sign-up for free. However, this provides only limited functionality compared to paid members. When attempting to respond to calls to action, these subscribers  are presented with a “paywall”, preventing them from interacting further until they get their out credit cards.Recommendations:​
    • Clarify what functionality is available at each membership level when new members sign-up.
    • Provide free members with a “taster” e.g. full benefits for a 24-hour period.
  5. I’m not in the buying cycle any more: This occurs where the products/services being promoted are dependent on recipients occupying a specific life stage (having a baby for example). As they moves out of this life stage, the offers have diminishing relevance unless they adapt to reflect the changing needs and interests of these subscribers. Continuing to send the same content over and over again is a sure-fire recipe for complaints.Recommendations:
    • Promote offers that reflect the evolving needs of subscribers.
    • Re-qualify subscribers’ interests.
    • Provide opportunities to “opt-down” to a reduced frequency.

Where complaints are occurring because of reduced relevance, there is still an opportunity to retrieve the subscriber relationship, and even strengthen it. However, it may get to the point where the relationship is irretrievable, and all you can do as the sender is let them go with good grace – while hopefully learning something from their experience. We’ll consider this in more detail in part 4 of this series.

Additionally check out the previous installments in the series where I discuss how the sign-up process and lack of recognition can contribute to subscriber complaints.


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About Guy Hanson

Guy is a passionate advocate for intelligent use of customer data to drive responsive email programs. With a knowledge base that now spans nearly 15 years, he is a global e-mail expert and thought leader. Leading Return Path’s International Professional Services consulting team, Guy has worked with a broad range of clients across 5 continents to improve their email delivery, subscriber engagement and revenue generated. Outside of work, Guy is the Chairman of the DMA Email Council. In this role, he works with industry peers including brands, agencies, and service providers to promote the best interests of the email industry to a broader audience. He is also a regular contributor to the industry press.

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