I’ve been thinking about transactional email a lot lately. You know the ones I’m talking about. It’s the receipt thanking you for a purchase or reminding you about a recent account signup. They are the ones nagging you for feedback or reminding you about an upcoming appointment. Transactional emails are all of the customer communications that your business’ web site sends out – often automatically – to follow up with customers online. These are the kinds of emails that can easily slip through the cracks in terms of your branding and marketing. It’s really a shame when it does, because they are the perfect opportunity to surprise and delight the folks that make your business thrive.
I was recently reminded of this after my wife and I took a road trip through Montana. We stayed at a hotel whose main attraction was a 3-story, indoor water park. It was tons of fun and a great way to let the kids go hog-wild during a cold Montana winter. The hotel itself was OK, nothing terrible, but nothing great either. So when they sent me an automatic e-mail requesting that I fill out a survey I did just that.
When I fill out these kinds of surveys I try to be as honest as I can, and also offer constructive criticism if it’s due. I do my best not to be petty, and to focus on the kinds of things that I think could actually make a difference. It’s probably the marketer in me, but I like to think a real human being reads and acts on this information. Customer feedback is a marketing gold mine and I like to contribute where I can. But, I digress.
The last step in this particular hotel chain’s survey gives the opportunity to post a review of their property. The review is then displayed on their site for other, future guests. Simple, right? I took several minutes to write what I thought was an insightful and helpful review, and hit the submit button. To my dismay it came back with an error message letting me know that my review was too long. 1,500 characters it said – that’s your limit!
Let’s think about this interaction for a moment in terms of the user experience. Forget about what the actual review said – after all this post itself isn’t a critique of the hotel. Rather let’s focus on this single interaction and break it down step by step.
1. I took the time to clink the link in the message. I didn’t just delete the e-mail.
This is important, because it’s the first step in the engagement. Your customer has acted! They could have “changed the channel” by pressing the delete key and gone about their day.
2. I’ve gone through a multiple-step survey, carefully ranking my satisfaction on a scale of 1-10.
In the e-mail message you’ve only asked me to take a short survey. I think that my job is done. When I’m presented with another option it’s beyond my original time commitment. There’s a high likelihood that I’ll abandon your site now. Ask yourself if a second e-mail is a better option, or at least present the fact that a review will be requested.
3. I’ve taken the time to actually write a review.
Many statistics show that customer reviews and other customer generated content will be the primary factor that helps another customer choose whether your product or service is right for them. There is zero reason to limit how much input a customer can give you. It’s your job to determine what to pay attention to, and how to respond. Your customer has no obligation to help you out, the least you can do is make it as easy as possible.
4. I’ve submitted my review.
Again, put yourself in your customer’s shoes and imagine their thought process. Nowhere on the form was there any mention of a character limit until an error message was displayed after the form was submitted. The field in which the review was typed did not have any tools that automatically displayed the length of the text that had been typed. What’s a customer to do? Manually count each letter? The computer savvy ones may use another program to get the length, but forget it if you’re on a mobile device.
Is this your customer’s last time?
When I think about these kinds of transactional emails I like to take a worst-case-scenario approach. I assume that this is the last contact that I’ll ever have with the customer. When I paint it in this light, the importance of getting it right becomes more obvious. I know that if I don’t leave them with a good taste in their mouth it will be so much more difficult to earn their repeat business down the road.
Here’s the lessons that I’ve learned.
- Treat every interaction as if it’s your last. Otherwise it may be.
- Your customer’s time is precious and distractions are plentiful.
- You don’t control the conversation. Let your customers say what they want to or they will find a channel where they can.
- When you limit length, recognize that you may also be limiting the ability to effectively communicate. Use the privilege only when absolutely necessary otherwise your feedback may become so abbreviated it has a stunted feel.
@manifestphil Yikes! This is a great point! Do you mind e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org — we promise there's no character limit there 😉
— Choice Hotels (@ChoiceHotels) February 1, 2016
There were some positive aspects to this interaction. I sent a quick tweet to @choicehotels when I had the issue. Their social media team was quick to respond and gave an e-mail address to send concerns to. I sent that address a message and their response was courteous and prompt. I also got a moment to think about the sites that I’ve developed and have already schedule a review of a couple of the older ones.
In conclusion my fellow netizens and marketing attuned friends; pay attention to those post-sale interactions. Ask yourselves if you should even try to control the conversation on your website or whether the free exchange of information and ideas is more important to your brand. If you’re using survey and e-mail marketing software to automatically send messages, go through them yourselves and put yourself in your customer’s shoes the entire way.
Remember that somewhere out there, there is certainly a marketing-obsessed web nerd who probably thinks too much about things as simple as transactional emails.