Are Your Transactional Emails Living Up to Expectations?

  |  November 29, 2011   |  Comments

Five things that consumers expect from transactional messages.

I don't know about you, but when I receive a brand's email message in my inbox, I don't differentiate between whether it's a transactional message or a promotional message. For me, it's another communication from the brand that has a chance to impress or disappoint me. In fact, I have a higher bar for transactional and other service-based email, as these messages are often providing me critical information that affects my relationship with the brand, such as confirmation of a purchase, status of shipping, or change of password.

Transactional messages shouldn't be treated as second-class citizens in your customer communication stream. Given that they're often triggered by an action from an engaged customer, extra care should be taken to make sure that they properly reflect your brand.

With that in mind, here are five things that I as a consumer (and marketer for that matter) expect from transactional messages (in order of importance).

Timely. I expect the message to come within seconds of the transaction. This is especially important for purchase confirmations, registration confirmations, and password resets, as any delay can instigate a call to customer service, which can seriously jeopardize your profit margins. As a consumer, I don't care if it's the brand's busy season, if it has some servers down for maintenance, or any other excuse. You need to scale your infrastructure to handle these timely and important communications.

Inbox. I don't want to be hunting for the message in my spam folder(s). While inbox delivery is important to drive sales with promotional messages, from a customer service standpoint, it's even more important for transactional messages. Because these messages are often expected within seconds of an action, a diversion to the junk folder can result in unhappy and confused customers. With deliverability being so important, you need to make sure your transactional communications have the same level of reporting, especially around inbox placement, as your promotional communications. If the system that triggers your transactional emails doesn't offer deliverability reporting, you need to find one that does.

On brand. As we all know, transactional emails have a significantly higher level of engagement than their promotional message counterparts. However, transactional message templates are often ignored, leaving a less than desirable brand experience. Your transactional and service-based messages are just another form of communication with your customers, and as such they should conform with your brand guidelines and complement your promotional messages. Ideally, there shouldn't be a visual discount between one type of message and another - so if you're still sending out text confirmation messages, it's time to up your game.

Personalized. Yes, I want to see my order details. I also am very open to complementary products and services. Help me "cross the aisle" with a purchase confirmation, just as I would in a normal department store. Done properly, you can increase revenue while exposing your customers to new products and services that are likely to appeal to them based on past purchases and preference data. Of course, you need to make sure that any cross- or upsell messages don't overshadow the intent of the message, but a well-designed template will enable you to integrate offers obviously yet unobtrusively into a right column or other adjacent real estate.

Integrated. I expect the information exchanged in my transactional communications to be captured in the brand's marketing database, where it should be leveraged to help drive frequency and relevant content across all messaging. If I've consistently booked travel flying out of San Francisco, I expect future travel deals to reflect this important bit of information. If you've asked me for preference data at some point (and you should), I expect you to use it. If I've told you I'm interested in historical novels, don't send me a deal on the latest "Twilight" novel.

The bottom line is that your transactional, service-based, and other event-triggered messages should receive the same care and attention as your promotional messages. As a critical customer touch point, these communications should be actively managed by your marketing department. If your transactional email system requires IT involvement to make changes, it's time to get in their good graces or find a more marketing-friendly solution.

While it used to be that you could get away with a simple plain-text message to confirm a purchase, you're now selling yourself short - both in branding and incremental revenue. So don't delay. Take the time to carefully evaluate if your transactional messages are living up to the expectations above. Your customers and bottom line will thank you.


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Tal Nathan

An industry veteran, Tal Nathan has been helping organizations deliver valued and effective email marketing services for more than 10 years. In his role of vice president of client services, Nathan manages all client services for StrongMail to ensure that their respective clients receive the highest level of professional service available in today’s competitive marketplace. Previously, Nathan served as vice president and general manager of client services for Epsilon, where he led online strategy for the company’s top-tier clients, with a focus on the retail, travel and financial verticals. Prior to Epsilon, he was the vice president of client engineering at infoGroup, where he led and managed integration services for its Yesmail division. No stranger to technology, Nathan began his career at BDO Seldman, where he provided a range of business management and technology services to Fortune 500 companies. Nathan holds a BS in mechanical engineering from UCLA.

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