And suggestions on how to manage these impacts to avoid a PR disaster.
Internet giant Yahoo announced on June 12 that it was going to start recycling its inactive email addresses. In from July 15, accounts that have been inactive for 12 months will be closed and from then on new users can start to apply to use those old closed down addresses, being notified if they are successful from mid August.
This was wrapped up in a blog post from Yahoo that talked to some of the other changes they had made and a bit of spin round making some more attractive email addresses available to users. As Jay Rossiter, SVP Platforms for Yahoo pointed out, "If you're like me, you want a Yahoo! ID that's short, sweet, and memorable like firstname.lastname@example.org instead of email@example.com."
Absolutely! And I'm always an advocate of housekeeping and cleaning up or recycling things that have not been used efficiently. But as marketers we need to possibly think through the implications of this on our customers, the way that we manage them and the way that we talk to them.
There are a number of implications:
Well this is simple! Some of your Yahoo emails are simply going to get hard bounced for a while. That's not the end of the world, a dip in your email performance perhaps. But once those addresses have been recycled to new users, those emails will start to be delivered again, but as potential spam, to new users that never asked for them or subscribed to them.
Some customer emails contain personal information, such as statements and account balances. Whilst it is less likely that these addresses will have become inactive, extra care needs to be taken here to ensure that sensitive personal data is not emailed to the wrong person. A PR nightmare waiting to happen.
Suggestion: From July 15 run a test campaign to all your Yahoo users and identify all the hard bounces, quarantine those emails and remove them from your emails pending such time as they reappear as new users. And you may want to amend your email footer, letting new Yahoo users know why they might have received an email in error and advising what to do.
Website Sign In
Email is commonly used as a personal identifier when signing into websites etc. But after August 15 we potentially have two individuals on a site trying to use the same login ID.
One of the up sides of things like cookies is that people can be signed into websites automatically, they may have completely forgotten the email identifier they are using for your website and moved on to Gmail or Outlook years or months ago.
Suggestion: Analyze your site traffic and identify inactive Yahoo members, and consider suspending their accounts. I'd suggest emailing them telling them to stay active, but since they had not read their Yahoo email for the past year, you are unlikely to get through. You could unilaterally change their login credentials, for example from 'firstname.lastname@example.org' to 'email@example.com' and post a message to this effect on your site.
This is potentially important. It is very common to use email address to deliver forgotten password functions to users, click on the link and presto you can access your account. But of course if that email account has been assigned to some stranger, suddenly they get an email inviting them to log in to your account and access all your personal data. A bad move all around and possibly puts you on the wrong side of privacy laws and policies. Again, PR nightmare!
Suggestion: You may need to address this quickly. Possibly completely re-building the way your forgotten password function works, to include personal questions etc. As a minimum consider suspending accounts for inactive Yahoo emails. That way there is no chance for account information to fall into the wrong hands. Those suspended customers, when they come back, will then need to go through some sort of re-registration process.
Your back end systems may need to be changed. You may need to modify them to accommodate new / additional email addresses, change your approach for password reset. And potentially have this in place by mid August.
Suggestion: Scope out the extent of the problem for you and decide on a course of actions ranging from simply suspending suspect accounts completely, which is simple but perhaps not very customer friendly, to making quick and potentially complex system changes to safeguard both you and your customers.
Let People Know
As you can see from above, some of your customers are going to encounter some potential problems. They will call, email or message you. You need to be ready.
Suggestion: Communicate the implications of this front and center on your prominent communication assets. "An important message for Yahoo emails users." And support that with landing pages and clear advice etc.
Brief your customer service people with clear instructions as to what customers can do to recover their relationship with you. If the numbers of potential cases are justified you may want to set up a special team to help manage this and help to transition effective customers to a new relationship.
We will have to watch and see how this plays out, and the scale of potential problems. It is fair to suggest that other email providers will be watching closely also and if it proves successful, undertaking a similar exercise. This may not be the last time we need to go through this process.
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Stephen Hay is Asia Pacific regional director for ICLP, the award-winning global loyalty and customer relationship management (CRM) agency. Stephen came into loyalty at Cathay Pacific when e-mail was still something that people in research labs used to send to each other and direct mail was still king.
ICLP works with some of the world's leading customer-focused brands, including Cathay Pacific, Mandarin Oriental, and Juniper Networks; looking to bring brands and customers closer together into a more mutually beneficial and more profitable relationship. Stephen takes a customer point of view on almost everything, not always universally popular, but proven time and again to be the basis for a sustainable, profitable, long-term relationship.
Hong Kong, May 5-6, 2015
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