Schwab Makes a Good Program Better

The Watergate burglars almost got away with it. By one account, the break-in was well planned, even down to making sure an office door stayed unlocked by putting a piece of tape across the locking mechanism.

But the burglars forgot one important detail: The tape should have gone across the lock vertically, not horizontally. Had they not overlooked this, a patrolling security guard might never have noticed the ends of the tape on the outside of the door and discovered the crime in progress. And we all know how that story ends.

There’s a lesson here for marketers, albeit with much smaller stakes (because, let’s face it, as caught up as you may be in your company’s success, the presidency is a lot more important to a lot more of us). A great strategy needs to be backed up with attention to the details. And as this week’s case study demonstrates, righting one overlooked detail can make a big difference.

Using the “Electronic Touch”

Charles Schwab & Co Inc. has a solid email marketing strategy. One piece of it allows customers to subscribe to 35 email alerts providing news, stock prices, and information on the portfolio of stocks and mutual funds they follow. MyClosingSummary, for example, has more than 300,000 subscribers. Subscribers can see clear Schwab branding, easy-on-the-eyes formatting, clickable links, useful columns and tables, and more.

Well, most of them could, anyway. Last year Schwab teamed up with Quris, a firm specializing in “electronic touch,” and Quris took a quick inventory of the email marketing alerts. It discovered that America Online customers made up a large percentage of the Schwab database — about 28 percent — but the email messages they received were of much lower quality than those sent to others, thanks to the AOL email client.

Schwab hadn’t designed alerts to work well with AOL’s email program, and so AOL customers were missing out. There was little formatting and no interactivity with the Schwab Web site. AOL had a history of being tough on email marketers (the client didn’t always support much HTML capability), but the release of 6.0 changed this. Schwab just hadn’t changed with it.

Improving the AOL User Experience

So Quris helped create a template that would make the AOL user experience better. Schwab’s AOL email users now receive email alerts with top-bar navigation, Schwab branding, clearly formatted layout, evenly spaced fonts and financial data tables, and hotlinked ticker symbols. In the before and after pictures, you can see the difference for yourself.

Did Schwab clients notice the change? They sure did. Unfortunately (for Schwab and us outsiders studying this case), Schwab didn’t track how AOL user interactivity increased. But the company did send out a survey to AOL users. It found that 63 percent rated the enhancements extremely or fairly useful, and 64 percent said their overall satisfaction had increased. Plus the same day the newly formatted alerts went out, Schwab’s call center received several calls applauding the updates.

There are several possible explanations as to why AOL customers were somewhat overlooked. Floriana Spezza, the marketing director at Quris, says part of the reason is that the companies were surprised AOL users made up such a large part of the customer base. They had anticipated between a tenth to two-tenths, not between a quarter and a third. Plus, she adds, when a business engages a service bureau, it’s usually to get help with a new campaign, not to scrutinize what’s currently going on.

So maybe it’s time that you sat down and took a look at the details concerning your own current email marketing efforts. Not doing so could be almost criminal.

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