Digital MarketingEmail MarketingWho Are Your Complainers?

Who Are Your Complainers?

Follow this two-step procedure to pinpoint the source of e-mail complaints.

Retailers know that one learns a lot more from complainers than those who offer compliments. For e-mailers, complainers are the people who hit the spam-complaint button on the messages they actually signed up to receive.

You might think there’s nothing to learn from these people. But once you figure out which segments of your list are most likely to complain, you can work to reduce the problems that spur complaints. That, in turn, will improve your deliverability.

If your e-mail deliveries generate too many spam complaints, ISPs will block your e-mail or divert it to the junk folder. If you ask for help, they usually tell you your complaint volume is too high, and you need to bring it down.

Easier said than done, though! This two-step procedure can help you pinpoint where complaints are coming from. Once you know this, you can find ways to reduce them.

First: Look for Changes

Before you start slicing and dicing your database, see if you’ve made any changes recently that could spur complaints.

Did you:

  • Suddenly add a batch of names from a new source, like a marketing partner, co-registration service, or channel?
  • Import new data from old sources?
  • E-mail to the wrong list by mistake?
  • Change your subscription-page content?
  • Change your message template’s design or content. Either one can affect your complaint rate.

    The first question I always ask a client when resolving a delivery issue is, “What did you change recently?”

    Second: Segment to Find Complainers

    Subscribers click the spam-complaint button for many reasons. However, use segmentation strategies to isolate groups of unhappy subscribers and then figure out why they’re unhappy.

    Divide your list into segments using these factors, then send your messages as usual, and evaluate which of these generate the most spam complaints:

    A. Acquisition Source:

    Your goal with this segment: Identify all the ways subscribers can join your e-mail list. Then, see if one source produces more complaints than others.

    To do this, you must identify “source” as a data field. Common list sources:

  • Direct and dedicated sign-up forms where a full page is devoted to sign-up
  • Quick sign-up forms (usually small real estate on another page where subscribers need to enter only one or two data fields, typically name and e-mail address
  • Checkbox during a purchase or registration
  • Affiliate or co-reg programs where permission data is passed to the list owner.

    Note: The easier it is to join your e-mail list, the more likely the subscriber will not know what he or she signed up for.

    Permission is like a ladder, with opt-out on the bottom rung. Complaint rates should fall as you move up the ladder. The next rung is simple forms with prechecked boxes, then forms with a few more data fields and an unchecked checkbox. The top rung is a dedicated sign-up page and meaningful choices with details and samples.

    B. Length of Time on List:

    This requires you to record the date a new subscriber joined your program. Most e-mail programs have a natural time curve of responses, including filing spam complaints.

    Because new members tend to open and click more than long-term subscribers, some e-mail programs drop non-responders from regular mailings, only to try to re-engage them later. Contacting these older addresses after a long silence can make complaint rates spike.

    High-frequency programs often have to send several messages before subscribers decide enough is too much. If you can determine a common complaint pattern, you can develop strategies to reduce frequency before complaints spike.

    C. Frequency:

    Complaints spike when consumers receive too much e-mail, if you wait too long to start e-mailing, or if you wait too long between mailings.

    Sometimes, reducing frequency of messaging alone is enough to bring complain volumes down. But, if you don’t contact your subscribers regularly, they can forget they subscribed as well and complain.

    Third: Use What You Learned

    How you develop strategies to reduce complaints will vary, depending on what your segmenting tells you. These are some common fixes, however:

  • Encourage people who want to get off your list to unsubscribe by making it obvious and easy.

    Make your unsub link more prominent: Boost the type size; put the link up higher in the message; clarify your unsub instructions; boldface the unsubscribe link or language and change the font color to make it more noticeable.

  • Stop mailing complainers.

    This should be a no-brainer. Pull every address associated with a spam complaint. If you keep pounding them, the ISPs will assume you’re a spammer.

    Be prepared to pull entire batches of addresses if, say, you have a sleazy partner who keeps sending you questionable subscribers who aren’t happy about getting your messages or if you imported an old list of names.

  • Change your sign-process.

    New subscribers can be a major source of complaints. Often, it means something’s wrong with how you sign up newcomers.

    Have you set proper expectations for frequency and content, or do you just provide a simple call to subscribe and a single data field? Force subscribers to take the positive step of checking the sign-up box to launch the process, and watch your complaint volume drop.

    Why Make the Effort?

    Identifying why your subscribers are complaining and resolving those issues are the real secrets to reducing complaints. It’s not easy, and you might have to make some painful decisions. However, you’ll end up with a higher-quality list, and delivery will improve.

    Until next time, keep on deliverin!

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