Seven Steps to Improve the Quality Of Your E-Mail List

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It is still up in the air whether historians will remember the past five years as the Internet gold rush or the Internet bust.

But one component of the Internet continues to soldier forward quietly with far-reaching effect on the lives of consumers and businesses: e-mail.

As e-mail becomes more ubiquitous, businesses are increasing efforts to populate their databases with customer e-mail addresses. But the e-mail address presents unique challenges regarding collection, maintenance and deployment. There are several techniques to ensure that your firm gathers and maintains quality e-mail data.

E-mail addresses are perishable. About 32 percent of consumers change their e-mail addresses annually, according to a recent study. Of these consumers, only one-third notify one or more Web sites. The result for businesses is that about 23 percent of their online customer relationships are lost each year because of e-mail address changes.

The business consequences include:

• Lost revenue when online customer relationships are cut short.

• Budgets wasted on acquiring new customers just to replace those lost.

• Marketing dollars wasted on sending e-mail to undeliverable addresses.

• Skewed campaign performance metrics because of rising undeliverable rates.

Marketers commonly allocate up to 15 percent of their budget to clean, correct, update and standardize customer contact and address information, commonly referred to as list hygiene. E-mail requires the same diligence.

The following are seven techniques for improving the quality and performance of your e-mail list:

Establish proper customer notice and permission. To ensure you have quality customer e-mail addresses, you first must ask your customers for permission to communicate with them by e-mail. The methods used to acquire permission vary. Most companies place a check box next to a statement on their Web site at the point of data collection that reads something like: "Yes, I'd like to receive occasional e-mail informing me of the latest news and developments at"

It is important to make sure your privacy policy discloses the potential use by third parties for any data handling, list cleaning or data analysis needs your firm may have. Proper notice and permission set your baseline for building a quality e-mail list.

Confirm or verify e-mail addresses. Confirming or verifying e-mail addresses with customers before accepting them into your database strengthens the level of permission and reduces data entry errors. To confirm permission, send your customers an e-mail confirming their requests to receive occasional e-mail from your firm, after they submit the requests on your Web site. This message should provide customers with a means of removing themselves from the e-mail list if the permission was granted in error. If no action is taken, customers remain on your opt-in list. If a message fails to deliver, you can flag the record as a problem e-mail address to prevent fruitless attempts to deliver e-mail to the account.

To verify permission, sometimes called double opt-in, you follow the same procedure described when confirming e-mail addresses, but with one more step. Before accepting the e-mail addresses into your opt-in list, customers must verify permission by clicking on a link in the confirmation message or by replying to the confirmation message. This further ensures that the people who requested permission on your Web site are the owners of the e-mail addresses. If a customer does not verify the message, that e-mail address would be flagged as opt-out on your list.

Require customers to enter their e-mail addresses twice. This simple technique is designed to catch data entry errors commonly made by your customers when they enter their e-mail addresses on your Web site forms.

Train employees who capture e-mail addresses on proper data entry. Many businesses now have customer service or teleservices representatives requesting e-mail addresses from customers during phone interactions. This is where mistakes most commonly occur. Employees can frequently make errors entering a verbally communicated e-mail address.

Prompt customers to correct their e-mail addresses at your Web site. If your Web site uses a customer log-in mechanism, you can use that customer ID to flag those on your database whose e-mail addresses have gone bad. When they return to your Web site and log in, you can prompt them to update their e-mail addresses on the site or via a pop-up window.

This correction method also can be applied if you use cookies to track return visitors to your Web site, though you should verify the corrected e-mail addresses to ensure that your customers' privacy and security are protected.

Add an e-mail change-of-address facility to your Web site. Without this capability, you lose not only the consumers who do not notify you of e-mail address changes, but also the consumers who want to tell you about the changes but cannot. If these customers return, they must reregister at your site, leading to duplicate database records, inflated customer counts and corrupted customer histories.

Review your list and bounce handling processes. Whether you use an internal e-mail delivery system or outsource to a third party, it is important to understand how the list is prepared for each mailing and how e-mail bounces are handled. These responses contain codes identifying the circumstances that contributed to the delivery failure. Understanding the capabilities of your e-mail delivery systems will help you assess whether you are getting the results you require from your software or service provider. Once you know this, compare the results with two other service bureaus or firms using inhouse delivery systems to benchmark your result.


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