Give customers control to keep communication open

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Ask anyone who uses e-mail and they'll probably tell you they're overwhelmed with information from businesses — daily alerts, weekly newsletters, biweekly newsletters, quarterly reports. Information overload often results in customers closing the door on companies by opting out.

Opt-out requests don't have to be final. A customer opting out may not mean they never want to hear from you again. To make sure you're not closing a door that needn't be shut, offer communication alternatives — keeping in mind the Federal Trade Commission's CAN-SPAM Act regulations on opt-out procedures.

CAN-SPAM specifies two ways companies can allow people to opt out: Reply to the e-mail and write “opt-out” in the subject line or body of the message, or by clicking through to a Web page to opt out. FTC regulations specify that the opt-out Web page must be a single Web page and cannot require users to provide more than their e-mail address — for example, no passwords and no reason for opting out.

By providing the option to click through to a Web page to opt out, you have the opportunity to continue the relationship. While a customer may not be interested in the product, service or information from which they're opting out, you may have other options that may interest them. In other instances, people would simply rather hear from you less often or maybe they  don't want to receive your messages on a particular e-mail address.

When customers ask to opt out, drive them to a page that gives them the choice of either being removed from your distribution list, or of selecting from a list of frequency choices. You can also allow them to opt in to receive messages from you on a host of different subjects or products. It is also wise to give them the option to change their e-mail address. For example, they may rather hear from you via their personal account rather than their business e-mail address.

Consider taking it a step further. You can provide a free form for additional comments asking them for their advice and/or insight to let them know their input is valuable. You can ask if they want to receive a confirmation e-mail on what they have requested. Always provide a link back to your company's Web site. When given choices, most folks will opt to stay if what you offer is of interest to them. By giving your customers control over the type of information they receive from you and how often, you maintain a good chance of keeping the lines of communication open over the long term.

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