Monday, November 28, 2005

Email: blessing or curse?

An ever-expanding world of media gives companies an ever-expanding number of ways to touch their constituents. And that's not always a good thing. Companies that value their brand understand that brands are not built on advertising alone, but by the consistent application of their culture across all touch-points. Just because a company has a blog (even a good one) doesn't mean they can ignore their annual report or how they answer the phone...or their email.

Email seems so old and is such a part of our lives that we almost forget about it. But it sill offers opportunities to strengthen (or diminish) your relationship with those on the other end. Some recent emails got me thinking about this.

The first was an email from TypePad (the platform that we use for this blog) apologizing to its users for some performance problems. The email clearly stated the shortcoming, described their fix and offered "compensation for less than stellar performance." Because TypePad didn't know which of their customers had been inconvenienced and which hadn't, they left it up to the customer to choose a remedy from these options:

· While the performance issues caused me some inconvenience I mainly found the service acceptable last month. Give me 15 free days of TypePad.

· The performance issues made it very difficult for me to use the service on multiple occasions during the month. Give me 30 free days of TypePad.

· The performance issues affected me greatly, making my experience unacceptable for most of the month. Give me 45 free days of TypePad.

· I really wasn't affected and feel I got the great service I paid for last month. Thank you for the offer, but please don't credit my account.

The choice was left to the customer, but the default option if they did nothing was a credit for 15 free days of service. How's that for building trust with the customer?

The second example was an email from Northwest Airlines the day before I left for a trade show in Las Vegas. The email thanked me for flying Northwest, provided all my flight information and confirmation numbers and invited me to check in online where I changed from a middle to an aisle seat on one flight. It even had the weather forecast and travel tips for Las Vegas.

Contrast those two with another from an email list I subscribed to. It was an opt-in list from a professional pub and the emails just kept coming...and coming...and coming. The last straw was a REGISTER NOW message for a three-day conference in New York...that started in TWO DAYS. And it was about the tenth email I received about the conference. If I hadn't responded to the first nine, did they really think one sent two days before the event was going to get me on a plane to New York?

The thinking behind that last email is not hard to fathom. Conference planners were probably a few days out from the event and had fewer registrants than hoped for. A brainstorming session no doubt led to the last-ditch email. After all, what did they have to lose from one email? Well, they lost my subscription to their list. When it comes time to renew my subscription to their pub, I'm not promising anything. But that's the price for not taking care of one of the many touch-points of their brand.

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