In a recent conversation at an industry event, I brought up the topic of engagement in email and its increasing importance, since inbox providers are looking more closely at engagement as a metric for determining inbox placement. I went on to say that while we all think about opens and clicks as engagement metrics, inbox providers also consider “reply” an act of engaging -- and we often overlook it, blatantly. My conversation partner then asked if I actually recommended that marketers encourage reply behavior versus dissuading it. When I responded with an enthusiastic "yes," I was surprised by how much he was taken aback.
We pride ourselves as facilitators of conversation with our customers, yet somehow that conversation has become very one-directional. Marketers talking “to” customers, but not allowing them to talk back? Does that seem wrong to anyone else?
The most common argument against allowing or encouraging replies is that it is work to monitor that inbox. in many organizations someone has to physically read the responses and triage them accordingly. But the same was said for responding to tweets referencing a brand, yet somehow we have made that a reality. The truth is, you will find some of the most honest, helpful and insightful advice from your customers in your reply inbox.
If you are thinking about the possibility of encouraging replies to your marketing email, here are some key considerations for achieving success:
- Start small; think big. While we may think our customers just love our brands and are all going to feel compelled to hit “reply” in their inbox when our messages pop up, they likely won’t. But test that theory before you roll it out to your entire customer base. Target a statistically viable, representative sample of your subscribers with language for replying to the email and see what percent actually do. Based on the response over a 30-day period you should have a pretty good idea of how many hours it will take to manage the effort. You may be surprised. In some instances I have seen it require as little as two hours a week -- yet the feedback received had a positive impact on the bottom line.
- Set expectations accordingly. From a copywriting standpoint, you can achieve the reply in one of two ways (as always, I encourage you to test this to validate the effort). The first is to simply remove the “Do Not Reply” verbiage from your email communications and leverage a friendly reply-to address. You can then set up a nicely positioned auto-responder that thanks customers for their message and sets expectations for response time --say three business days. The other is to actually encourage the reply by saying something like this in your email: “We look forward to hearing from our customers. If you have any feedback you would like to send our way, simply reply to this message.”
- Validate and monetize the responses. It’s true that when you are putting yourself and your brand out in to the public forum, you have to take the good with the bad. By allowing and encouraging response, you are basically creating an “opinion box” for your subscribers -- and you aren’t always going to like what you hear. But you do need to filter through the responses, respond and route accordingly, and then determine if the feedback you are getting is impacting the customer experience. One good way to do this is to start with a control group and determine the lifetime value (LTV) of the customers included. Identify and flag responders in your database and do some analysis to determine if the LTV has increased based on their propensity to engage. Responding to your email is merely another channel for your customers to get their opinions heard -- and consumers like that.
Test it out and see if there is a benefit associated with the feedback. A client I once worked with lived and died by the reply inbox, and she summed up the opportunity at hand in the following way: “We really connect with our customers here. They tell us things about them that endear us to them as a brand and them to us as a customer. It humanizes the experience, and I wish more marketers embraced it." You just may find yourself having a similar experience, but you won't know until you try it out for yourself.
If you have any experiences concerning “do-no-reply” language in your marketing emails, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.