Five Guidelines For The Customer Experience

While the email landscape is changing and becoming more challenging to deliver concrete experiences to growing databases and more restrictive inboxes, how do you deliver a good experience and meaningful brand impression with each email? Or can you?  

Let's start with what the email industry is faced with: image blocking, truncated preview panes, arbitrary filtering by corporate filters and a busier consumer.  The mailbox isn't static and doesn't sit 25 feet in front of our house.  Today we view email in the strangest places, at the strangest times and for the strangest reasons.  Viewing email today is much like reading the classifieds; it's become a scan mentality.  

Do you believe we are better at managing our inboxes than we were yesterday? If you subscribe to this mentality, you probably think member or preference centers are the solution to all your fixes. If you don't, you are likely not sure if your cadence, timing or brand relationships are valuable, and you struggle with what proxy to use to measure this success or failure.   If you assume consumers want everything, you risk inundating them with email and can cheapen even the most prestigious brands.   There is this fine line between delivering on the promise, delivering to consumer demands and expectations and maintaining business momentum.

I read an interesting article on AOL the other day that stated the average consumer spends over twenty hours on email each week, a crisis that's spilling over into work and work force efficiency and effectiveness. It's not about how many emails we get per day or week, it's about the time we spend in managing our lives through email and the efficiency lost in switching from task to task. 

Ultimately it's how, as marketers, we get a share of voice with the consumer through the inbox.  Putting this in perspective, this indicates that we spend more time with email than television, magazines, music, exercising and in many respects more than we do with our loved ones.   In 2005, an article on CNN.com reported that "Email hurts IQ more than pot,"  that "workers distracted with phone calls, email and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana."  Is this really where we've come?

The million-dollar question for marketers is, how do we raise this consumer IQ through appropriate ties to our brand, rather than contribute to the problems that exist?    Do consumers only scan email today, or is email so pervasive that consumers will fight through the clutter of the inbox for those brand relationships that mean the most to them?

Delivering on a customer experience through email requires a blend of perspectives: a direct marketer's desire to justify everything, a relationship marketer's respect for the high-value customer and consumer insight, and a product marketer's sensitivity to customer experiences and feedback.   

I've found that most people in this space prefer lists of things rather than concepts, so to reinforce this view, here are five steps to generating, maintaining and owning the customer experience.

1. Be concrete about the function of email to the brand experience and business.  What can you really do with email? What's its function? What's its value

2. We are creatures of habit, so be consistent in delivery of the experience. Timing, cadence and context are critical, but recognize this will not always be the same (see point #4).

3. Customer observation and feedback will always outweigh marketing intuition.  Maximize touchpoints to gain feedback.  It doesn't take two million surveys to determine customer opinion; each interaction has some meaning to you if -- and only if -- you initially applied some value beforehand.  Insight after the fact makes it harder to draw a conclusion.

4. The first impression is everything.  We are Internet gypsies, and it's getting harder to create personas that stick, so the first impression is vital to establishing a path for future experiences.  Maximize this -- and don't forget for a minute that you may have to reintroduce your customers to your channel a few times in their lifespan; it's not a one-time event.  Remember, consumers go in and out of brands during their changing lifestages; brand loyalty doesn't always remain constant.

5. Never forget email is about "the message," not the creative or event.