Email: The Ultimate Relationship Channel

I travel a lot, for business and with the family. And anyone who travels enough knows that inevitably you are going to have one of “those” travel days, when everything just goes wrong; your ride to the airport is late, you have to check bags, the security line is just slightly too long, the airline loses your luggage, and the rental car company sends you to a car with no keys. I just had one of “those” days.

Now, short of tweeting every single instance of travel hell, there would be no collective way for each of these carriers to know just how bad a travel day I was having, but on an individual basis, they all could have determined that my interaction with their brand, specifically, was sub-par. And they could have addressed it accordingly. No one did.

This is something we speak about often. Brands should deliver a cohesive and informed experience to their customers. Let’s take the airline as an example. I travel with this airline frequently, and I've earned preferred status. However, there was not a single instance -- from the reporting of the lost luggage to the retrieval of said luggage --- when anyone from the airline acknowledged my status or my continued loyalty to their brand. The only thing I was offered for my inconvenience was a $50 travel voucher, available to me only if I chose to drive back to the airport to pick up my found luggage -- no thanks, you can deliver it. I also tweeted about the experience, but got neither a response from the airline to my #AmatureHour reference nor the pleasant surprise of an email acknowledging my angst. I did, however, get a promotional message the very next day. Talk about pouring salt in a wound.



Consumers are connected all the time, and brands need to be as well. Leveraging information about your customers’ experiences can be a great way to influence email communications. After all, email is a relationship channel, and what better way to begin mending those missteps than via a channel that is so direct and so relevant? The airline could have sent an email with a coupon or a voucher for a free drink on my return flight home -- I needed one (or a dozen) after this trip. Even better, send me an email showing me where I can track my luggage online (some airlines have this functionality --  a GOOD idea). At minimum, they could have  eliminated me from receiving the promotional offer that went out the next day.

Eventually my luggage was found, but was there damage done to my relationship with this airline? You bet. When looking at opportunities to be relevant and timely with your customers, don’t just consider the positive moments.  Those times  of absolute displeasure are a real opportunity to send an email that may just change the tone of the experience. Those are the moments that can turn an unhappy customer in to a delighted and surprised loyalist. Don’t squander those moments, as they are genuine opportunities to leverage email for the purpose for which it was intended: creating and maintaining relationships.

10 comments about "Email: The Ultimate Relationship Channel".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, October 28, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.

    Re: "At minimum, they could have eliminated me from receiving the promotional offer that went out the next day." Also, to be totally cynical, removed you from the list of people to receive a request to review the airline's service.

  2. Kara Trivunovic from Epsilon, October 28, 2013 at 2:06 p.m.

    True Pete, they could do that. But with consumers taking to social networks to share their experiences with brands, the brands don't really get to control the sharing of positive/negative experiences so much these days :)

  3. Jen Mcgahan from MyTeamConnects, October 28, 2013 at 2:53 p.m.

    I so feel your pain, Kara. Getting a happy-go-lucky email from a company that just screwed you over is beyond the pale. I'll never forget the email I got from Verizon after they wiped ALL my contacts from my phone -- irretrievable. The email may have felt even worse than the fateful act itself. At least we can blog about it...

  4. Angie Thain from TailoredMail, October 28, 2013 at 6:09 p.m.

    I want to acknowledge your awful day and say that stinks, truly! I've been there too and it's not pleasant, to say the least. On the other hand I'm curious as to how a marketer of said airline goes about seeing your tweet to making sure you don't receive [promo] emails (or to drop you into a "win-back" drip campaign). Should that be a job by the social media team, handing that over to the email marketing team, or...?

  5. Kara Trivunovic from Epsilon, October 28, 2013 at 7:12 p.m.

    @Angie - thank you, first of all. It did stink, but I survived :)

    The challenge for marketers today is the customer doesn't care who's job it is - which means the organizations need to operate seamlessly. Breaking down the walls and the silos is critical to meeting clients expectations today.

    I have worked with other brands and airlines that have been able to integrate systems in a central location, flagging a customer record for a bad experience with customer service, lost luggage or getting stuck in a middle seat - all so they can respond effectively in their email program. It isn't easy, I will give you that, but it is imperative in today's connected world.

  6. Angie Thain from TailoredMail, October 29, 2013 at 12:02 p.m.

    Great points all around. You're right, it's not easy, but it does highlight where improvement is needed. Thanks Kara!

  7. Bert Shlensky from stretchandcover , October 30, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.

    there is a simple thing that few companies do and that is empower mangers to do whatever . When that happens you frequently forget the agony . Last week I was boiling over a tire defect which was a little issue in the scheme oif life. The Lincoln service manger gave me a $ 100 off on the spot, put my car in the front of the line and even washed the car. She turned and enemy into a friend and it is easy . Apologozing also helps

  8. Kara Trivunovic from Epsilon, October 30, 2013 at 1:51 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more Bert - empowering the people on the front lines can certainly turn a bad situation in to a good one. During my travel escapade, the Hertz agent upgraded me to an amazing car for my trouble - gotta give him some kudos for that!

  9. Amy Do from SPARK, November 2, 2013 at 5:48 p.m.

    What a missed opportunity for those brands to shine. With email, we often talk about relevance and timing, no better timing than after a customer has experienced your brand and it's top of mind. A chance for them to share their experience good or bad, and for them to make things good and retain a loyal customer. Shake my head when companies forget the basics of customer service and use tools improperly giving channels a bad name like spam.

  10. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 5, 2013 at 9:29 p.m.

    Have you noticed the airlines do not end their flights with a thank you for choosing ___ airlines ? We don't have choices. The less competition like the airlines and communication companies, the less response they have to give since they all are on equal footing and can stay on equal footing with ineffective service.

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