Email addresses remain the cornerstone of electronic communications. Therefore, gathering these addresses and then, the effective, responsible use of them is key to successfully making email a part of your multi-channel communications strategy.
Companies struggle to obtain valid email addresses from their clients. The secret to success for any email-gathering endeavor will be to gather customer information at all touch points. These six steps can help you to get started.
1. Assign a champion, and build a strategy.
Firstly, understand how and where email addresses will be saved. Then, develop targets, milestones and responsibilities to get the email gathering done. Lastly, segment the customer/member base by dividing them into workable groups. Divide them into workable groups and approach each one differently. If a customer has an email address on file, always ask to confirm that it’s correct, but do not ask them to repeat it. Think about how you deal with new customers and whether email address gathering is happening at the beginning of your relationship.
2. Centralize your data.
Create the platform for storing email addresses and preference management. Do you have a suitable central database across business lines? This could be a component of your output management system, your content management system or your accounting/billing system. Most likely, you have email addresses in multiple locations, including employee files. Without being too invasive and to avoid turning email gathering into a major project, it is sometimes best to create a separate database, which links to all of the related systems through a middleware layer known as enterprise content management (ECM).
Step 3. Validate those email addresses and gather delivery preference.
Every email address should be validated when it is collected. This can be done in various ways, such as: sending an automated email soon after an email address has been collected. This will allow you to determine if that email address is valid based on whether it bounces or not. If the email address bounces, contact the customer via another medium to update the address. Also, put validation in place at the point of input so that any obvious errors can be caught programmatically, such as “.cm” instead of “.com” or a warning that no @ sign is present.
Once you have that email address, it’s a good idea to gather customer delivery preferences. This can be accomplished very simply and at low cost by putting in place an automated electronic consent process, allowing customers to opt-in for paperless delivery.
4. Leverage every customer touch point.
Here are some of the touch points you should take advantage of to ensure email addresses are collected and verified:
Call Centers: Using the call center is probably your most productive method of gathering email addresses (outside of new customers). Customer service representatives are often your most frequent customer touch point. Establish internal contests; make it fun, practical and routine.
Website/Portal: When customers visit your website, you are already halfway to capturing an email address, even if they don’t want to fully register on your portal. Once you have the email address, you can ask customers to go paperless and/or register on the portal. Of course, if they register on your portal, the email address field should be mandatory.
In-Store (where applicable): If you have a store/office customers can visit, make sure to collect email addresses at this point too.
Customer Service Agents: Your customer service agents are speaking to your customers. Make it part of the company culture to ensure that they monitor which customers have email addresses and make sure they ask customers for an email address if there isn’t one on file.
Online Payments: When customers pay online through your website or at a walk-in center, you can ask them to provide an email address for payment confirmation.
Social Media: Use social media to gather email addresses. Post ways for clients and prospects to provide an email address on social media sites, and let them know the value they will get in return. Customers will provide email addresses as long as believe they will receive value in return.
New Customers: If possible, default new customers to paperless communications, and short of that, make the email address a mandatory field.
Print Communication: Bill stuffers and envelope messages are also an effective way to gather email addresses if it’s easy enough to do and the value has been communicated. Think about using short-codes that customers can text or QR codes that customers can scan on their phone and provide an email address on the landing page.
People are wary about how email addresses will be used, so make sure that at each touch point you are clear about what the customers can expect if they supply their email address.
5. Proactively contact the customer.
In some businesses, just relying on touch points may take too long to achieve email- gathering goals. One innovative option is texting the customer and asking for an email address. This strategy requires a mobile number to be captured in the database, which, of course, has significant value in of itself.
6. Monitor and adapt.
Remember, this is a process, not a once-off event. The champion will need to see what is working and what is not, what can be tweaked and what should be discarded. Standard company practice should call for the gathering of email address for new and existing customers at each touch point. Constant improvements and adjustments will be required to reach the different groups of customers who interact with your company in different ways. Then, of course, once you have those email addresses, don’t overdo it.
Be judicious in your use of email as part of your multi-channel communications plan. Gather up those email addresses, and communicate with customers by their preferred delivery channel (paper, portal, email), continuing to move more to electronic channels as best fits the individual customer and your business needs.
RICHARD ROSEN is the CEO of The RH Rosen Group, a consulting group focused on improving company communications through the use of electronic channels. Contact Mr. Rosen at RichR@RHRosenGroup.com.
MICHELE KARRLSSON-WILLIS is the head of client strategy at Striata, a provider of PUSH e-delivery technology and services. Contact Ms. Willis at email@example.com.