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Troubleshooting Your 'Unsubscribes'


January 3, 2000

We've spent a good deal of time over the last few weeks reviewing how to capture a new prospect's attention through email. But what about those valuable current customers and subscribers who feel your emailed newsletter or update service is no longer worthy of their receiving it? The folks who, for whatever reason, take the final plunge and send back those dreaded "unsubscribe me" messages? How do you handle them?

First of all, take comfort in the fact that, as the old saying goes, you're never going to please all of the people all of the time. You're bound to get people who unsubscribe.

Imagine, for a moment, that you sell office furniture online and you've grown your house email list to 10,000 subscribers. These people have opted to receive regular updates on your new product offerings and special subscriber-only discounts.

Okay, everything is going along fine. Like clockwork, every two to three weeks - after one of your house promotions goes out - you see a surge in your site's traffic... along with a decent boost in sales. Nice.

Word of advice: Despite the fact that you may be experiencing these good things, just remember to keep a watchful eye on your churn (or turnover) rate.

For example, at one specific time - say, November 15th - your list contains 10,000 subscribers on the nose. Exactly one month later - December 15th - and your list has grown to 10,050. Good deal. You are seeing a positive (50 on the plus side) overall churn rate.

But what if January 15th shows a reduction in your list… down to 9,990? Not a good thing. That should set off alarm bells that something may be wrong and in need of reassessment.

Quick and dirty rule of thumb: Keep your churn rate on the positive. Your goal should be to have your list increase over time, even if it's ever so slightly.

If the number of folks who elect to unsubscribe exceeds a certain threshold considered normal - that is, more than .5 percent of your list - it's time to evaluate all components of your program. Either your list is potentially "polluted" or your offer needs work.

Despite best intentions, a list can be polluted if complaints and former unsubscribes have not been removed from it. Passive management of the file and/or faulty software programs are usually to blame.

Or perhaps your email service is not living up to its expectations - your offer, as originally promised, that is.

In either case, if you have a house list that you communicate with regularly, you can help avoid these situations by implementing the following:

  • Make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe. Many companies add a footer at the bottom of their email messages that gives clear directions on how recipients can unsubscribe. Often, it's simply a matter of "Send a message to ____ and you'll be unsubscribed immediately...."

    It gets a bit more complicated when, for instance, the subscriber's original email address has been forwarded to a new address. If he decides to unsubscribe, your program will not recognize his new address and won't be able to unsubscribe him.

    To combat this, consider implementing a system that allows people to enter in the subject line the email address under which they originally subscribed. This type of system will look at the "unsubscribe joe@stopmyemail.com" and will disregard the address in the "From" line.

  • Send a confirmation to every successfully unsubscribed address. An autoresponder can help streamline this process and avoid any neglect on this end. No fuss, no muss.

  • Automate your email management system. Humans can't possibly handle the daunting task of managing an entire email database: There's too much room for error. Instead, use an email solutions provider or a capable software program to handle the day-to-day tasks of adding new subscribers, removing old ones, sending confirmations, tracking, reporting, etc. This will help avoid any missed critical steps, which could then turn into a host of altogether new and different problems.

  • Have an internal troubleshooter of your own. Whether it's someone in Customer Service or elsewhere, make sure you have at least one person assigned to review your "unsubscribe" reports and flag anything unusual. This person can also ensure that folks who have elected to unsubscribe have indeed been taken off your list.

  • Make sure that you're building your list properly. Meaning, simply: Don't make promises you can't keep. If you've built your list on offers that you can't deliver, you're asking for a flurry of unhappy subscribers. Common sense, yes... but something to keep it in mind when developing your offer.

Like everything else within this space, be mindful of the fact that your list needs to be scrupulously managed and maintained. Your diligence will result in satisfied subscribers and positive list growth.

Not a bad way to start the New Year. So have a good one and... "take care."

Kim Macpherson, Clickz.com


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