Customer preferences, Part 2

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Last week, we interviewed Morgan Stewart, director of research and strategy for e-mail service provider ExactTarget, about customer communication preferences and how they can affect e-mail marketing efforts. Stewart, who discussed the company’s latest white paper, “2008 Channel Preference Survey”, said b-to-b marketers have much to learn about balancing how people want to receive messages and how to market to them without overstepping their boundaries. The second part of his interview is below.

To read the first part, click here.

EMI: Are there any types of messages that are going out today that are doing more harm than good for marketers?

Morgan Stewart: Absolutely. We asked those surveyed where they draw the line between marketing messages they deem appropriate and inappropriate by channel: e-mail, direct mail, phone, text messaging, RSS, social networking sites and instant messaging. We asked them to rate six types of communications on a scale of one to five, one being completely unacceptable and five being completely acceptable.

When you look at the results, the one thing that pops out right to the top of the list is that any unsolicited promotions don’t belong anywhere, except for direct mail. When you send them through e-mail, it completely turns people off and mars the reputation of your company.

You might look at the chart and say, gee, an acceptability score of 3.3 for sending promotional messages to a person who you conduct business with but who hasn’t opted in isn’t that bad. You might be tempted to send out messages, but the reality is that’s not a good idea. The problem is, with e-mail you have all these feedback and spam reporting capabilities, and the difference between average acceptability of 3.3 and the 4.1 that permission-based messaging received is enough to generate additional spam complaints and negatively affect your deliverability.

EMI: The results indicate that people respond positively to polls, surveys and questionnaires via e-mail. What can b-to-b marketers take away from this?

Stewart: I’ve worked with polls and surveys with our customers, and I am becoming more of a fan of using polls and surveys via e-mail. And the reason is the response is really strong. The message is that people like to provide feedback; they want to feel heard. So when we invite people to give us feedback, ask them to tell us what we’re doing right and wrong—and how can we better server them as our customers—we’re doing something that they really want and something that can benefit us. In fact, I would encourage any b-to-b marketer to spend more time asking their customers, ‘What do you want?’ and mean it. Don’t do it just to placate people but with the intent of really, really listening.

We have a client that we’ve done surveys for and, based on the results of the survey, that client consciously made changes to the way they interact with customers, provide service and do business. Once they made those changes, they sent out an e-mail that said, ‘Based on what you told us, these are the changes we’ve made.’ We’ve seen wonderful results based on that strategy. Customer loyalty is up, and people feel like the company really cares about them. It’s been a huge win for them.

EMI: Are there any other opportunities that b-to-b marketers are missing?

Stewart: We asked people how they would prefer to receive a confirmation or thank-you message for a transaction, and 83% of people said e-mail as compared to 13% for direct mail. If [e-mail marketers] aren’t sending e-mail confirmations to customers, they aren’t providing what customers want.

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