When things go wrong
Sometimes you do things with the best of intentions and it all goes wrong. This week has been like that.
It all started out with the simple idea that we’d like to try to create a bit more business by contacting past customers that didn’t renew their software maintenance and see if they wanted to renew.
We’d had some feedback from some customers that they had missed the renewal notices that are included with their software updates and that they would appreciate a separate email from us to inform them. We took this feedback and created some appropriate emails that are sent 90, 60, 30 days in advance of the renewal date. We also send some email after the renewal date for a short period.
So far so good. Nothing wrong with keeping existing customers in the loop.
The problem occurred when we thought about the customers that had not renewed. Was it an error, an oversight or deliberate? Well of course we don’t know. I think the initial idea may have been to contact customers whose maintenance had expired just over 1 year ago. That’s borderline OK. CRM solutions such Hubspot, Act-On etc all recommend 1 year as the cut off threshold for contacting customers. Anyone over a year, you don’t contact. The reason we were going just over a year was to do with when we’d first introduced paid software maintenance. It fell just over a year.
We also thought that contacting these customers would be a good opportunity to get some feedback about why they hadn’t renewed. Where we doing something wrong? Or had their career changed? etc.
I produced lists of customers, organised by software product whose maintenance expired. The lists included their name, email address and maintenance expiry date. The intention was that customers would receive a personalised email that identified the product they used and did they know their maintenance had expired?
What actually happened
Normally we email customers evaluating our software in HTML email via our Hubspot account.
Customers that have purchased our software received email in plain text or very simply HTML email.
But customers receiving the maintenance renewal email received a HTML email in a different format to our normal Hubspot format, not sent via our Hubspot account, sent from an email account our customers have never heard of, with an incorrect email address in the body of the email. The emails were not personalised, not were they specific to the software tool the customer had purchased. In addition some of the email addresses in the list shouldn’t have been in the list. As a final nail in the coffin of getting this wrong, the emails were sent to customers well outside of the time boundaries initially specified.
I don’t think we could get it much more wrong if we tried. Well, I suppose we could have included some Not Safe For Work or some malware, but short of doing that we got this as wrong as we could have done. Very embarrassing. I’ve been writing email apologies to people left right and centre the last few days.
Some people unsubscribed. No problem. We expected that some people would. Turns out some people were using different languages or made larger changes in their career and no longer needed our tools.
Some people emailed asking if it was a phishing scam (mainly due to the format, incorrect email address, unusual sending email address, etc).
Some people complained that we were horrible unscrupulous people. Ouch.
In summary, we annoyed some people by being inept at this particular task. We could have done this so much better. And I’m embarrassed by it all.
If you have received one of these emails I humbly apologise. It won’t happen again.
As a result of this unintended email episode I’ve created some basic rules. We’ll probably extend these rules as we go.
- If you can’t personalise it, don’t sent it.
- If you can’t specify which product you are emailing about, don’t sent it.
- Don’t send generic, catch-all emails. See previous two points.
- Ensure all emails are within the date range you intend. Double check them.
- Don’t accept excuses from marketing for why things are being done a particular way.
The whole purpose of this task was that apart from generating the lists it wouldn’t involve me and I could get on with the technical side of running the business. It hasn’t worked out that way. I’ve had to spend time reviewing other’s work, accepting their reasons for why this way or that way. I’ve paid for their labour and now I’m writing an article about what went wrong.
All email addresses used were sourced from our own customer lists.
We don’t buy email lists. We don’t sell them either. We regard buying or selling email addresses as Bad for Business.