Having worked in customer success for the past couple of years, I often found it quite tricky and time-consuming to determine a winning formula for sending emails to paying customers, when sending a general check-in email, or offering that customer advice on how to get the most out of their account. My previous company had a medium-touch sales model, with some hand-holding, some automation - a healthy balance between the two. This meant some personalization, where some emails were fully customized for the intended recipient. The tips mentioned below are quite versatile: they can be applied to both automated campaigns and emails that are sent manually by customer success agents - the level of detail in the email can be varied accordingly, depending on the overall approach taken (whether high touch and highly personalized, or low-touch and highly automated). It was over the course of a lot of time and through various A/B tests that I determined
- what were the most important aspects of the email to consider
- what was effective and what wasn’t in those aspects of consideration
Whilst the points I have covered below may seem overwhelmingly obvious, you’d be amazed the effect that these five aspects have on the overall outcome of sending the email in the first place. Writing customer emails is considered an artform by many, but data can help transform this art into science. I don’t believe that there is an entirely right or wrong way to write such emails, some of the considerations mentioned below enhanced the quality of my emails significantly.
I’ve found that this is one of the most important aspects to consider sending an outbound email to paying users, trialists or potential prospects. According to research, up to 47% of recipients open an email solely based on the email subject. Remember, your email subject is the first part of your email that the recipient will see - it’s the beginning of the whole interaction, and thus, sets the overall tone - if it isn’t effective, and doesn’t convince the recipient that they should open, there is a chance that it will be sent straight to the trash - gone forever. This makes the email content, and any effort of content personalization that you went to, immediately a pointless waste of time - harsh, but the unfortunate reality. Over the past few years, there seems to be an increase in “cheesy” subject lines - I don’t want to offend so I won’t dwell for too long on specific examples, but here’s one below (company name excluded):
A company contacted me a few months ago offering their services, and I informed them it wasn’t a suitable time, and could they contact me again in a few months. That was fine. A few months later and I checked my spam inbox, and one spam email contained the subject “Are you ready to go James?” - it was actually a fully personalized email from that company, but ended up in the spam folder. I only recognized it when I read the sender’s name. Had the email been in my inbox, I most likely would have deleted this message anyway, I would have assumed (albeit incorrectly) that it was an automated mass-email campaign, due to the subject, and not that same company reaching out to me again.
For the subject, it’s best to stick with something short and to-the-point, and doesn’t give the immediate impression to the recipient that they are one tiny organism in an email marketing drip campaign. I don’t want to tell you exactly what your subject should be, but I would recommend something to the tune of “your company name Account”, “their company name Account”, “Account Check-in”, “Quick Check-In”, “their company name <> your company name Account”. There are many that would say that this is a boring approach, but you will find that it is very effective - it gives the impression that it was sent by a real person - whether or not it was, it will at least maximize the open rate, which is the first step in sending an effective account management email. The fact that it has a short email subject will also make it stand out in the inbox, where most emails will have lengthy subjects and ‘blend in’.
Keep the email body short
There are a number of reasons why this is important, and I will touch lightly on some of them here. This is something I was personally at odds with for quite a long period of time. I thought to myself, “the more I put in the email, the more helpful I am being as a customer success agent”. Was I right? Nope, I was very wrong. I didn’t even think about how I personally react when I receive a lengthy email - I have a very short attention span for reading emails, and often switch off or stop reading after a line or two if the content doesn’t engage me - effectively making the rest of the email body redundant. I can’t believe that it took me such a long time to consider that, the recipient on the receiving end is a human too, so they are most likely going to react in a similar manner to me when they receive a lengthy email. Whilst considering my own personal attention span, I found that this is backed by research - the average attention span for reading emails is just 8 seconds - a very short window to sustain an individual’s interest!
You also have to consider that, most emails are now opened on mobile devices, that generally have smaller screens - it is more difficult to read long emails on small devices and people are therefore less likely to exert their time and effort into reading them. A recent study found that only 16% of emails are opened on desktop computers, meaning that there is a device screen-space constraint on the other 84% of opened emails - if the email is too long, it is even less effective than ever in 2018.
In terms of advised email length, I would recommend an introductory ‘check in’ or ‘how are you’ sentence, a body with 1-2 (maximum of 3) sentences on what they should do next, and a closing sentence, telling them to respond if they need help or have any queries to be addressed.
Use some level of personalization
When sending an automated mass-email, it’s very easy to create a template, import an email list and hit send - very quick and easy, minimal effort required. When you consider the amount of automated emails that the average person receives nowadays, it is very difficult to catch the eye of the recipient with genuine emails or more intelligently sent automated emails. Aside from automated emails, you’d be amazed how many personal emails just start with ‘Hi there’, ‘Hello’ or ‘Hey there’ - people can see this in the message preview without clicking into the email to ready fully, so it is an instant turn-off for many, when they encounter those emails. If not their company name, at least go to the effort of including the person’s name - this personalisation, whilst relatively small, will instantly distinguish itself from much of the self-perceived ‘garbage’ that many people find in their inbox today.
A number of SaaS platforms do not include a person’s name field in the account signup form, because it is perceived that excluding this will streamline the signup process and therefore increase the number of users - I am against this belief, as I have the opinion that having the name field stands as a key factor in the lead qualification - if they don’t provide their name, they probably aren’t too serious about signing up anyway. If you have no contact name, you can always have a quick browse on LinkedIn to determine who is your main point of contact.
Use Plain text and avoid HTML templates
If there’s nothing more obvious that an email is a mass-sent template, it’s when the email you receive is one that has been designed via HTML. People are likely to look at these, and immediately assume that this isn’t personalized. They will most likely click ‘delete’ or return to the inbox without giving the main content of your email a second thought. Whether the email is templated or not, a plain text email gives a greater impression to the recipient that it is personalized - making it far more likely that the user will engage with the advice they have received, or respond, if that is the end goal of the outgoing email.
Personalize email content based on key actions the user is yet to complete.
Many automated mass-email campaigns or even manually sent messages by account managers have a very ‘templated’ feel, offer generic strategic advice and often vaguely (or even not at all) reference or acknowledge actions that have or have not yet been completed by the user. Users are highly unlikely to derive any genuine value from such emails. It is best to focus on key actions or features that the user has not yet engaged with (or only weakly engaged with), acknowledge what they have already successfully completed, and help them engage with those features, and show how it will benefit them - these messages can be automated or sent manually by customer success agents, depending on each individual company’s approach.
Traitly uses AI to determine what are the next most important user actions to be completed in order to maximize customer conversion and retention, based on what successful customers have done in the past. This data can be synced with platforms like HubSpot or Intercom so that more intelligent and automated, yet personalized messages can be sent to your customers, recommending next actions they need to take.
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