High Volume Transactional Email: Balancing Utility and Marketing

May 18th, 2018

Your eCommerce customer, Paul, has ordered a special mattress for his bed. He’s put the item into the cart, and paid for it. Now you send a confirmation of purchase email.  But, instead of just a note stating that “we’ve received your payment, and your item has been posted for shipment…” or whatever boilerplate many companies send, you include that message and add photos of three sheets-and-pillowcases products that fit the mattress you just sold him. Paul has his own sheets, but has been thinking about replacing them – now your confirmation email makes him decide to buy them.

All eCommerce companies have to send transactional email, a type of email sent to facilitate an agreed-upon transaction between the sender and the recipient. Common transactional email use cases include doctor appointment reminders, account creation emails, password resets, purchase receipts, account notifications, medical lab results, and social media updates like friend and follower notifications.

What makes transactional email different from ordinary marketing email is that they are sent as part of doing actual business with people – not just chatting with, marketing to, or selling to a customer. In this respect, they are also different from so-called “triggered” emails which may be generated by a number of customer actions – not just transactions.

Transactional emails are opened eight times more than traditional marketing messages, according to a study by EPSILON.  So it only makes sense to adapt your transactional email for marketing, to take advantage of this unparalleled opportunity to reach your customer with a personalized offer.

Transactional emails are very high throughput – they’re not bulk email but they’re effectively high volume email. They are normally sent through an SMTP relay or via an API integration.  Ideally, personalized email templates can be directed to specific types of recipients based on data analytics.

Sensitive Personal Information

Because transactional emails are often about your customer’s business, they often include sensitive information that should be protected by encryption. For example, Personal Health Information (PHI) is often included in transactional emails, and under the law Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) must be encrypted and your emailing provider must properly abide by HIPAA requirements for security and privacy.  See: Transactional/Bulk email with ePHI in It? What to do about HIPAA.

But there are other kinds of sensitive information (PII) that is also likely to be included in transactional emails, like financial data about your customer, or information about a customer’s family, etc.  Your provider for transactional email should offer access to high-grade encryption, as well as the possibility of opting out of encryption for less sensitive mails.  We are finding that organizations with sensitive mailing lists or who are in regulated industries are more and more using mailing companies that pay attention of data and messaging security.

Combining utility and marketing

It’s great to get a marketing message inside of a transactional email, but the functional aspect of the mail should not be neglected. A password-reset email shouldn’t take too long to reach the customer, who is waiting for it to get back on the site. That’s much more important from a user-experience point of view than are the marketing extras embedded within it.

Another example: Welcome emails are the most successful types of transactional emails in terms of generating leads – they get four times more opens than all other eCommerce-related emails, according to Data & Marketing Association research.

This is because Welcome emails provide an ideal platform for bringing your offers to the attention of the customer. They are personalized, and so the content can be targeted to the needs of the specific customer segment. Personalized emails receive 26% more opens, according to research from Experian. Make sure you use the subscriber’s name as often as possible in the body of the email.

If you don’t yet have enough data on your customer to provide targeted offers, the Welcome email is the perfect place to gather it. Why did the customer sign up? What aspect of your offer is relevant to him/her? Does the customer have specific requests?

If you have data on the customer, perhaps acquired during the signup process, make use of it to propose personalized offers based on their interests, goals, personal needs, etc. And, make sure that the email is signed by a real person, to whom the customer may reply directly! No one likes a personal email with a ‘no-reply’ address.

Bear in mind that Welcome series emails drive the most revenue per recipient, according to the Experian research. So it is a chance not to be missed for email marketers.

Another chance like that – second in driving revenue per recipient – is the Abandoned Cart email. Anyone in eCommerce knows that a vast number of clients put items into their carts for purchase, but then drop out and don’t pay for them.  An automatically generated email at this point is an excellent way to wake up your customers who may then make the purchase. But it’s also a terrific chance to offer more products of the same type – ask the customer if, since they don’t seem to like what’s in the cart, perhaps they’d like to try something similar?

There’s a wealth of opportunity provided by transactional emails. A good marketer uses this chance to get closer to customers. A customer may choose to read a marketing or service email, but he/she must read a transactional one. Up to you to make the experience worthwhile for both you and the customer.

At the same time, be aware of the sensitivity of the data being sent in your transactional email messages.  Be sure that your emailing provider has security and privacy front of mind; make sure that your customer data will not be lost or exposed in the next big breach; make sure that messages are properly protected (e.g. using TLS or better levels of encryption as needed) as they traverse the wilds of the Internet to your recipients.