Susannah Sulsar, Customer Engagement Strategy
Avadim Health

After 7 years at an agency running an email team, I had accrued many, many, many email subscriptions to businesses that were either clients, prospects or our client’s competitors.  Sometimes I subscribed just because I’d heard they had a cool loyalty program, or an innovative email: just part of my job. As a devout advocate of the “Customer Experience”, I paid special attention to how businesses were engaging their customers on their website and in stores, and how that extended to the inbox.

But now, I’ve got a checklist for how (NOT) to say goodbye. The opt-out process is still a part of a customer’s journey and it should be treated as another opportunity to provide them with great service.

I’ve been client-side for a year now, and my compulsive need to keep my inbox at zero unread messages means that it was past time to clean up and start unsubscribing.  Plus, I just lived through another Black Friday/Cyber Week and my inbox, frankly, speweth over. I’m about 60 email unsubscribes in now (and still going!) and I’ve begun to collect a hit list for marketer’s when designing the opt-out process. (And yes, you should design it).  This was a wakeup call for me, and I want to share my new list with you.

  1. What pages on your website trigger your email signup pop-over window?  This was by far the most frequent “whoopsie” that I ran across, showing up in maybe 1/10th of the emails I unsubscribed from. An annoying pop-up (asking me to opt-in) occurred within seconds of landing on the page I was trying to opt-out on.  If you host your own preference center on your website, and not from a hosted landing page in your ESP, ensure that this page isn’t triggering a pop-up to ask me to opt-in.  It’s also a pretty good idea not to have your confirmation page pop-up a sign-up modal also.
  2. Does the confirmation page actually confirm?  I ran across so many dubious preference centers, that on several, I wasn’t sure I was successful at opting out.  Some just reloaded the preference center after I hit “submit”, and some took me to the home page for the brand. Please have a page that confirms my action (“Thanks, we got it”) and if technology allows – you can say “Did you do that by accident – here’s where you can re-subscribe” instead of the pop-over.   Last, THIS is where your survey for why I’m leaving goes. Which brings me to ..
  3. Where do you ask for subscriber feedback?.  Please don’t make this feedback survey PART of the opt-out process.  It should be optional, especially if you want real data here. And preferably, it should come after you’ve told me I’m successfully unsubscribed.  If I’m (for some reason) mad at your brand, forcing me to do any extra step to tell you to cool it will really set me off. Which nicely transitions us to…
  4. Is it obvious how to unsubscribe?  Oh here’s where the fun was.  Some unsubscribe landing pages made me re-type in my email address.  Some made me hunt for the unsubscribe function somewhere within a very detailed and intricate preference center.  Some didn’t actually have an unsubscribe button – but instead forced me to go opt-out individually from any number of lists that I had no idea I was on.  I don’t want to know that I’m on your “Women’s Sweater” list and your “Children’s Shoes” list and your “Loyalty Newsletter” list. Just let me out of everything with one click.  Oh – and don’t make me pull out a magnifying glass to find the opt-out link in your email. Burying it into a paragraph of information at the bottom of the email in tiny mouse-print makes that big SPAM button up top look pretty good.  I promise you want to allow people to unsubscribe if they’re looking for it.
  5. How long does it take to process an opt-out?  I get that not all companies are as technologically advanced as to have real-time opt-out (but you should really consider moving in that direction). In case your primary database isn’t the same database that handles your sends – or if your opt-outs are collected and then batched into your database, it’s possible that your list pull may be out of sync with your unsubscribes.  If you already know that this is you, and you run the risk of emailing someone after they’ve opted out, then you should disclose how many days a person should expect to wait to be removed. Otherwise, that SPAM button in my email window looks pretty good to me.
  6. Where does your unsubscribe live?  Some brands host a full preference center to have better control over the look and feel and functionality, and some use wysiwyg and customizable preference centers hosted by their ESP.  Neither option is wrong (as long as the opt-outs are being collected and acted upon in as near real-time as possible), but consider your site content. One of my former client’s website content was one that (at my new job) I am unable to view on my work computer because of the IT filters.  I won’t disclose the client, but consider brands that have content around lingerie, alcohol, tobacco, travel, or sports – or any other category that may be filtered by the subscriber’s employer. Many people read their email at work (while drinking coffee, while having lunch, during conference calls, or generally just dodging their obligations), so if your preference center is hosted on your website, and your website may be blocked by category, the subscriber is forced to either wait till they are off network (or use a personal/mobile device – make sure it looks good there, too) to opt-out.  Or they may just hit that SPAM button. This may be the vote in favor of letting the ESP host it.

Those are the big ones.  All in all, there weren’t any that were absolutely glaring.  At least all HAD an opt-out somewhere in the email. But some of the items on my list violate Canadian SPAM laws and possibly violate GDPR laws as well.  Not being an expert in that field, I’m not going to guess as to which is which, but in addition to the fees you could incur if your subscriber list has someone from a country with tighter regulations than the US, you could destroy your sender reputation. If you make it hard or confusing, your subscribers may just click that “SPAM” button and if enough of them do it, your campaign ROI will begin to suffer when email providers just stop delivering your messages.  If you catch your brand(s) doing any of these no-nos, even if the costly repercussions don’t convince them, it’s a good enough reason to fix them just for creating a good consumer experience.