Data-Powered Message Strategies That Drive Better Customer Experiences

Most email marketers are data junkies. They track their deliverability, spam rate, bounces, clicks, clicks-to-open rate, conversions and many other stats — as well they should.Big Data

But the data we collect and track as email marketers, and the tools and methods available to us — to improve results or resolve problems or provide new services — are changing fast. It’s becoming possible to leverage data to do things in the email channel that simply weren’t possible even just a few years ago.

But just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Where exactly should we draw the line between using data to provide value that customers will appreciate, and using it in ways that annoy or creep people out?

We’re all familiar by now with retargeted display ad banners — you browse for shoes or hats on a retail site, and then for the next few days that same group of merchandise stalks you around the Internet in the shape of banner ads.

Most of us are happy to share location data with Google to get driving directions, or with our banks to find the closest ATM. Few of us, however, are happy when companies track our online actions and behaviors, and then use that data for their commercial benefit in ways that don’t extend any value to us as the consumer.

Using Data Intelligently

Of the brands that are using data in mutually beneficial ways, I’d argue the smartest ones are using email and mobile messaging channels to convey offers and information based on their knowledge of customer intent. Although some might argue that the following examples fall into “customer service” rather than marketing, I’d counter that a customer’s experience with a company is the most important brand-building channel there is.

Let me provide an example from an experience one of my colleagues recently had. A resident of San Francisco, Jose was exploring flight options on the United Airlines site to visit his brother in Dayton, Ohio. After getting a ballpark idea of the cost, he left the site, planning to go back later once he’d had a chance to firm up dates with his brother.

Four days later, a personalized offer providing access to the guaranteed lowest fares to Dayton around the times he planned to travel showed up in his inbox:


This is the kind of highly personalized, highly targeted, data-driven message that email marketers need to be incorporating into their campaigns today.

Sure, you may be thinking, it’s easy for United Airlines to retarget members of their frequent flier program from whom they collect reams of data. But look closely: there really weren’t that many data points collected from the original web interaction and then an offer was subsequently used in this retargeting email. It was basically a shopping cart abandonment program based on a handful of factors:

Frequent flyer account number
Destination searched
Time frame

It would appear that United was able to perform a simple batch process to extract the data, and then populate it into a template for the email – note the personalized image that was generated on the fly.

Note also the contrast with retargeted display ads that usually start popping up immediately — the message came a few days after the original shopping experience, providing a helpful reminder. And it was done employing a highly personalized approach, showing how data of all kinds can be paired with an existing recipient list and used to drive more contextual experiences.

Reducing The Cost Of No Shows

Increasing sales isn’t the only way to drive business value through more timely insight into email streams.

For many years in the auto rental business, no show rates averaged approximately 30% of car reservations, according to Robert Barton, the outgoing president of the American Car Rental Association. This situation, Barton said in a 2009 interview, costs car rental companies an estimated $2.25 million per month in hard costs, not to mention lost inventory utilization.

Since the vast majority of travelers today use mobile devices, car rental companies have begun to automate out this expense and recover the costs of no-show reservations by using mobile-optimized email to facilitate last-minute changes travelers might need to make. As travelers click through to communicate changes in plans, the rental agency can profitably bring that inventory back online.

Here’s an example of messaging someone might receive:

Welcome to WASH DULLES AP DC. Your HYUNDAI ELANTRA SEDAN 4DR is ready. Go to parking space A20 in our Preferred area. As a valued Preferred member, the vehicle designated for your reservation will remain available for 2 hours after your reservation time OR 2 hours after your flight has arrived at the airport. If for any reason you will not be able to make your 2pm reservation Click Here.

We’re using mobile-enabled email in this example, but SMS text would be a highly suitable messaging channel also, as would push notifications for those customers with the brand’s mobile app installed.

No matter the channel, mobile devices have vast potential for delivering customer services in valuable new ways. Consider the cost savings that can be realized by lowering the rate of no shows from 25% to 5%:


Moving Toward Real-Time

As I’m sure we’re all aware, smartphones have become an appendage for many of us. A recent Pew study tells us 67% of mobile phone owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating.

And 44% have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night.

Throughout the 20th Century, when someone needed to be reached with an urgent message, a phone call was the way to go. And for many organizations, especially those that have invested heavily in customer call centers, a phone call (usually mobile now) is still the first choice. The reliable immediacy of mobile devices extends far beyond voice, though, and smart companies are finding that various mobile message channels are ideal for providing time-sensitive customer services.

Some banks, for instance, are using text messages to send fraud alerts. As with the car rental example, using a digital messaging channel has the potential to drive enormous cost savings — in this case on call center costs.

Banks and credit card companies use advanced algorithms to uncover and identify suspect financial activity, but it’s an inexact science and most fraud alerts turn out to be false positives – Forrester documented a rate of 94%. Based on an average cost of $12 per call center phone call, that adds up to an unnecessary expense of more than $11 million.

Transitioning to text or push notification and response would virtually eliminate that unnecessary call center loss, or reduce costs to pennies per interaction.


As marketers, our first impulses are often to devise new ways to do the things we’ve always done – come up with better email subject lines, find profitably new ways to segment our lists.

Now that we’re very much living in the mobile age, marketers have opportunities to use data and digital messaging in amazing new ways — all of which can influence customers’ perceptions of the brand and, in all likelihood, increase word-of-mouth recommendations given in person and via social media.

Brands that find ways to use personalization, targeting and automation to create customer experiences that delight and inspire are the brands that will succeed in the years ahead.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Analytics | Channel: Email Marketing | Email Marketing Column


About The Author: is the senior vice president of marketing at Message Systems, a provider of digital messaging technology. He leads the company's global product marketing, demand-generation, branding and communications operations.

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