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Tips for making the best impression with your emails

Tips for making the best impression with your emails David Wertheimer

American Airlines is big on email marketing. Its schedule is aggressive; I hear from the company twice a week, even if I don't fly for a while. But the emails arrive on the same day every week, so I'm never surprised when they arrive. When AA switched mail hosts earlier this year, it sent clear, prominent notices in advance of the change, so any inconvenience to readers was minimal.

JetBlue also sends plenty of email to its subscribers. It seems to have done some email harvesting, because I recently started receiving two copies of each of the airline's emails. One goes to my main account; the other is sent to a slightly different address, which I abandoned when I set up my frequent flier account several years ago. The messages routinely get flagged as spam, so the only time I see them is when I periodically review my junk folder -- and find my JetBlue emails, delivered in pairs.

AA and JetBlue are doing almost the same thing, week in and week out. But one is creating a superior online experience, while the other is sending duplicate emails that get stopped by spam filters. Which airline leaves a more favorable impression?

Interactivity has become a dominant factor in the travel industry, making the airlines' successes and failures a great place to look for lessons in online best practices. Here are two.

Leave the right impression
The examples above highlight a basic fact of online communication: Delivery matters. By that, I mean "delivery" as in getting email that isn't flagged as spam or sent in duplicate. I also mean "delivery" as in sounding the right note and communicating in a positive manner.

Virgin Atlantic emails weekly with special offers for travel to London. The messages are brand-appropriate and friendly, and I'm a big fan of the airline in general. Yet I often find the messages unwelcome. Why?

  • Timing: I've flown to London twice in the past four years. I have little to no need for weekly rejoinders to hop an international flight.

  • Targeting: With one exception, I've always flown coach on Virgin, yet I get regular suggestions to book premium-economy or upper-class seats.

  • Tone: I'm savvy enough to recognize British wit and writing patterns, but in the context of my inbox, Virgin's subject lines often come across as trying too hard.

Striking the right balance of delivery means and message is crucial to creating a positive brand relationship for any business.

Be smart
I recently had a cross-country flight canceled hours before the scheduled departure time, but the airline was seemingly the last to know about it. I found the cancellation news from the FAA when the airline's site was citing on-time arrival. My telephone call to customer service for clarification thoroughly confused my rep, who wound up dropping my call and not calling me back.

That same day, I had our executive assistant call our travel agent for assistance with rebooking. The original airline was unable to put me on an outbound flight for two days after the initial travel date. The travel agency was unable to find me a new flight for less than $1,000. But I was able to book myself on a new flight for far less money, and with far more efficiency than either representative was able to offer.

Marketing is the identification and anticipation of customers' needs. In my travel crunch, neither the airline nor the independent agent were able to service me as well as I could take care of myself. Here's what your organization can do differently:

  • Be flexible. My booking airline should have found a partner to fly me to San Francisco and helped me defray the costs. When it didn't, I lost confidence in the airline and wound up giving my money to someone else.

  • Help customers help themselves. I was successful in my booking because I used a fast, easy website to find a new flight. Does your site empower your customers to do more, faster? What could they be doing even more easily and independently?

Commercial airlines are in a unique industry with unique problems, but their customer service concerns are universal. The things they are doing right and wrong apply to all our businesses on a regular basis. Improving our online communication techniques will enable and satisfy consumers, which in turn will improve your company's marketing, and ultimately, its bottom line.

David Wertheimer is director of strategy at Alexander Interactive.


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