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10 crucial elements for great transactional emails

10 crucial elements for great transactional emails Wendy Roth

If I sent you a present, you'd send me a thank-you note, right? Not just to say thanks (even if you hated it), but also to let me know it got to you safely and because we're friends.

So, when people buy from your online store or sign up for your email newsletter, why wouldn't you use your transactional email to let them know how pleased you are? Sad to say, a lot of them sound like thank-yous written by sullen 7-year-olds: "Thanks for the socks, Grandma."

A passable transactional email focuses on only the event that just happened or is about to happen, such as a subscription request, a hotel reservation, a product order or a recurring payment. A great one describes the event in detail, uses language that makes the customer feel good about what just happened, invites him or her back to the website for more information or to expand on the event, and provides contact information for questions or concerns.

Anatomy of an excellent transactional message
Superior transactional emails include the following elements:

1. A personalized greeting. This is nice for general events like newsletter subscriptions, but it's essential when the transaction involves money, such as a shipping confirmation or hotel reservation.

2. A detailed description of what happened. Not just, "Thanks for your order. Your items will ship soon." Instead, list what the customers bought, the prices they paid, any special instructions, payment status, out-of-stock notices, shipping locations, order numbers, etc.

3. Customer-support contact information, including toll-free phone numbers, mailing addresses and links to online contacts.

4. Other links that encourage the recipient to go deeper into the relationship, including:

  • Email newsletters or offers

  • RSS feeds for product information or updates

  • Loyalty programs

  • Offers that cross- or up-sell products that relate to a purchase

  • Customer forums, blogs, social-network sites

  • How-to information for the product

5. A clear, action-oriented subject line.

6. Any data, except a password, that the customer needs to complete a pending transaction. This may include information needed to pay a bill or go back to a past one, change an order, or update email preferences.

7. All copy in either text or HTML text -- not images -- so that the crucial information is received even if the reader views the message in text on the dinky screen of a low-rent cell phone.

8. A link to your homepage. You never know what's going to drive someone back to your site, and this basic element gets left out more often than you can imagine.

9. A statement about what you will do with the customer's email address, plus a link to your privacy statement.

10. Any terms or conditions that apply to the transaction, such as exchanges and returns, hotel policies or posting schedules for account payments.

Next page >>

3 message makeovers: From lame to lovable
Pulled from the real world, here are three lame transactional messages and how you can turn them into relationship-building events.

Example #1: Email newsletter confirmation
Sender line: [email protected]
Subject line: Your newsletter request

Copy: Thanks for signing up for our email newsletter. Click this link to activate your request. Your first issue should be coming soon. (Signed) The Editors.

Here's how to make it better:
Sender line: Newsletter Name
Subject line: Please confirm your subscription request

Copy: Thanks for subscribing to Newsletter Name! Please confirm your subscription now. Confirming your subscription tells us you really do want to subscribe.

After we receive your confirmation, you’ll be able to view past messages online and customize your profile so you get the email you really want.

Got questions or concerns? Send them here: [email protected] View our latest issue online here: (URL).

And thank you again for subscribing!

Confirm now
No thanks

Editor Name
[email protected]

Example #2: Order confirmation
Sender line: CompanyName.com
Subject: Your recent order

Copy: Your order has been received and is being processed. Your items will be shipped as soon as they're available. Thanks for shopping with Company Name.

Here's how to make it better:
Sender line: Company Name
Subject line: Confirming your order with Company Name

Copy: Dear Customer Name: Thanks for your order from Company Name! This message will confirm your order details. You'll receive another message from us when your items ship.

Your order number:
Your order date:

What you ordered (all details, including product photo):

Any backorders or out-of-stocks:

Your total order cost, including shipping or other fees:

Where we're shipping it:

Who's paying for it:

How it was paid for:

Is everything correct? If you spot any problems, contact us right away at 800-XXX-XXXX or email [email protected]

P.S.: Was this your first time visiting CompanyName.com? If so, welcome! Check out our email program to get exclusive news and product offers here (URL). You can find out more information about the products you bought here (URL). And while we're at it, come join our group on Facebook! (URL)

Example #3: Credit card payment acknowledgement
Sender line: CreditCardCompany.com
Subject line: Payment due

Copy: This is to inform you that your credit card payment has been received and is being processed. Note that online payments may take up to a week to be posted to your account.


Here's how to make it better:
Sender line: CreditCard Account Alert
Subject line: We've received your online payment

Copy: Dear Customer Name,

Re: Your BigBank Account ending in 7123

Thank you for your payment.

Details regarding your payment:

  • Amount: $1000.00

  • Date applied to your account: Sept. 29, 2008

To view your statements or recent transactions, log in to http://www.creditcardcompany.com/.

Questions?  Please send us a secure email from our website at http://www.CreditCardCompany.com/contact. Or, call us at 1-800-XXX-XXXX between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. ET.

If you prefer not to receive these account alerts and/or other emails, call 800-XXX-XXXX or just log in to http://www.creditcardcompany.com/ and select Alerts/Profile. From the Customize screen, you can choose which Account Alerts you'd like to receive, or unsubscribe from all Account Alerts.

Wendy Roth is the senior manager of training services for Lyris Technologies.

Wendy Roth is senior manager of training services for Lyris, Inc., a pioneer in email marketing and other online marketing solutions since 1994. She works closely with marketing and advertising professionals to help them understand how Lyris'...

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