Ecommerce Q&A – Customer “Lifecycle” Emails

Customer lifecycle email = orienting your email around the customer’s current status (prospect, purchased, ongoing, at risk) The basics you’re already doing: transactional email – new account registration, order notification, shipment notification (your store already does this) marketing email – email newsletters. Here’s what you MIGHT be doing: drip emails – typically used for educational […]

November 23, 2015 14 mins
eCommerce Q&A
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Customer lifecycle email = orienting your email around the customer’s current status (prospect, purchased, ongoing, at risk)

The basics you’re already doing: transactional email – new account registration, order notification, shipment notification (your store already does this) marketing email – email newsletters.

Here’s what you MIGHT be doing: drip emails – typically used for educational content delivered around a particular product / service that deserves explanation (think “3-day weight loss course”) …we’re going to hack this approach!

3-step process to customer lifecycle email: 1. Get the voice right — email your customers manually when they stop talking to you until you know how to word it 2. Craft your emails — translate your manual content into generic emails that are still friendly. Make them as human as possible — “Sent from my iPhone”, send from a real customer service rep’s email address, not a role based email. 3. Turn on your program — plug in the emails into your tool of choice.

Email checklist — make sure you’re sending at least these:Abandoned cart — an hour after abandonment 30-day check-in — mention what they purchased and give them a couple of new ideas Winback email (45 days or so after purchase) — This is where your copywriting chops will be TESTED!

Michael: Hello folks, and welcome to eCommerce QA. This is the podcast where store owners, directors of eCommerce and eCommerce managers can stay up-to-date on the latest tools and technologies in eCommerce. I’ll be joined on the show by my colleague and partner-in-crime, Dillon Holst. Our goal is to handle one or two questions per episode. You can check us out on the web at There, you will be able to get in touch, ask us questions, and just generally participate.

Dillon: What is up, ladies and gentlemen? It is Dillon Holst, and I’m joined here today, as usual, by Michael Bower. Michael, how are you?

Michael: I’m well, thanks Dillon.

Dillon: Awesome. Well, folks, today we’re gonna be talking about something that is a little bit tricky to do, but it’s really important that, you know, for any e-Commerce store, any e-Commerce website, that you do it right. And that’s sending out customer lifecycle emails.

Michael: That’s right, customer lifecycle. What do we mean by that? Well, imagine that you have a relationship with your customer, which is what you want to have, right? The main lifeblood of this relationship — it’s kinda a long-distance relationship — is gonna be the communication that you have with this customer via email. And to me, this is almost funny because email’s been with us for how long, right? And we’re still using it? Turns out, email’s one of the best ways that you can increase your revenue, increase your conversions, is the correct usage of email.

Dillon: Well that’s the important word there, right? “The correct usage of email”. Michael, talk to us a little bit about what is a good email campaign look like if you’re trying to engage your customer base? You’re trying to retain your customer base and, you know, give them something that’s useful and interesting to them.

Michael: Absolutely. Well, I think the best way for me to express this would be to talk — turn it on it’s head, and talk about what it’s not like. So, think about the emails that you get sent every day, and yes, you think they’re spam and you hit delete, delete, delete, delete, delete. Or you maybe even go to the trouble to unsubscribe to make sure they never come again. Now, those emails, we recognize them and usually, in my mind, there’s three categories of those. Number one, they’re not relevant. Maybe they were at one point, but you’re just not interested in them anymore. Maybe it was about, you know, some kitchen supply store that you were thinking of buying a spatula from at one point, and you have a spatula now and you’re fine, you don’t really need to hear about their stoves, or something.

Dillon: Hm.

Michael: You know? Or maybe it’s just that it was never relevant in the first place, and you just didn’t — maybe you didn’t even mean to subscribe. This is not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about email where it’s very specifically targeted to be helpful to the customer, and the way that it’s doing that is not just by blasting every single customer with the same thing at the same time, but by providing every single customer email in such a way that it reflects the status of the relationship.

Dillon: Ok, so talk to us a little bit about that. When you say “the status of the relationship”, what are you referring to?

Michael: So, what I mean by “the status of the relationship” is, where is the customer in relation to you over time? You have someone who has come to your site, and they’re kind of poking around and haven’t made a purchase. That is a prospect. You have someone who’s made a purchase? That’s a paying customer. You have someone that doesn’t come back and purchase anymore; that’s someone who — maybe they’ve lost interest, maybe they don’t need what you have anymore, maybe you could win them back. And then, ideally, what we have, is the customer that comes and they purchase again and again and again, and they refer. Um, so think of it like this: you have a funnel at the top, and customers are coming in that funnel, and they’re going through a circular process whereby they find out about your products and services, they purchase something, time goes by and they indicate that they’re happy with it, and then they come back or drive more business to your site by referring you to other people.

Dillon: So what you’re referring to is, yeah, you’re incentivizing people to revisit the website, um, you know? You’re giving them reasons to come back, essentially.

Michael: Exactly. So, most people know about the basics, which is, you know, transactional emails, the order email, and the “welcome to your new account” email, and the “ok, you’re shipment has gone out” email. Yeah, those are basic. We also know about the email newsletter, you know, which you “should be sending your customers email newsletters all the time”. Um, yeah. Maybe, maybe not. What we’re talking about is something that relates to where the customer’s at, not where you, as the store, are at. It’s customer-centric. A good example of this would be the classic abandoned cart email. So, the abandoned cart email is the email that we’re all familiar with, that you get after you almost placed a purchase, but you didn’t. So maybe you got distracted by your cat, or you had to go take a phone call, or you just got cold feet for some other reason. This is where a lot of other people leave off, is sending that “oh hey, you had something in your cart, do you want to buy it?”. We can go beyond that. So, Dillon, take us on a little tour. What can we do beyond simply abandoned carts, for customer lifecycle?

Dillon: Well we can put things in the emails that actually make sense and, you know, connect the customer to the website.

Michael: Okay.

Dillon: And by that I mean, you can include discounts on items that they might be interested in, based on what they’ve already purchased, you can include different means of connecting the customer to either your social media or maybe some sort of customer activity that you have going on at that time. You just gotta find ways of integrating what you’re doing on your site to what your customer would be interested in.

Michael: Love it. So, there are platforms galore for sending emails. And my favorite one for doing customer lifecycle email is called Custora. The problem with Custora is they only want to talk to you if you have two hundred thousand or more customers in your email list. And, it’s hard to get there, so let’s start a little bit south from there and talk about how to do this in a more guerrilla way, guerrilla marketing. So, um, I’m gonna assume that you have your transactional emails sending reliably. Obviously if I want to make a purchase on your store I want to receive an order notification email. And once that ships out I should receive a shipment notification. I’m gonna assume you’re already doing something with your newsletter, maybe you’re sending something out once a week, once a month. Maybe you’re even sending out a, you know, email course, allowing us to sign up for something here and there about a particular product or product family, or category, or service that you offer. And letting me receive email content over a series of days. Uh, so we’ve covered transactional email, marketing email, and Drip email. Now, we can use these same tools to send out customer lifecycle email. Or, we can use specialized platforms that are south of Custora. For example, Windsor Circle. Windsor Circle is a platform that allows you to send retention-oriented emails to your customers. So they basically suck in your product information, your order information, your customer information, into their platform and then they figure out, based on their proprietary analytics and algorithms, what you can do to win back a customer. What type of email campaign you can put out at just the right point, and they calculate this. So, that would be an example of a platform that you could just drop in and it would hopefully start helping with this. Another example —Dillon, you were talking about, um, sending an email to a customer that has something to do with their…

Dillon: Purchase history.

Michael: Yeah, purchase history. So, there’s quite a few ways to do this. This is what you call a personalized email, or you’d use like a personalization/recommendation platform for this. Usually they’ll have this built in. There is a way to do this with constant contact, there’s also a way to do it with, um, a few other platforms. So we’ll list some things in the links. The point is, there’s not one all-in-one platform for doing customer lifecycle email really really well, at this time, that most of our listeners are going to be able to use. So you wanna think creatively. Let’s take an example. We’ve got a client that’s selling natural supplements, and they are doing everything we just talked about; they’ve got their transactional emails going out, beautifully designed, well-worded, sounds like somebody just wrote you the most wonderful email. They have their email newsletter that comes out; it’s got lots of great recipes and ideas, and this and that and the other. They’ve got their educational emails that’s going out once you go to a particular page on their site, and you want to learn more. You have the opportunity to sign up and learn more in this little email course. It’s great. Now, if this customer decided they were going to try to expand on the idea of a recurring program, and this is —recurring revenue is a big thing and everybody wants to do it— well, the way they’re doing it is, they’re offering a program whereby you get an autoship of their product every month. Every two months, or whatever it is it’s going to be. They found out is that the customers are reluctant to sign up for something that they’re just giving their credit card number, it’s going to be auto-filled. So they want to give them that opportunity, but they also want to make sure that customers who are reluctant to do that will be able to still be part of the program. Um, so they contacted us to build a scenario whereby when the order is placed for this special program, it goes into the CRM and it says “hey, this customer is part of the program”, and then after a certain number of days elapses —I think it’s 30 days— an email is sent out to the customer, assuming they haven’t ordered again, to say “oh hey, wanted to remind you that you probably want to purchase this product again”. Because it’s a supplement, you are gonna actually need to buy it after a certain amount of time or you won’t get the benefit from it. Um, and if they don’t respond to that one, then they get an email after 45 days. In this example, we had to integrate their CRM with MailChimp and their website, so it was a little bit complicated. So we’re looking for ways to simplify this process for them. I think the key here is that whatever you decide to do with your customers’ email, pretend that they’re a friend. You know? Pretend that you’re keeping in touch with a friend. You touch in with a friend, right? It’s fine to do that, and customers are okay with that. Uh, but you’re also respectful, you know? You’re not constantly spamming your friends. You email them ever so often, and maybe you get into an intense discussion. That would obviously be where your CSR’s are going to be, talking to your customers. But more likely, you’re just going to be touching in here and there. “Hey, happy birthday! Here’s a couple products we thought you might enjoy”. So Dillon, those are some examples of customer lifecycle emails that work in the best of cases when the customer is happy, they —we’re assuming they want to read our emails, want to hear about what we’re offering them.

Dillon: Michael, let’s finish by talking a little bit about what we should do if we feel like, you know, if we’ve lost a customer. There’s always gonna be a segment of the people we’re sending our emails out to where they’re not opening the emails, we don’t see any kind of positive response. What’re some things we can do to potentially bring those customers back?

Michael: So, I think the key here is to —you’re gonna have to actually write some emails yourself, and craft them, figure out a way that people will respond to a manually written email, and then use that and apply that into your automated scenario. So, for example, let’s say somebody was buying and then they just stopped buying. Well, you want to have something in your CRM that lets you know hey, this is no longer an active customer. And then at that point, your customer service representative would want to be instructed to write that customer a specific email from a stance of “Hey, we just wanted to check in with you. Is everything okay? Is there anything we could do? Here’s a discount code for your next purchase.” And take it that kind of way, or even, you know, depending on your market you could sometimes be a little bit bolder and be like “Hey, where’s the love?” Um, or, “Jane, we noticed that you haven’t been purchasing recently, we want to make sure that it wasn’t something we said.”

Dillon: Sure, yeah.

Michael: Taking that kind of self-deprecatory tone will go a long way towards winning customers back. And then, once you find something that seems to work well, customers respond well to, you can just put that into your automated system.

Dillon: So, Michael, if you were to break this whole concept down, the whole concept of customer lifecycle emails, into a three step process, what would that look like?

Michael: The first process would be to make sure that your voice is correct. So make sure that you have practiced emailing your customers, that you know that whatever you’re putting in your emails is gonna make sense to them; it’s not gonna be out of the blue. The second step is to apply those into your email templates, and to make sure that they look good. I think you want to aim for an email that has your own name at the bottom, you don’t want to be like “from”. You want this to be from a person at your company. You could even do the little “sent from my iPhone” trick if you really want to be sneaky. But all those things will help the customer feel like this is a real email, because it is. It’s just being sent out in an automated way. And the third step would be to plug those into your system of choice. Right now, I’m using a system called Drip, And it allows me to send out an email to a customer based on certain rules that I define in the backend. Like, if the customer hasn’t done this action for this much time, or customer’s anniversary has come around, or whatever. So, we’ll be providing some links in the show notes to different platforms that you can use, but those three steps should be helpful. Um, make sure your voice is right, craft up your emails, and then plug them into your customer lifecycle platform.

Dillon: Well thanks for listening folks. Um, Michael and I will be here again next week as always, for another episode of Ecommers Q&A. If you’re interested in any of the different apps or platforms that Michael referenced during the show, those will all be in the show notes, so please check those out as well. Have a great week, folks.

Michael: Thanks folks, keep selling. Bye.
Platforms to consider:

Carthook — an excellent abandoned cart solution — much better than your built-in abandoned cart email

Windsor Circle — a “retention platform” that will predict when to send the emails to your customers

Mailchimp — the no-brainer for your general email newsletter, support segmentation

Custora — Expensive all-in-one customer lifecycle platform — if you have 200,000 active subscribers, they’ll talk to you!

Drip — best way to send email courses and other emails scheduled based on the customer’s actions

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