On the Scene: Opting for Opt-in

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Opt-in marketing is more than just about getting over legal hurdles to gather customer information. It's about letting those customers define the marketing boundaries in hopes of building relationships and ultimately enhancing the bottom line. Programs like sweepstakes, which give customers incentives to opt in, are common, but they focus on volume, not relationships, which forces companies to miss opportunities, says Shar VanBoskirk, analyst at Forrester Research. Ernan Roman, president of Ernan Roman Direct Marketing, drove the point home during a session on opt-in marketing at DMA Days in Atlanta in October 2005. "The consumer experience right now is having to wade through 99-odd mailings or emails to trip over something that might be relevant," Roman said. "It's not good for them, it's not good for us. It's obscene intrusion and an obscene waste of time." To achieve best-in-class consensual opt-in relationships and response rates, companies must know much more about customers' needs. Database overlays aren't sufficient; self-profiled data is necessary for true accuracy. "The most accurate data is self-profiled data, what they want from you and what they want you to suppress ,because it's not relevant," Roman said. "Ask questions to define how they want to enter and define the opt-in relationship. This must come from the mouth of the customer." The voice of the customer helps businesses understand what customers view as the most compelling value proposition to get them to engage and share information. Try to understand what information should be sent and when and what combination of media they prefer. Engage customers in meaningful relationships. "Opting is not agreeing to receive a newsletter, that's a passive acquiescence," Roman said. Companies need to think of it as an active engagement, but the most difficult part is defining relevance over time regarding the offer and timing needs. They must rethink their metrics about lifetime value and customer satisfaction. "Spray and pray has to go. We're looking to change the customers' experience so they say 'I drove this, I requested it, and they're only sending what I want.'" Businesses seeking methods of getting away with not doing opt-in marketing are off on the wrong foot, according to Adam Sarner, principal analyst at Gartner. They are concentrating on the legal problems instead of the customer relationship problems, resulting only in short-term goals. "Even if you follow the rules of the law to the letter, your customers are going to hate you. Are you going to get them on a technicality? Is that what your relationship strategy is? If your customer's mad at you, they're not going to buy from you. I give you permission to send me email, but not useless junk," Sarner says. Figure out the value proposition on both sides and come up with a segmentation scheme to see what they want to hear about. "This is the kind of shift that needs to happen from push marketing to pull marketing." "It's easier to send out a million blast emails than 100,000 targeted emails," VanBoskirk contends. "They're not thinking about larger implications of what will keep my customer from getting upset with me and stop them from doing business with me altogether. But the scare is starting to hit marketers' ranks." SERVICE YOUR WAY Personalizing service can enhance the experience and spur revenue.
Tailoring the customer experience can help contact centers turn service calls into revenue-generating opportunities. At the 2005 ICCM Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, Casey McNeal, a trainer and speaker for Rockhurst University Continuing Education Center, presented personalization tips to make delivering an exceptional level of service and increasing profits less daunting:
  • Remember the low cost of kindness. A contact center's personalization efforts do not have to incorporate complex processes. Simple initiatives, like referring to the caller by name, can translate into a more unique service experience and repeat business.
  • Know your customers. Don't expect to personalize and enhance your service delivery without tapping into customer needs and expectations. Having a customer-focused mindset will help avoid making the costly assumption that all customer problems have similar remedies. "Before you criticize them, walk a mile in their shoes," McNeal said. "This is about learning to take an interest rather than taking a position on things. You cannot solve the problem if you don't know what it is."
  • Improve service response. Responding promptly to service inquiries is a must-have element of any customer service experience. To individualize the response process McNeal suggested following a "customer's lead on desired service methods." If the customer fires off an email, then respond using that channel to create a tailored, holistic experience.
  • Recognize and reward customers. Implement systems that track information, including common purchase items, issues, and solutions to problems to better serve customers. Tapping customer data enhances an organization's ability to craft tailored incentives and rewards and to make customers feel appreciated. McNeal also recommended spotlighting customers through various channels including newsletters and Web sites.
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