Asking for Customer Info: A Cautionary Tale

Micah HattonI recently received an email from my home insurance provider asking me to fill out a brief questionnaire. Working in marketing, I tend to be slightly more receptive to these requests, but in this case, the way it was presented put the marketer in me at odds with the customer in me.
How so? Let’s start from the top. Your from name needs to be recognizable. Whenever possible, send from the same address as you always do, and use your reputation in your customers’ inboxes to help your cause. As for my experience, they got this right, but it stopped there.

Before I even opened the email, I was on guard, thanks to the subject line. Obviously a subject line is your foot in the door, and when asking a customer to take a survey or give you any kind of information, it’s absolutely imperative to be honest, up-front and clear about your intentions, and it has to match the tone of the situation and your message. Here’s what I saw in my inbox:

Please respond: We need information about your policy.

Immediately I thought, “Am I being phished?” “Is something really wrong?” “Do I still have a policy?” “If this is so important, why am I not getting a phone call from my agent?”

Let’s move on to the actual message. Right off the bat, here’s what I saw:

“Dear PERSON WHO IS NOT ME…” (Names have been omitted to protect the innocent.)

More questions, fewer answers. Who is this person? Was I supposed to get this email at all, or is the name the only mistake? Personalization is a huge help when you’re asking people to take your surveys, and you should do it whenever you can. But don’t mess it up.

As far as the copy, the tone was friendly and non-urgent. Now I’m getting mixed signals. If this were a relationship, this is where someone would say, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” Despite the friendly tone, the copy was still vague. It didn’t play off the really intense subject line. In fact, it only made me more curious about their intentions.

Spoiler alert: Everything was fine. I called the next day and discussed it, and it was just a voluntary, ten-question survey. That being said, several – if not all – rules were broken in terms of survey invitation best practices.

So the next time you want to conduct a survey, here are a few things to remember:

  1. Make sure your From Name and address are recognizable.
  2. Write a clear, concise subject line that does NOT mislead your customers.
  3. Personalize whenever possible.
  4. Be honest and specific in the copy. Tell them your intentions, tell them that you’ll keep their responses and information safe (which you should be doing anyway).
  5. Make it about the customer. In college, I learned about writing with “You Attitude”. Tell your customers how this survey will help them.

In their defense, I did receive an apology email shortly after this. Stay tuned for a breakdown…

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  1. […] been awhile, but if you remember Part One of this story, you’ll recall that I received an email simply asking me for information from my […]

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