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Why and How Email Feedback Loops Increase Customer Satisfaction and Reduce Complaints

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How feedback loops can help decrease email subscriber complaints
  • Six actionable steps to boost your sender reputation

If you are a large-volume sender of email, you should be signed up for all the feedback loops that are available. Why? Because feedback loops are a great way to report spam, increase customer satisfaction, and reduce sender questions and end-user complaints.

Feedback loops enable your subscribers, who are the customers of Internet service providers (ISPs) or mailbox providers, to report spam via their Web-based mail service (e.g., Gmail) or custom email client (e.g., Outlook)—and funnel those spam complaints back to the email sender.

Originally conceived as a tool for ISPs to use to identify abuse coming from their servers and networks, feedback loops are now available (via ISPs) for email marketers, publishers, and other senders to enroll in. In fact, traditional bulk senders have even made it standard practice to do so.

You're not a spammer, so why are your subscribers marking your mail as spam?

Subscribers may report mail they signed up for as spam because they feel the messages aren't relevant to them anymore, they find it too difficult to unsubscribe, or they receive too many messages. Subscribers also complain if they didn't give explicit permission for you to email them, or if your messages turn out to be different from what they thought they were signing up for.


In addition to helping the global anti-spam fight, feedback loops will help reduce your complaint rate per IP address and improve your reputation as a marketer, helping to ensure that your emails reach your customer's inbox.

By removing subscribers who don't want to receive your emails, you'll reduce your complaint rate because chances are they won't complain again. And if you have low complaint rates, ISPs are much more inclined to allow your messages to reach the inboxes of those subscribers who really do want to receive them.

A 2009 study by Return Path found that 20% of legitimate email never makes it to the inbox. Why? Because of email delivery problems based on sender reputation. Your sender reputation is critical to inbox deliverability, and subscriber complaint rates could be keeping you out.

Here are some specific considerations marketers need to keep in mind regarding feedback loops... and some steps to take to get in—and stay in—the inbox.

1.  Place subscriber-identifiable data in your email headers or in your URLs

When sending back feedback loop complaints, ISPs are often required to redact the email addresses of subscribers who mark email as spam because of privacy issues. Therefore, to identify subscribers and exclude them from future mailings, you'll need to include the subscriber ID in the email header or the URL of links.

2. Flag subscribers

Properly flag subscribers who were removed via the feedback-loop system in your database. That will help you accurately report those who were removed because of spam complaints, as opposed to bounces and unsubscribes.

3. Automate the removal of your feedback-loop complainers

Removing those who complain about your messages manually not only takes a lot of time but also may result in sending multiple emails to subscribers who complained, which can result in further complaints.

4. Analyze your complaints

Perform analysis on your complaints to gather insight into why your subscribers complain. That analysis can help determine where in the subscriber lifecycle you're having issues, and predict future subscriber behavior.

5. Calculate your complaint rate

Use your inbox placement rates—the total number of email messages that reached the inbox as opposed to the spam folder—in the calculation of your complaint rate. Most senders measure total volume, which gives them an artificially low—and inaccurate —complaint rate. Your subscribers can't mark mail as spam if it's in the spam folder, so that's why it's not used to calculate complaint rates by ISPs.

6. Incorporate feedback-loop data into your testing plan

When conducting A/B testing on content, incorporating your complaint rate into the mix can help reduce the chance of reputation issues.

* * *

By signing up for feedback loops, marketers can maintain low complaint rates by receiving explicit permission to email subscribers, honoring subscribers' preferences on email frequency and type, and making it easy for subscribers to unsubscribe or change their preferences. Giving subscribers control of what type of messages they receive, and when they receive them, can go a long way toward maintaining low complaint rates.

If you haven't enrolled in feedback loops, don't delay. The benefits are measurable. To sign up to these feedback-loop services, including two new feedback loops from Synacor and Fastmail, fill out the forms listed at the end of this article. You will need your email address set up so complaints can be forwarded to you, and you'll also need to be able to access that mailbox to receive the confirmation email that completes the set up. You'll receive a confirmation from the postmasters when they have completed the feedback-loop set up.

AOL 
Hotmail 
BlueTie  
Comcast  
Cox  
MailTrust (Rackspace)  
TWC/Road Runner 
USA.net  
Yahoo! 
Open SRS 
Synacor  
Fastmail  
Rackspace


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Tom Sather is an email deliverability consultant for Return Path, where he works with clients such as eBay, MySpace, IBM, and Twitter. Tom's previous experience includes stints with email service provider Experian and work on the abuse desks for AOL, Bellsouth, AT&T, and GTE.

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Comments

  • by Kyle Hawke Fri Dec 2, 2011 via web

    Don't the major email marketing platforms like MailChimp do all this tracking and reporting for you? This article makes it sound like monitoring spam complaints is more complex than it really is.

  • by Tom Sather Tue Dec 6, 2011 via web

    Yes, ESPs like MailChimp do handle this for senders, but not all senders use an ESP. A lot of emarketers still manage their mail in-house. Plus, more knowledge is power. If you understand how the process works, you’re better able to communicate to your ESP if something in the process isn’t working. Additionally, it’s not up to your ESP to analyze your complaints to glean insights into why your subscribers are complaining. Only you the marketer are responsible for your own sending reputation.

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