I have a Gmail account. I don’t use it that much, just usually to sign into some Google services. I’ve had it since the Gmail beta ages ago, when you needed an invite from a user to get in. It’s a simple address, “jaylawrence”.
Unfortunately, there are several people around the globe who, on a regular basis, enter my email address as their own. My email address has had some fascinating and entertaining adventures. Gmail Jay has been a real estate agent in Dubai, been a member of a multi-level cosmetics marketing scheme in England, been offered a job interview in London (can you be here this afternoon at 3?), once stayed at a YMCA residence in Sydney, Australia, and regularly orders pizza in Queensland, Australia.
Those, however, are just the international adventures! Back in North America, Gmail Jay once rented a movie from a Redbox at a Walgreens in Wisconsin, and then inexplicably returned it in Illinois. She apparently owns a Toyota, and regularly has service done at the Toyota dealership in Hanover, PA. She loves to shop at a particular Williams-Sonoma in Florida, and received preferred customer emails from the store manager. She uses Progressive for her insurance needs. He once had Dish Network installed in Connecticut. Poor Gmail Jay also once applied for a job at Taco Bell, and was turned down.
You may have noticed alternating “he” and “she” pronouns above. That’s accurate, as the users of my address usually provide their own names when filling out forms. Gmail Jay has been male and female.
Gmail Jay has also joined countless social networks, and regularly gets password reset requests from Gmail, when the brilliant folks who keep using my address realize they do not have the password for it. One managed to successfully do a password reset on me once, requiring some quick action to save the account.
An entertaining story, but here’s the dark side: almost none of the mistakes above were fixable on email. Very few of the emails that arrived had valid reply-to addresses. Almost none had valid unsubscribe links. Emails to the customer service departments of the above organizations were routinely ignored. I still regularly get real estate listings from Dubai from “other” real estate agents, possibly even real agents and not mistaken ones like myself.
The Dubai Government was the worst offender. All emails asking to be removed from the national registry of realtors were completely ignored. A close second was Hanover Toyota, which I had to repeatedly telephone to be removed from the service database, since all emails to that dealership and to Toyota head office were ignored. Williams-Sonoma, the YMCA, and the pizza places all ignored my responses.
The Progressive Insurance account was the most disturbing. I had all the policyholder’s personal information from name and address to bank account and social security number. If I had notions of malice, I could have sold the info, or used it myself. As it happened, Progressive opened a fraud investigation to discover how such a large privacy breach could have taken place. Again, there was no unsubscribe or reply function. Fixing this required two telephone calls to Progressive HQ.
One last anecdote before our lessons. When Dish Network emailed to confirm my installation appointment, they did not respond to my notes that they had the wrong person. I checked the information and discovered the proper contact information. I called the guy in Connecticut, and let him know that the crew would be there Saturday morning. An easy fix!
What could we possibly learn from these foibles? A few things:
- When people sign up for an account on your site, require confirmation
- Make it easy for those confirmations to be denied in case of mistakes
- Never send personal information to an unconfirmed email address
- If you send email as part of your permission-based marketing, make it easy to alter the subscription
- Have a valid reply-to address
- Understand that permission-based marketing requires permission – if someone wants to revoke it, let them
- Trying to keep subscribers to your email marketing by making it hard for them to unsubscribe is a negative experience
Not understanding the basics of permission marketing does irreparable damage to your brand. For instance, should I ever move to Hanover, PA, I would likely not deal with Hanover Toyota. Most of Gmail Jay’s adventures were a result of people not paying attention as they typed. It was not the fault of the marketers. However, the fact that it was so hard to fix the issues was entirely their fault.
If you make it easy to end a permission-based marketing relationship, you are far more likely to get that person back than if you tried to obfuscate and complicate the unsubscribe process.