Proper Care and Maintenance of an Email List

Thursday, November 17, 2011
By: Angela Render

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the alignment of the stars, but for some reason today I decided that I’d had enough email correspondence with many of the companies I do business with. Yes, the daily deals had been annoying me for a while, but I’d just deleted them. After all, I did purchase from them at some point—well most of them anyway. A few I had no clue how I got on their list. For the legitimate ones, I might buy again sometime in the future, but something today prompted me to just put a stop to the email contacts permanently.

And this is when I really got a good look at how those companies view me as a customer.

I’m not going to point fingers (glares balefully at Travelocity), but I do want to go over the unsubscribe experience and give a few take-aways.

The worst offender.
Thankfully, there was only one that did this, but let’s start with how we got to the break-up part of the relationship in the first place. Daily contacts with deals. That’s great, really. I like getting a deal and it wasn’t the same deal every day. The problem was, that clicking through to take advantage of the deal didn’t take me to a page to purchase it. In fact, the deal wasn’t in evidence at all. This offender was using a bait and switch—something that pisses me off no end. A mistake or two I can forgive, but this was a chronic offense.

Unsubscription was inevitable.

Thankfully there was an unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email, but clicking through took me to a page that asked if I was sure. Ok. I can forgive that delay. We all make mistakes and it’s a good idea to make sure the customer really meant to do it. I clicked yes and here is where they lost me for good.

The language on the page read something like, “Your request has been received. Removal requests are processed within 5-10 business days.”

Excuse me? You’ll get around to unsubscribing me? Apparently this company hasn’t realized that I am in control of our relationship. Maybe fifteen years ago you could get away with something like this, but the technology now is such that it’s inexcusable. The high-brow tone from them sealed the deal. I will not do business with this company again.

Companies who could have kept me.
These were the brands who emailed too frequently and didn’t give me the option to reduce the correspondence. The process was quick, simple, and polite, and left me feeling good about the break-up.

Companies who did keep me.
These were the companies who not only asked if I was sure, but left me the option of reducing the frequency of the contacts. I chose to remain on the list at a reduced rate and I feel good about that choice.

Most importantly, why did it have to come to this?
Honestly, if your unsubscribe process needs to address the question of reducing frequency of emailings, then the brand already knows it’s pushing the limit and should probably take a hard look at its practices.

If a brand is emailing me with relevant or even entertaining messages, I wouldn’t have gotten to the unsubscribe state in the first place and that is ultimately the path that should be taken. Correspond with your list and ask them how you’re doing. If you’ve waited until the unsubscribe process to ask questions about the experience, you’re already too late for anyone casually interested in your products or services.

You know, don’t be afraid to occasionally send me something funny or gracious too. Many of the companies that I unsubscribed from made it to the chopping block because I didn’t have to download the images to know that the message was going to be some sort of discounted offer on a product that all 250,000+ people on the list would receive. If the company had varied their message and kept me guessing in the first place, I might have looked at the emails more regularly or more closely.

I might be a minority, but I would like to believe that the companies I do business with are at least marginally respectful that I’m a thinking, feeling human being and would like to be treated as such. And that doesn’t mean spending more time analyzing my shopping habits and just offering me discounts on products I’m interested in. It means remembering that I do, and am interested in, other things than shopping. It means practicing some object permanency and sending me an occasional celebratory or casual correspondence that celebrates life rather than figuring an angle to make a quick sale by capitalizing on it.

For example, I have a large number of direct ancestors both living and dead who fought to create and defend this country. Can we please show them a little more respect than reducing them to 20% off on Veterans Day? How about a nice, pretty e-card or a poem, no strings attached?

It’s just a thought.


  1. Don’t wait until your customer is unsubscribing to ask how you’re doing with your emails.
  2. Offer your customer the opportunity to receive less frequent contacts or different contacts from you before finalizing the unsubscribe process.
  3. If you suspect you are emailing too frequently, either cut back or vary your message.
  4. Mind your attitude at this stage of your relationship. An unsubscription doesn’t have to mean a complete break with your customer.