TL;DR email is an antiquated system that is full of flaws. Due to spam marketing, business to consumer emails are delivered to the junk box unless you are loaded and can afford the IT structures to avoid these problems. We’ve switched to multiple social channels where we can have real conversations, securely, swiftly and authentically.
I did a search for “stop using email” and there were just under 3 million results. We’re clearly not the only ones to have a problem with emails. As a communication tool it’s been very useful for the last 50 years but once the first spam email was sent in 1978 (yeah, took advertisers only 8 years to ruin email) things started to go down hill for email as a reliable tool for communications.
The problems we face as a small business emailing consumers
Around 2017 we started to see a problem. In the first 3 months we were either face to face or received an enquiry (via a web form) with 200+ people. We replied to every single one but the reply rate from these enquiries was very low. We were converting about 18% of people into clients. The previous year we were converting nearly 40%. Something dramatic had changed and we assumed at the time that it was either our price or service that was not connecting.
We spent years trying to up our conversation rate. We tweaked our prices, services, language and branding but the conversion rate stayed low at 18% on average between 2017 and 2018.
We were getting a bit desperate. It was then that we started to get reports from people that they hadn’t been receiving all our emails. Things started to make more sense. We weren’t getting clients because they weren’t seeing our offers. We started to investigate and implement all the recommended email tweaks to make them more deliverable. The IT stuff was complicated to understand but easy to implement. DMARC, SPF & DKIM records all provide a level of authenticity to an email server, unless it’s a Microsoft server, which will dump you in spam regardless of the authenticity it seems. We tested our emails and were getting 10/10 scores. Problem solved… except it wasn’t.
Emails were still going into spam, mainly in Hotmail accounts. The nature of our job as photographers means we see email account trends on a generational level. Where many accounts prior to millennials seemed to be ISP based (like an AOL or BTinternet mail) they started to become Gmail and Hotmail accounts after that. That’s when we started to have problems. So, the free email accounts which everyone in the world uses have algorithms to filter spam email that recognise legitimate emails as spam.
We tried all the obvious stuff. Removed language that was considered spammy, removed links and sent only plain text emails, checked blacklists to see if we were there (we weren’t) we even tailored our messages to include perfect ratios for text, which is a thing apparently. None of that really helped. We were still going into spam, even if we were replying to an email sent from a client to us. We called up existing clients and tested our emails to them. Some went into spam even if we’d been in contact with them for months. That’s an unacceptable situation.
Losing money as every single minute passed
This problem was costing us a fortune in lost business and tedious IT work to marginally improve email delivery.
In our industry we rely on speed of reply to every single person to be in with a chance at winning business. We also have a small window of opportunity to impress upon people our personality as well as our service. We can’t afford to miss out on people emailing with a free email account and we can’t rely on them checking the junk folder regularly. We need to be in front of them, having a genuine conversation as close to the point at which they asked us a question. It needs to be that fast in the wedding industry to be successful. (I’m going to make up a statistic for illustrative purposes here, as well as dramatic effect) I think we have less than 30 mins to reply to an enquiry before we have missed “golden hour”. That brief window where we are all aligned in our thinking, enthusiastic to talk about details and engaged in solving problems. It’s the perfect conversation time and email is the imperfect way to have that conversation.
We had reduced our emails to a point where they were virtually useless as a sales tool. If you can’t talk about products and services or use images or links in an email then it becomes entirely pointless to send.
Emails are not at all a conversation that happens in the present either. They are always time shifted. If emails are conversational, one or two sentence replies, then why aren’t those conversations happening on a platform that lets you talk in real-time, gives you feedback on the progress of the conversation (like a user is typing type thing) which promotes the conversation to continue and on a channel your potential client is familiar with?
Demoting emails to their correct position
We decided to stop wasting time and money fixing this problem and looked for a real and modern solution to replace this 50 year old service. The answer came from our customers. It turned out that if our clients just wanted to chat to us then social media messaging was preferred over email. Email is still considered important for certain messages so we continue to use email for sending or receiving documents, however the vast majority of our conversations with people is just that, conversation.
When requesting large volumes of information for planning our work we collect it through forms linked to our CRM. The information is collected how we need it, where we need it and we don’t need to search through email threads to find it all. Any relevant information that comes from offline conversations can easily be added to our customer records if we need to retain it for planning (our CRM doesn’t integrate with social media currently).
How do we implement this strategy?
To eliminate emails is quite difficult. It’s going against common usage and expectations. It’s important to manage those expectations so that you don’t lose business over trust issues. The main problem with avoiding emails as a primary tool is that your clients can interpret this as a lack of professionalism when quite the opposite is true.
On the contact page of our website we use a webform as a way to enquire. It ties in with our CRM so that we can plan and execute our jobs with all the information we need in one place. It’s common to contact companies via web form so this helps maintain parity with our competition. Within that form we ask for their preferred method “to chat”. Email is not included in that selection list. This makes it clear that email is not our preferred way of communicating. We’ve chosen phone/video, SMS, WhatsApp and Instagram messenger. These are all commonly used, offer conversation nesting, security and we can send links and images. Most importantly, some may filter for spam but they clearly notify users they have received an unsolicited message and that’s a million times better than asking people to check their spam folder for every email.
What are the main advantages?
The advantage of dropping email is that now:
- We know a message is being delivered.
- We know a message has been seen
- We are in an informal setting which promotes conversation leading to better understanding our client’s needs.
- We aren’t assuming how people want to talk to us. We’re asking.
All this reduces barriers to building a better relationship with our clients. it also reduces the overwhelming number of emails we receive making it easier to deal with the one’s that we do get, which are mainly about the systems and services we need to run our business.
And that’s it. Problem solved. Well, for the time being. Direct messaging and social media messaging is slowly being consumed by the advertising industry and it will eventually be as compromised as email. By then I’m assuming we have a new way to chat, which I’m hoping is some sort of Star Trek communicator.