Email Marketers: Customer Service DOs and DON'Ts

Becky Gaylord President, Gaylord LLC

Posted on April 8th 2013

Email Marketers: Customer Service DOs and DON'Ts

email marketingI rarely give out my email address when I am asked for it at a retail store.

Two weeks ago, I made an exception. I bought a basketful of products at Sephora after a knowledgable and attentive sales person spent about half an hour with me. She didn’t pressure me. She listened well. And she made several good recommendations as we talked. As a result, I bought many more things than I had expected to when I first walked into the store. This was great customer service. And I was a very satisfied customer.

So, when I was asked at the register for my email address, I willingly gave it. My expectation was that my positive experience would be extended through the emails the company sent.

Boy was I wrong.

Every day for two weeks, I’ve received an email from Sephora. Now, I shop for cosmetics maybe four times a year. And these daily emails are trying to sell me all kinds of things I don’t ever buy — and don’t need and don’t want. This email marketing is not just unsuccessful, it’s annoying.

Worse, it hasn’t just soured me on the brand’s marketing, it’s soured me on the brand.

Today, after I got the daily unwanted email, I was about to search for a way to unsubscribe from all emails from the company when another one arrived in my inbox. I thought that it might be a personal response to the Tweet I had just sent about the frequent and unwanted emails. Nope. This one asked me to write a review of the products I bought in the store. Are you kidding me?

I am writing this blog post instead.

customer service

First of all, if a brand is using a social media channel, it should be responding to customers who communicate through it, not just broadcasting. A day later, Sephora has yet to respond to my Tweet.

What “opting in” should mean 

Second, let’s look more closely at what is often referred to “opting in.” This is marketing magic, and it forms the backbone of inbound marketing, where a brand communicates with customers who’ve already signaled their interest. They’re fans. And they’ve made that known by opting in, or providing their information and allowing the brand to contact them.

That’s great. To a point.

But opting in does not mean each customer wants the same frequency and kind of communication.

It would’ve been so easy to ask me — right from the start — how often I wanted to get emails. Or which products I wanted to hear about. Let me opt in with a little discretion. If Sephora had sent me an initial email with a few of these questions I would still be a customer. And I would still gladly walk into a store.

Someone else might, indeed, want 365 notices a year about Sephora products. They might want to know about every range and kind of product the company sells. Great, so allow that customer to opt in to that saturation. Or, at least let me opt out of it! I opted out of all emails — hardly the outcome a brand wants from its email marketing efforts aimed at an initially satisfied customer.

Ironically, when I looked for the link to unsubscribe to all emails, I found a link to make the emails less frequent. But I had to search for it. It made me do the work. That’s not customer service. That’s customer self-service. Email marketing gone way wrong is much worse than none at all.

Early on, ask your customers 

That brings me to the last point. When I unsubscribed, only then was I asked for some feedback. Was I receiving too many emails? Did I have a bad online experience? (I tried to check more than one box, but was allowed to pick only one reason.)

Why wait to ask a customer for feedback until she is fleeing? That makes no sense. Asking me after the first or second email could’ve kept me as a customer. It’s too late, now. I’m already gone.

Brands can’t serve customers well by assuming they all want the same thing. Ask them. Or look at the analytics of who’s opening the emails. (I wasn’t.) Technology makes it so easy to customize email marketing. It’s easy. It works. And it’s essential to good customer service.

But for goodness sakes, do it before it’s an exit interview on the unsubscribe page.

Let me know what you think.


Becky Gaylord

President, Gaylord LLC

Becky worked as a journalist for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including the New York Times,, Business Week, the Wall Street Journal, and was Associate Editor of the Plain Dealer's Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations and communication and increase their influence and impact.

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You make an excellent point.  I have noticed that far too many companies start filling your inbox with sales material moments after you "opt in".  In some ways it seems that the internet has taken the personal element out of customer service.  What happened to establishing a relationship?  If someone I met started sending me daily emails to solicit a date with me, I would drop them faster than a hot potato.  It is a cold, impersonal and overwhelming way to communicate.  

To have a successful email campaign, businesses must realize that they still need to build a relationship with their customers first, identify their needs, and even ask them what they want.  This will build trust and establish boundaries, the same as one would in a personal relationship.  

I also dislike that a brand takes the position of standing on a soapbox with a megaphone when it comes to Twitter.  Not taking the time to respond personally to Tweets shows a great lack of concern.  Follow through is so important.  We choose who we give our money to and it is very easy to give it to someone else who treats us better.  

You make excellent points, Katie.

The ease of many modern marketing channels -- email, Twitter and other social media -- does NOT override long-standing basics of customer service developed from the time when all selling took place face to face. Two of the most important of these are building relationships and making sure the customer is getting the kind of service that he or she actually desires. And I think too many brands do forget that.

Thanks for your comments!  

Hello Becky, 

Your article was spot on!   I "liked" a health and wellness doctor on my Facebook account several months ago and within two weeks, I had to de-friend him.   My newsfeed was filled with at 4-5 posts a day!  It became the dominant entity to hit my newsfeed.   I almost called his office to speak to his social media marketing manager and tell that person how ineffective the approach was.  We are all enthusiastic about our message and we want to share it with our email lists and Facebook friends and hope they receive it with excitement!   It's just so important to be respectful of people's email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.  I manage social media marketing for a not-for-profit breast cancer survivor group and I'm thankful I had the experience I did with that doctor.  It has certainly helped to temper my eagerness to over-post or frequently email however exciting I find my message to be!!!!!   

Hi, Susan, 

Perfect example of customer opinion swinging from positive to negative -- ugh -- as a result of marketing.

I actually did notify Sephora, through that Tweet (embedded in this post.) The company has about 950,000 Twitter followers. And it follows almost 300,000. It didn't even occur to me that the company wouldn't respond. When it didn't (and it still hasn't, even after my blog post has been widely shared) I checked its Twitter stream more closely. Lots and lots of broadcast Tweets, but no real conversations that I spotted in my unscientific scan.

There you have it. Broadcasting on social media or email is "marketing" that's actually advertising or worse, spamming. Many consumers -- perhaps most -- will tune it out and turn it off. 


Astonishing.  Sephora, and many companies like them, have thousands of THEIR customers open and available to direct conversations with them and they don't see the power of these new marketing tools.  Companies spend thousands and thousands of dollars through traditional media channels to "reach" their target audience without really knowing whether they've reached their consumers or not.   It's amazing to me really.  When I started my marketing career, it would have been a dream (fantasy!) come true to be able to speak directly to 950,000 of my customers to convey my message through a low cost delivery vehicle and get useable feedback!   Shame on Sephora.   Just hearing your story makes me want to forego any future Sephora shopping outings.   ps:  As a marketer, once you've decided to engage in social media marketing you must, must respond to any negative feedback in the most open and transparent manner to gain trust and loyalty from your customers. 

Hi Becky,

Aha, the hard to find unsubscribe link. Good one. Use power, not force. Feel confident enough that you need not bombard people with emails, and when someone unsubscribes, thank...unless you list is monstrous...and not only will you receive feedback, you might just receive a re-opt-in.

Last week after thanking one subscriber after he opted-out he noticed who I was, from the email. Then he made connection, oh yeah, that Ryan guy, yeah, I want to stay subscribed.

Think about your customer. Put yourself in their shoes. Boy does it make our job easier, as we make more friends, instead of attracting posts like these to our brand ;)

Excellent lesson Becky, thanks,


Ryan, I really like the idea of thanking a former subscriber as he or she has takes their leave. That, or some other, similarly gracious, response. (And I'm sure it likely prompts some, like your example, to reconsider...)

You described it so well when you said it's about power not force!

When I counsel clients about their social media and email marketing, I'm all for them connecting confidently. But, it can start to feel like stalking when marketers come on way too strong and 1. don't want feedback from customers or 2. ignore it or 3. ask for it on the unsubscribe page (which can make customers feel like they're also being hounded.)

Yes! Defining what "opting in" means is key--with nonprofit brands, too. We want our donors and supporters to receive the frequency and type of emails they want, too -- monthly e-news only, appeals, specific program news, etc.

Would love recommendations about great email service providers that could help us segment properly by creating good opt-in options AND responsive confirmation emails offering subscription preferences. Our current provider doesn't offer these options.

BTW I had a similar in-store experience at Sephora and have noticed I'm getting tons of email, too. For now I'm okay simply skipping or deleting-- but this is such a good case in point.