How to Implement Triggered Emails, the Right Way

It’s about the People, people.

Despite everything you’ve read about inbox overload and the “death” of email marketing … it turns out that email is exactly how your shoppers want to be contacted. And that’s not just for transactions, it’s for marketing as well.

MarketingSherpa recently revealed that when it comes to communication channels, 72% of people prefer email over other modes.

communication channel graph

Unfortunately, that finding doesn’t mean that all emails are automatically effective. An email sent does not equal an email opened. And it certainly doesn’t mean an email clicked. While customers prefer that you email them, they also prefer not to be thrown in with the masses and shotgunned with irrelevant and pushy pitches.

So how do you craft a marketing email that gets opened and clicked?

By making email behavioral and people-based.

Everybody’s talking about personalization. But as Brad Smith points out in the delightfully titled “Hey $FNAME” is Dead, most so-called personalization sucks. Why? Because it’s not built around treating people like people.

Not to sound cliche, but people-based marketing is built on sending the right content and at the right time that each person has shown a genuine interest in. The best way to do that is through triggered emails based directly on each visitor’s personal — ding, ding — interactions with your website.

Triggered emails are your secret weapon for everything from rescuing abandoned carts to getting top-notch reviews. Here are four triggered emails that you can’t afford to not implement.

1. Relevance Triggered Emails

A great salesperson turns one-time buyers into lifetime customers. This is the crux of the salesperson’s job. No company can be successful if every customer is one-and-done.

The same is true for your eCommerce site.

You want visitors to not only buy … but buy again and again and again.

Unfortunately, while many eCommerce merchants run recommendation engines onsite, simply put: they don’t work. Recommendation engines ignore (1) the demographic tells product combinations reveal, (2) the timing associated with buying cycles, and (3) current browsing.

Even worse, very few those that do recommend related products make the leap from onsite suggestions to email. This is due primarily to a lack of tracking and tagging. Only when you identify visitors and match them to existing profiles and email addresses can you take advantage of relevance.

Is irrelevance a problem? Absolutely. A 2015 Google Consumer Insights study found that even after subscribers opt into a list, they regularly flag emails as spam. The leading reason for this behavior? Forty-two percent of respondents explained that the content they received was either “irrelevant” or “impersonal.”

Even more vital moving into the future is being able to connect each visitor’s digital behavior across devices. As Maricor Resente stressed to Martech Advisor, “It’s the exact same person browsing for shoes on their laptop at work that’s reading your email promotions on their iPhone while lying in bed. Businesses need to be able to pick up the conversation across each of those channels in real time.”

Relevance triggered emails live and die by those last two words: “real time.” When a user visits a category versus a product page, the email they receive should reflect that. If they add an item to their cart, consume a specific piece of content, or — the crowning jewel of relevance — make a purchase … again, all those behaviors demand separate emails.

Relevance triggered emails not only make for more purchases, but create the feel that you’re attentive, picking out products and content just for them, and — like any great salesperson — genuinely caring.

2. Friction Triggered Emails

Any scenario that creates friction in the buyer-seller relationship also creates opportunity to strengthen that relationship.

One of these friction-to-opportunity is the out-of-stock problem. When your customer clicks on an item they want but it’s unavailable, take this opportunity to — number one — snag their email. With a triggered overlay, kindly inform the customer that the item is out of stock, but that you’ll be sure to inform her when it’s back:

zappos out of stock overlay

Image Credit: Zappos

When the item returns, follow up with a triggered email alerting them that the exact product they wanted is back in stock:

zulily back in stock email

Image Credit: Zulily

Extra points if you can also add scarcity and urgency like Anastasia does as below:

anastasia back in stock CTA

Image Credit: Anastasia Beverly Hills

The second scenario that produces unexpected opportunity is site errors.

Maybe a coupon code broke or a purchase didn’t go through. Whatever the case, your site is sure to have the occasional hiccup, but you can turn these hiccups into sales.

Design a triggered email that apologizes for any site errors and then offer an additional discount because of the inconvenience.

dorothy perkins technical error

Image Credit: Dorothy Perkins

The key, however, isn’t to blanket your entire list whenever something goes wrong. Rather, this goes right back to the importance of tracking individual behavior: only send your apology email to users who were actually affected.

Triggered emails that apologize for problems and offer solutions don’t only save your reputation, they enhance it. By efficiently responding to friction inducing scenarios, your emails will land more sales and build more trust. Your customer wants a hero and this is your chance to be that hero.

3. Abandonment Triggered Emails

Dealing with cart abandonment is at the center of the eCommerce struggle. According to Business Insider, approximately $4 trillion is left in shopper’s carts annually. But again — and the more you think this way, the better — friction creates an opportunity.

Sadly, while this type of triggered email is nearly universal, they’re often just plain terrible.

Not to throw anyone under the bus, but far too many cart-abandonment emails lack the very ingredient that make triggered emails effective: behavioral appeals. For example, check out this one from Levis:

levi's triggered email

Image Credit: Levi’s

What’s the problem?

There’s nothing in the email related to the abandoned cart itself: no mention of the items, no product images, and no link to complete the purchase … just a vague CTA to “Shop Now.” (Plus, a 25% discount is basically white noise given the rising prevalence of flash sales.)

In contrast, successful abandonment emails focus on two things.

First, specificity. Cart-abandonment emails exist for a single reason: to get the visitor to come back and complete their purchase. Remember that relevance problem Google unearthed? Specificity tackles it head on. And because you’re leveraging conversion momentum — after all, they’ve already show interest — your first abandoned cart email doesn’t even need to include a discount.

Second, timing. As a general rule — one that will need to be tested — two emails should be sent: one immediately after they abandon and another 24-48 hours later.

With both, less is more and singularity is paramount:

etsy specificity

Image Credit: Etsy

fatface cart abandonment email

Image Credit: Fat Face

Cart abandonment, the nemesis of eCommerce, can be overcome. Triggered emails reminding the customer of what they already told you they want, if crafted carefully, will be a courteous and personal invitation to complete the sale.

Your lead wants to be reminded. It’s your job to do it with finesse.

4. Review Triggered Emails

It pays to hear back from your customers.

A study done by Nielsen Company revealed that 57% of respondents consider reviews before buying a product. This shouldn’t surprise you. We’ve all struggled to make a purchase when the review average sits at 3 out of 5 stars. Humans are communal creatures — we do what other people do. If a product does not have evidence of other purchases, we’re likely to abandon.

On the other hand, sport lots of 4 and 5 star reviews, and your sales are sure to be impacted positively.

How do you get these reviews?

Create a triggered email, sent shortly after the product has been delivered, that playfully asks for a review on the very item (or items) purchased. Here’s a good example:

your m&s product review email

Image Credit: M&S

Notice that the email has a single, central call to action. The review request is the centerpiece and nothing else vies for attention.

In contrast, here’s what not to do:

the body shop product review email

Image Credit: The Body Shop

Sure they ask for a review, but a review of what? As with some of the other bad examples above, there’s nothing people-based about it. The headline smacks of irrelevance: “Free shipping on all orders over $50.” That’s nice, but there’s not presented as a review incentive.

Worst of all, fully half of the email focuses on upselling. Bogging customers down with various asks within one email is confusing and ineffective. If you’re asking for a review, ask for a review … and be done with it.

Pull the Trigger …

The beauty of triggered emails lies in the fact that once they’re set up, you don’t have to think much about them. Automation does the work.

For the customer, however, it feels like you’re working overtime just for them.

Remember, email is the most preferred communication channel, both online and off. But the unspoken truth is that nobody wants to just be contacted. We all want to feel special, unique, and cared for. Behavioral, people-based trigger emails do just that.

Take a look at our MARKETER’S GUIDE TO BEHAVIORAL EMAIL on the BounceX ThinkTank+