It all kind of started for me when Bill McCloskey asked, “Are You Really Really Sure?“, and opened one of the more passionate Industry discussions that I’ve seen for a while; this time focused on Single v. Double Opt-In.  It’s pretty safe to say that the consensus of the more experienced commenter’s comes down to, “It Depends“.

Being a fun-loving guy I like to toss little real-world caveats into the mix like, “You’ve just taken the recipient’s credit card number and activated their site subscription that includes match alerts. If the recipient is paying you to send them email messages, do you really need to ask them – after just accepting their credit card – if they’re sure they want to receive the messages that they just paid to receive? Sounds silly, doesn’t it?”, as I did in the comments on Bill’s article that day.

But that’s just a little back-story….

If there is a problem with Spam Complaints and Paid Subscriptions it is when it’s viewed as a technical email issue only.  It’s not.  The email operational side is pretty cut-and-dried and it works like it works.  A recipient marks a message as spam, the feedback loops report it, and the organization doesn’t send that recipient any more email.

From a technical side, a receipt for subscription is pretty good proof of permission to an ISP that the email addressee did in fact subscribe to the mail and that the complaint should be taken with a grain of salt.  Odds are that there will be very few complaints on paid-subscription messages, and if there are they are usually for other reasons.

One of those reasons may be buyers-remorse or maybe wanting to cancel on the subscriber side and for whatever reason not just going through the normal cancellation steps.  Or another could be that the sender is abusing the paid-subscription message.  Either way, they both lead to the same end – charge-backs.

So you might be able to keep your deliverability up on the technical side, but what about the business side? 

Every time a company has a credit charged back they not only lose the money, but pay an additional fee that may even be greater than the amount charged back.  If it happens too often the company might find that they’re also paying a higher-percentage processing fee.  The next step is moving to a high-risk processor at even higher processing fees, and the possibility of losing the ability to process online transactions at all.

The business-savvy email marketer knows this and knows that spam complaints aren’t just the numbers that change on a report or the impact on the number of addresses that they can mail to.  They closely monitor the complaints of specific paid-subscription messages so that steps can be put in place to mitigate charge-backs leveraging other company means.

Let’s say that a paid-subscription program has an appropriate Welcome message that gets a few spam complaints here and there.  There is a very good chance that those same complainants may have changed their mind about their subscription and are using the complaint loop as a way to cancel their subscription without being charged.  Do you wait and see or take proactive measures?

Under the right circumstances it might make sense to develop an internal email program that matches the complainant email address to additional subscriber data and sent to an outbound call center and billing departments for further action.  An even more advanced operation might automatically insert an outbound call into queue with a delay in automatically refunding the subscriber and cancelling the subscription based on the results on the outbound call. 

Getting feedback on the results of those calls might help to determine if the problem might be buyers-remorse, gaming the system, or a desire to cancel because the Welcome message that was sent them was some sort of hard sales pitch (see #7) due to treating the email channel as a corporate drinking fountain where they go when thirsty for revenue.  But I digress….

From my real-world files; There was once an individual that had paid for a subscription and within 30 minutes had put in a request for lost password help.  When the password message was received it was immediately reported as spam.  I noted the recipient and passed the them along to my billing department that happened to recognize the name….  This individual was trying to charge back 3 months of service and having a hard time of it because they had successfully been receiving (pixel rendered and links clicked) the messages that they paid to receive.  Not quite to the level of “World’s Dumbest Criminals“, but gaming the system anyway….

Reporting on metrics is one thing, knowing what to do with them and how to leverage the underlying data is something different (and fun).  There always seems to be talk about integrating email into the other business channels.  Well, here are a couple of areas where email can integrate into the bigger business picture. 

If you want to be treated like a silo then keep acting like one; if you want to be respected as an integral part of business, then start stepping up and earn that respect.  Oh, and welcome to integrating email into other business channels….