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Customer Follow Up: What Not to Do

April 12, 2016 • 7 mins read

Ahmad El-Najjar

Policy and Communications

In our last post, we talked about why collecting customer information is essential and shared some of our members’ secrets for collecting customer emails. So, you’ve now collected your contacts, stored them in a CRM, and you’re ready to use them! The simplest and most cost-effective ways of following up with your customers are going to be your newsletter, email marketing, and social media.

Here, we’ll rely upon of a lot of legwork done by Townsquared Seattle member Gregor Schmidt of Studio 5 Innovation. Gregor is prolific, knowledgeable, and genuine when it comes to helping small businesses master digital marketing. In fact, much of his team’s work focuses on helping small businesses succeed.

The Newsletter

The old reliable newsletter is never going away because it’s a very effective way to keep your customers up-to-date. Newsletters are direct and synthesize the recent developments and offerings of your business on a weekly or monthly basis, targeting your general customers. If you’re using email marketing software already, there are almost always a ton of templates built in to the product to get you on your way. If you’re relying on creating your own from scratch, however, you’ll want to be mindful of the best practices for an effective newsletter:

  • Use a header; it’s the first thing people see.
  • Let your company logo dictate the color scheme.
  • Use standard fonts, no comic sans here.
  • Use subheadings, like a newspaper.
  • Use content blocks.
  • Pictures, pictures, pictures!

The newsletter is an oldie but a goodie; don’t underestimate it’s value! It’s an effective tool for transforming perusers into purchasers. It’s also a great place to link to your social media and your website, as well as an opportunity for your customers to share how wonderful your business is with their networks.

Email Marketing

According to Gregor, “Email marketing is alive and well, contrary to popular belief.” It’s easy to think, in the age of social media and instant messaging, that email is a dinosaur. Yet, email marketing is a highly effective way to reach certain target demographics. “Remember,” Gregor clarifies, “not everyone is on social media, and some people still don’t really surf the web.”

For those just starting out, he recommends an email marketing system like MailChimp. “It’s free for lists of fewer than 2,000 subscribers, making it perfect for startups and small businesses. For those who have more than 2,000 subscribers MailChimp has a paid service, or you can check out email marketing specialists Constant Contact.”

Of course, email marketing is not without its potential pitfalls. In fact, a lot of getting follow-up emails right is simply not getting them wrong. And there are so. many. ways. to get them wrong. So many. Moreover, some of these mistakes will violate the law, specifically the CAN-SPAM Act, which outlines the standards for sending commercial e-mail. According to the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces the Act, “Each separate email in violation…is subject to penalties of up to $16,000.” So, as they somewhat superfluously point out, “non-compliance can be costly.” The good folks at Studio 5 Innovation have outlined the most common email marketing mistakes and how to avoid them:

First, do not send unsolicited emails, or buy huge email contact lists and email everyone on them. This is a very effective way to get your emails marked as spam! Inadequate Permissions is one of the most common email marketing mistakes, and the one that will cost you the most subscribers. Your email newsletter recipients must agree to receive your email marketing messages. Simply having someone’s email on their business card or from their LinkedIn profile does NOT give you the right to email them unsolicited marketing.


unsolicited email marketing
Stop sending me unsolicited emails. They make me angry.

So, make sure your subscribers know exactly what they are signing up for by using a double opt-in process to ensure absolute transparency.


Sending content that appears to be spam is another common email marketing mistake about which many small business owners may not even be aware. Obviously, you don’t want to send your contacts spammy content (and we know you would never do that!). But it’s equally important that the recipients of your emails can tell that your content is relevant and high-quality.

To make sure the folks who receive your emails will trust they’re worth opening, avoid the following:

Misleading Subject Lines

Another common email marketing mistake is to make it appear that the sender already has a relationship with the recipient. It is perfectly fine to include FW: or RE: in your subject line, if you have previously emailed the subscriber about the same subject. If you haven’t, this will definitely get your emails marked as spam.

Bad Links

Avoid any links to unreputable websites and any unsavory website content. Speaking of links, don’t use URL shorteners like Bit.Ly for your email content—spammers have abused them and now shortened URLs will often trigger spam filters. (They are still fine for social media, though.)

Sloppy HTML

Many people make the mistake of creating email content in Microsoft Word, and then cutting and pasting it into their favorite email newsletter app. Why is this a mistake? Because the formatting in Word adds all kinds of extra formatting to the code. It might look fine for most human readers, but it can definitely upset the spam robots. Don’t upset the spam robots.


Never, ever use special characters in place of actual letters! Nobody wants to know that they are your “Fr3e W!nn@r!” This has to be one of the more puzzling email marketing mistakes, but apparently some marketers think it’s cute.

Using All Caps

Nobody likes being yelled at, which is exactly what reading all caps feels like to most people. Your message will be SO MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE if you use your normal “tone” of voice. (See what we mean?) Many subscribers consider this to be one of the most annoying email marketing mistakes, so take note.

email marketing makes customers happy
This is how your customers should react when they open your email.

Inappropriate Image Use

This is one of the more recent email marketing mistakes. You want to be very, very careful with memes. Memes (images with embedded text) may work for your business Facebook or Google+ page, but are not necessarily good for email marketing.

Legal Violations

Another mistake made by newbies, and one that can get you into big trouble, is a legal violation. The CAN-SPAM Act applies to all business emails, including bulk and B2B email. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are weeding out emails not in compliance, so make sure that all your emails have

  • a functioning “unsubscribe” link prominently visible in all emails
  • an accurate “from-email” address—the one displayed in the reader’s email
  • relevant subject lines (see above)
  • a physical mailing or business address

And be sure to honor all unsubscribe requests within 10 days.

One reason to use an authorized email service provider is that most of this will be part of the service. All you have to do is to follow all unsubscribe requests; failing to do so will definitely get you marked as spam!

Unauthenticated Sender ID

ISPs need to authenticate sender identities to ensure that email messages are actually coming from a legitimate source rather than a spam server. But marketers with tight budgets who send their own emails, especially small business owners doing their own marketing, often do not authenticate their server ID correctly.

Sending emails from a company server that is not fully configured will result in the dreaded spam flag! Again, using a professional email marketing program like the ones we mentioned above will mean you’re already covered.

No Appealing Content

And the last of our common email marketing mistakes is content that is not appealing to your intended audience! The other day we received a wonderful newsletter, with great design and engaging content. Unfortunately, we weren’t in the market for pressure-washing equipment at the time. If you want to avoid ending up in the spam folder, you have to send messages that demonstrate their relevance and value. To stay out of your customers’ spam folders:

  • DO NOT send messages to recipients whom you have not contacted in eight months or more. Remember, even if you did at one time receive permission to email a subscriber, that permission goes stale after about 4-6 months. If you haven’t emailed your list in the last six months, you need to start a new list.
  • DO NOT send email newsletters to subscribers who repeatedly delete them without opening. That should tell you your content isn’t relevant to them.
  • DO NOT send email messages several times a week if you mentioned “occasional updates.” Likewise, if you promised frequent updates, make sure to deliver them!
  • DO NOT use misleading or inaccurate subject lines. We said it before, but it really is that important. Your readers’ time is short. Respect that and tell them up-front what to expect.

There you have it: a well-rounded approach to email marketing that will help you avoid some of the common mistakes that can harm your customer relationships.

Next up: What might be the most annoying part of follow-up, social media.


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