Women of Email

Email Retention – Follow The Customer’s Lead

21 Dec 2020 5:45 PM | Ann Ehnert

What are your customers showing you? If you’re unsure, take a step back and look at your patterns and behaviors when interacting with a brand, especially a brand that you admire.

Consumers (including us!) are creatures of habit and naturally, will fall into a routine. And from there, we can start to look at our customers’ email behavior through a similar lens. As a result, we discover opportunities that exist outside of the email guardrails that we have set forth for our customers.

As brands continue to lean even more into the digital space, specifically with email, the need for creating digital customer journeys in order to improve retention increases. There are a few tested methods with proven successes, and some not so successful (that’s another blog post), that I’m eager to share. My hope is you can take away a few ideas of how to develop a customer retention strategy and think outside your brand’s digital bounds.

Don’t try to define a system based on assumptions. A few weeks ago, I asked a colleague how many workflows are too many. What is the cut-off point? Her reply was, why should there be a limit? True. And perhaps my question came from a place of overthinking the process and forgetting that we need to begin at step one.

If this is your first time getting to know your customers, take the existing data, such as your products and what they are buying, and start there. Journeys and seemingly complex workflows don’t grow overnight. Take the time upfront to ask one question that you want to answer and go from there. For example, why are customers that receive a sales email not responding?

Action Item: Create a document and start drafting a workflow that you are expecting your customer or visitor to take. Consider using a tool like draw.io

. Then, from this existing, expected flow, think about the next step. Where is the customer going next? Why? And start drawing! Here is an example of a very basic workflow that you could instrument, but also by depicting the workflow, you have now made the process easier for stakeholders to understand as well.


Let a customer go silent. If you have customers that stopped engaging in email, give them an opportunity to come back and engage through an automated re-engagement campaign. Throughout the campaign, encourage various actions, such as visiting a site, checking out social or if they are ultimately not email readers, letting them know they won’t be part of your future email campaigns.

The customer is the hero in this story. Let them go away from email if needed and nurture them in other ways, such as in-app messaging, on-site messaging or social. And as your email list becomes more refined with users that are actively engaging in your email, overall deliverability will maintain, or in some cases, improve, as a result of releasing customers that have chosen another way to interact with your brand. And as you continue to grow your email engagement, continue to build up existing workflows by refining segmentation and personalization. Ask yourself more questions about engaging behaviors. Look for the opportunities.

Action Item: Be engaged in the silence. Schedule an automated, rolling re-engagement campaign and make it part of your reporting. This gives your stakeholders greater understanding of how it fits into the entire picture. It becomes an integrated part of your overall flow.

Continue to encourage your customers. Consistency is oftentimes queen, but what are you doing to bring customers back to the site, the app, the store and so on at least one more time during the week? Where is your disruptor?

Is there a favored action happening in-store or on your site? Why is that and what are the building blocks to empower your customer to mirror the desired action and in turn, take the next step? I know, it’s a lot of questions, but staying curious and going back to the data will encourage your customers. 

Action Item: In the existing customer workflow that you drew, pick one spot during that funnel and branch it out into two more flows. When you branch those out, identify the action the customer took and the next message you want them to see. For example, if you are a retailer and the customer received an upcoming sale announcement but didn’t convert, branch off this email and look at who opened the email and what next step they took. If it was to visit the site, how are you retargeting in your next email to them based on their browsing behavior? If they didn’t open the email, are they engaged in email or should they funnel into SMS?

Here is an extension of what was depicted above if we were to expand it even further for the purchase funnel.


Retention is a trust-building exercise. It’s part of the long game, but it first must be constructed in a way that is familiar with your existing customer. Start to understand actions, behaviors and routines through your existing email campaigns. And from this, you’ll be on your way to constructing, enhancing and further personalizing workflows for existing (and new) customers.
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