In the complicated, dog-eat-dog world of modern business, it’s always interesting to note that there are a number of elements that are under-utilised, and even taken for granted when it comes to ensuring that customers are hearing what you want to say. Let’s consider for a moment the standard procedure for many when it comes to customer engagement, and assume, for the moment, that I want to buy your product or service.

After carefully browsing, I find that your website is a great experience and one which makes my purchase almost too easy. You win me over, so I sign up to your newsletter without hesitation. Job done? Not quite! What happens next in this sequence will define the relationship between you and your customer. After all, if the first contact is managed properly then the opportunities available are significantly increased.

The Welcome Email is perhaps the single most important email that a business will send to a customer. They have the highest open and engagement rates, studies indicate that these open rates can be as high as 60%, with engagement rates improved by over 30%. But, crucially, the Welcome Email also gives you the golden opportunity to set your stall out.

The recipient is highly receptive – they’ve literally just signed up for this email, so will be keen to view it as soon as it arrives.This means that you can give them a heads up on what to expect email wise from you, how to ensure future emails land in their inbox, and what these emails will look like.

Since this is the one email that you send that you are certain the customer wants to see you can use it as a cross sell opportunity, re-iterating your brand proposition and even, if you feel generous, offering them a time limited offer of their next order.

It doesn’t stop there. The Welcome Email can be seen as phase one in the introduction to your email strategy. The customer is now primed and ready to listen. They know what to expect from you and will be able to easily recognise subsequent emails you send them. But they don’t want a baptism of fire, instead ease them in gently.

Tailor your follow up emails. By creating a Welcome Email Series, that runs over a number of weeks, slowly bringing the new customer into the family, you will win over the customer and increase their engagement with your emails and your brand.

The conversation begins.

So, what is in the ideal Welcome Email? The points below reveal the key elements to consider, to maximise the pull of your first email to your new, hard won, customer:

  1.  The welcome email must arrive in real time

Use webservices to manage the immediate despatch of the welcome email upon registration.

  1.  The content (including From line and Subject) must reflect the brand

Ditchplain text auto responder emails and instead use your design team to build branded HTML emails. This is your first point of contact with your future customer; exploit this readiness to its full advantage for brand recognition.

  1.  Utilise responsive email design

At the end of 2012, more Internet users will read their e-mails on mobile devices than on their computers (ReturnPath study, 2012). The welcome email, like all messages should be designed with the end user’s situation in mind.

  1.  A personal welcome will do wonders

Increase the impact of your messages by incorporating the name of your customer in the subject or in the body of the message. Use what you know about your audience to personalise content as much as you can. This can be as simple as using a subscriber’s first name.

  1.  Use content to remind your new customers:
  • Why they received the message and thank them for signing up
  • How to add you to their contacts list
  • Show them how to easily unsubscribe, manage their contact preferences
  • Give them a taste of what’s to come
  • Give them the opportunity to share your email with friends/colleagues via your social bar, include a recommend a friend option too
  • Use a ‘soft’ cross sell approach – maybe sweeten with a next order discount
  • Keep the message as short as you can
  • Then leave them alone for a period of time – your business rules will define this, but look at one week’s quiet time
  • Send Welcome Stage Two. A gentle re assertion of your proposition, a reminder of the wonderful things they signed up for
  • Follow up from here is driven by their responses to email #2
  • Leave them for further period of time then drop the a gentle generic reminder
  • Send them content conditional on their email/website behaviour.

By week four they should be primed and ready to be added into the larger email programme. Keep monitoring the welcome series. Automated emails are very easy to forget. Monitor results, the data from these messages can be very useful for your overall email programme. Also, keep the content fresh and on brand. Remember, whilst this is a specific type of message, it is still part of the email strategy and all usual rules can apply – for example split testing.

These few simple steps will ensure that your new customers enjoy a great first experience with you. Of course, automated emails can beused in many other scenarios: Birthday greetings, abandoned shopping baskets, Seasonal greetings, re-activation messages, but in each instance, it’s important that you get the message, and how you use it, right first time. After all, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression!