Authored by: Praveen Kumar, General Manager, Asia Pacific, ASG Technologies
Like many of you, I have a lot of interesting content emailed to me, but many of those emails tend to accumulate and clog my inbox triggering a semi-annual purge. Most legitimate marketers are good about providing “unsubscribe” links within these emails, but simply providing this option is not enough. Recently, I received a response after unsubscribing from a mailing list that said it could take up to 10 days to be removed from their list. This got me thinking, “What does this wait time say about a company’s data management, its focus on personal data protection, or how much it cares (or doesn’t care) about its customers?”
Marketers, let’s think about how the unsubscribe process should work. It’s pretty simple. There’s a database containing email addresses from which you send marketing communications to subscribers. When one of your subscribers clicks “unsubscribe,” it should be simple to look up the subscriber and delete the email address from the database.
So, why does it take several days to process an unsubscribe request?
In many places, it is likely to take many days because of what government regulations outline. Malaysia does not currently have any laws on spam like you see in parts of Asia, the U.S. and Europe. But with today’s consumers expecting faster service than ever before, it is important to deliver immediate response times in addition to checking the compliance box.
Practically speaking, mailing lists are likely set up well before the emails are sent – because the emails are tied to triggering events such as product releases and holidays. This infrastructure may slow down the process of removing subscribers.
Additionally, since the email lists are prepared by a manual process using spreadsheets, which comprise millions of addresses, instantly finding and removing one address may seem unfeasible. Alternatively, some marketers use a list from a collector. In this case, the marketing team provides the list to a processor who delivers the emails and receives “opt-out” requests, which turns unsubscribing into a multi-step process.
How do you balance these practical challenges with your duty to the people who you are marketing to?
First and foremost, your organisation should be in compliance with Article 30 of GDPR, which regulates how companies manage mailing processes and record personal information, wherever business operations are located.
To make achieving compliance simpler, companies should consider investing in a tool with personal data management capabilities. With a tool like this, marketers can know who is collecting, holding and using personal data, and for what purpose. Marketing teams can also trace the personal data to know where it is stored and where it moves to – especially if it travels between data processors or across borders. Understanding this information— the who, what, when, where, why, and how of personal data— is not only critical to ensuring marketing activities are in compliance, but it also allows the team to optimize mailing processes overall. This includes improving the management of “opt-in/opt-out” subscriber requests.
If it takes your team more than a few seconds to honour unsubscribe requests – or it requires a change in workflows, applications and data stores to automate the processes – there might be a significant change management project required. Marketers need a tool that builds the data and application inventory, understands the relationships between data and applications, and tracks the flow and connection points of data between business and IT clearly. This ensures teams know how to make those necessary changes. Then at the same time, as changes are considered, ensure that no implications are missed.
While it might seem that I’m making a big deal of a small matter, the 10-day window to unsubscribe raises an important point. From a business point of view, the scrutiny of personal data handling is intensifying quickly. As a consumer, I will continue to receive unwanted emails from multiple marketers during that 10-day period—an inconvenience that will deter me from ever being a customer or partner of that company.
While today’s organisations must comply with regulations related to personal data, they should not rely on that regulation to set the standard for service. Organisations need to implement the necessary infrastructure and tools for data management to meet heightening consumer expectations and to avoid increasingly steep fines – which means doing better than “we will process your request within 10 days.” The more marketers understand their data today, the more prepared your team and its marketing practices will be as digitisation continues to change and accelerate the nature of business.