What’s better than gaining a new customer? Bringing an old one back.
To your current customers, you’re a familiar, friendly face, with a shared history.
They know you, which means when you reach out to them, you get to skip impersonal awareness campaigns and jump straight into tailored messaging that focuses on their needs — and, in turn, increases their engagement.
Plus: it costs way more to acquire new customers than to retain old ones.
Research has shown us this time and time again. In one notable study, investigators found that increasing customer retention rates by 5% led to increases in profits by 25% to 95%[*] (!!).
So now that you know why customer retention emails are so great, let’s break down what they are, anyways.
Customer retention emails are emails that you send to existing customers (read: people have already bought something from you), helping you:
✓ Retain them (SHOCKER)
✓ Resell to them
✓ Avoid churn and win customers back (via winback emails — marketing, it’s not a complicated science folks)
For an email marketing strategy that works, here are the top 5 customer retention emails you need to try today — with examples from brands doing them right.
#1. The education email (“so that’s how this works!”)
We have no doubt that you have an excellent product or service.
You’ve spent years poring over its every element, making sure that it truly solves a problem for your audience, while being accessible, interesting and exciting for the folks who need it most.
But, it’s often in spending so much time, heads-down and fully immersed in building an offering, that we then struggle to see where others might need some guidance to understand its features.
Here’s where customer education emails come in: helping them onboard quickly, and empowering them to do more with your product, fast. When your customer receives your product, you want to build on the delight of its novelty, and avoid confusion, which may turn them off from using it, or purchasing more from you, again.
Like a good teacher, a good customer education email helps to:
Make adoption easy. You want to make things as clear and simple as possible here — and, where suitable to your brand's tone, use some humor to soften and sprinkle some delight on the experience of learning something new. Think:
- Bullet points,
- Short sentences, and
- Graphics, photos and videos that show your product in action.
Reinforce your (product’s) greatness. You know exactly how your business makes your customer’s lives easier. When they bought into your vision, they bought into just that: an imagination of how what you sell will solve their problems. Now you get to reiterate these benefits while they have your product in-hand, validating your promise and certifying the value of their purchase.
Answer your customer’s questions before they ask. Again, your goal here is to reinforce your product’s ease of use. Review your customer research, surveys, and interviews to see which questions come up the most.
Then, if you haven’t already, build out an FAQ page on your website answering these questions, linking it along with your top 3 questions directly into your customer education email.
Chirp, which makes products for back pain relief and muscle relaxation, uses their customer education email to:
✓ Guide customers through using their product for the very first time with a short, simple, but comprehensive video — sent intentionally for customers to receive the day they receive their product.
✓ Reinforce the value of their product: reminding customers of why they bought the product in the first place (“stretch” and “Feel good. Do more.”), with validation from industry professionals (doctor-approved”).
✓ Promote their referral program while they have the most of their customer’s attention.
#2. The survey email (if you don't know, now you know)
Customer retention is all about taking proactive steps to keep your customers engaged throughout their customer lifecycle.
By “proactive” steps, we mean that you’re working to find out what pain points could prevent your customer from buying from you again (aka churning) before they become a problem — through the power of surveys.
If you’re struggling to write your first survey email, fear not: there are plenty of email templates online. Ultimately, a good survey email helps you find out:
- What your customers love about your product,
- What they think you can do to improve it, and
- How and why they use it, gleaning data that will help you better position your product for your ideal target audience.
Hot tip: Send an iteration of this email right after your customer has made their purchase. This is when they’ll be the most responsive, having just invested their hard-earned cash on your product in a show of confidence that it will improve their lives.
Survey emails empower you to:
Gain measurable insight. It’s one thing to guess at what your customers want, and it’s a whole other treasure trove of insight to have data to back up or challenge your assumptions. Through surveys, you’re gaining valuable data directly from your target audience. This insight will help you identify, and predict, customer churn, and improve your retention rates.
Segment your audience. This is among the biggest benefits of surveying your customers. Based on their answers, you can segment them into groups, and develop hyper-specific, targeted messaging and offers — keeping your customers engaged and your email list healthy, by making sure that the people on it only receive emails that are relevant to their interests (aka ✨ marketing magic ✨).
Imagine you’re a health foods company that sells protein powder. Some of your customers might be athletes, while others could be busy professionals wanting to keep their energy up at the office. Weight lifters care about how your product will help them build muscle. The office worker… not so much. Getting hyper-specific about copy and content that resonates with each group will make your customer retention strategy that much stronger.
Strengthen your relationship. By sending a survey, your customers will see that you're interested in what they have to say. By tailoring your engagement based on their feedback — i.e. only emailing them on the subjects that they flagged as important in your survey — your customers will see that you value their insight so much that you acted on it, right away.
A great first step here is setting up an automated follow-up email, that shows how your customer’s responded to your survey (with the option to change their response if they selected something by accident), and how this will impact your future communications (i.e by only receiving emails on what interests them).
Increase customer satisfaction. There’s no better way to find out how you can improve your offering than by asking people who already have a vested interest in it (re: because they spent their hard-earned cash on it). Include questions that will help you understand exactly how your customers intend on using your product, what problem they hope it will help them solve, and where they see gaps in your offering.
FLIGHTFŪD, a wellness brand that creates healthy travel essentials, uses their survey emails to:
✓ Lead with empathy, acknowledging what you’re asking of your customers, and how you intend on offering greater value to them in exchange.
✓ Get friendly, using plain language that’s warm, sincere and personal (“We appreciate you!”) — with the added touch of signing off with their Co-founder’s name (vs. a more impersonal signature with just the company name).
✓ Find out exactly how their customers will use their product; insight that can be used to tailor future messaging, and to inform product development.
Customer surveys are a powerful tool that should be in every growth team’s toolbox.
#3. The thank you email (for being a friend)
From helping people cope with stress, build stronger relationships, and even improve sleep, modern research has shown the incredible benefits[*] of this surprisingly modest practice.
A simple thank you email can go a long way to show appreciation for your customers:
- Deepening your relationship,
- Increasing brand loyalty, and
- Keeping you in mind for their next purchase.
You have plenty of flexibility with your thank you emails, and can use them to:
Share a simple note of kindness. Who wouldn’t enjoy a surprise note touting their greatness? Keep it short, sweet, and not salesy. At the very least, this email will inspire a delightful brand moment with your customers (and at the very best, it will steer them straight to making a purchase on your site!).
Offer discounts and special offers. Align these with holidays, special events, and product drops, to give your customers extra incentive to use your discount code. Remember: the goal here is to make your customers feel special, so remind them that you’re only sharing these exclusive offers with your most dedicated customers, as thanks for their support.
Promo the promos. Did you recently land a feature with the news? Was a celebrity spotted with your product? Did your team win an industry award? Then it’s time to spread the word (with links to the shout-outs)! Don’t make this all about you and how great you are. Instead, shift the focus of your celebration to your customers, thanking them for helping you achieve success. They’ll love feeling like they knew you before you “made it big” (deep down, we're all hipsters), deepening their loyalty and raising excitement for your brand.
Kotn, a Canadian clothing brand known for ethically made, quality essentials, uses their thank you email to:
✓ Get personal, capturing their reader’s attention by displaying their name in a large, prominent greeting, and including a fun photo of their founders that would be just as at home in a group chat with their best friends.
✓ Lead with empathy, centering their audience as the force for good that helps them make a positive impact as a business.
✓ Shine a light on their achievements, referring to their certification as a B Corporation (by not emphasizing that point, they reinforce that this email is not for a hard sale, but to deepen their relationship with their customer).
#4. The (we gonna party like it's your) birthday email
Rare are the folk who don’t appreciate a good birthday freebie.
It’s a gift that says “Hey, we think it’s pretty great that you were born.” Who doesn’t love knowing that their mere existence is worth celebrating?
As such, birthdays are the creme de la creme of customer retention emails. Through them, you can:
Get personal. This email is about your customer and your customer alone: you’re treating them to an exclusive offer that no one else has access to.
Delight your customers. Why not add some razzle-dazzle to your email? A fun gif here, a glossy photo there — all in theme with your brand, and a solid birthday bash — to give your customer a reason to smile (and, in turn, connect that happy feeling to your business).
Take two. Like abandoned cart emails, you’ll want to schedule a head’s up ahead of your customer’s birthday (such as at the beginning of their birthday month) to share your gift. 24 hours before your offering expires, follow-up with a gentle sense of urgency — hard sales have no place on birthdays.
Nintendo, the video game and entertainment giant, uses their birthday email to:
✓ Get the party started with bright, fun and on-brand text, colors and images that evoke a sense of celebration for their customers (anyone else getting grade two birthday party invite vibes?)
✓ Reinforce the value of their offering, putting it front and centre, with bold text (“300” is no small number, and “platinum points” sound hella fancy) and a shiny gold button.
✓ Keep it friendly, with a tone so enthusiastic it would put a talking golden retriever to shame (on the money when Nintendo’s *real* bestsellers are childlike wonder and nostalgia).
#5. The winback email (baby come back)
Winback emails take a special, emotionally intelligent sort of tact, because you’re reaching out to customers who, whether because of a lifestyle, income, or other change, have not purchased or engaged with you in quite some time.
But, like we mentioned at the very start of this piece, the value you gain from retaining your current customers is worthy of its effort, which is nominal compared to the work it takes to bring on new customers.
And, by re-engaging old customers with a winback email, you’re also taking preventative steps to protect your sender reputation and email deliverability (at-risk when a large enough proportion of your mailing list stops engaging with your emails, and internet service providers start flagging you as potential spam).
To get customers back on your team, your winback email should:
Follow your buying cycle. After making a purchase, how long does it take, on average, before a customer comes back to order something else from your store? This is your buying cycle (note: this will vary from industry to industry: people don’t buy mattresses as often as they do face wash). Give customers thirty days after a typical cycle before sending your first winback email, and keep it light with simple messaging and humor (again, if it suits your brand).
Have a sequel. You’re reaching out to customers you haven’t heard from in a while, so they may not engage with your first email. Fear not — this is where your follow-up email comes in handy. Where the first was a gentle check-in, the second is an opportunity for you to add a bit of flair to capture your customer’s attention: with messaging that’s more personal (“we miss you”) and with special incentives (discount codes, free shipping) for good measure.
Let it go. As with any relationship, if your customer isn’t showing any interest to re-engage, it’s time to let go. While it may be tempting to send another follow-up email, it isn't worth the risk of being flagged as spam and reducing your email deliverability in turn.
Grammarly, the proofreading digital writing assistant, uses their winback email to:
✓ Capture customers’ attention with a graphic that’s bright, on-brand (re: “The Wrinkle in Time” book), and playful (who knew we could gamify customer churn?).
✓ Make ‘em laugh with copy that uses humor to break the ice (“You can come back and continue writing awesome things now.”).
✓ Draw customers in with a bold — and simple! — CTA, with an irresistible big red button.
✓ Offer incentive, promoting a sale on their premium offering at the bottom of their email.
Keep your most valuable customers with retention emails
A good retention email strategy integrates:
✓ Who your customers are,
✓ How your product helps them,
✓ Why they might lose interest, and
✓ What you’re doing to keep them engaged.
When done well, they allow you to establish mutually fulfilling, delightful and supportive relationships with your customers, strong enough to evolve as they do.
Follow these steps and you’ll offer value to your customers, no matter where they are on their journey: seeking education, ready to share feedback, eager to accept thanks, excited to celebrate their special days, and, yes, even when they’re drifting apart.
So — where will you meet them today?