Monday, February 13, 2012

3 Persuasion Tips to Boost Email Response Rates

A few weeks ago I wrote an article giving readers 700,000 great reasons to use yellow sticky notes as I shared how using the psychology of persuasion helped my company recover from a $700,000 mistake quickly. It’s a great story of putting theory into practice to help the bottom line.

The response to the article was overwhelming so I decided to do a follow up because of a question. Whenever I share the sticky note story at speaking engagements inevitably someone will ask, “I rarely mail things anymore so how can I get a better response rate when I send some type of email blast?”

To address this, let me start with a blunder I made many years ago. I’d done some training where I shared Dale Carnegie tips with several hundred associates. A few months after the training I followed up with an email to everyone which read:
If you have any success stories based on the Dale Carnegie training please let me know and I might include them in an upcoming edition of our newsletter.
More than a week went by and I had no responses – not one! So I rethought the approach and the first thing I did was send another email but this time it was personalized, as one email went to each person and included their name. I didn’t write hundreds of emails, I used Microsoft Word and did an email merge with my training database so it was quick and easy.

The second thing I did differently; rather than make a statement I asked a question:
Have you had any success based on the Dale Carnegie training? Is so, please let me know and I might include it in an upcoming edition of our newsletter.
Within a week I had 125 replies! While most people said they didn’t have anything to share what caught my attention was the fact that they still responded. Personalizing the email and asking a question compelled people to answer and I did get more than two dozen good stories for the newsletter.

Why did this approach work so well?

The principle of reciprocity tells us people feel obligated to respond when someone does something for them. In the sticky note study people responded to the survey request more because in the back of the mind attaching a sticky note with a hand written message shows extra effort on the part of the sender because it’s personalized. It’s the same way with an email; writing someone’s name personalizes it and shows extra effort which leads to a better response rate.

Personalizing your email also helps overcome is something known as “diffusion of responsibility.” This theory tells us quite often people don’t respond in situations, sometimes even emergencies, when groups are involved because everyone assumes someone else will respond but in the end no one does anything. With my email listing so many people for everyone to see (they were all employees so there were no privacy issues involved), I’m sure most people assumed someone else would share a story so they didn’t need to.

The other significant difference with the second email was my question. As noted above, people feel compelled to answer questions. Think about when you walk through the shopping mall and someone from a kiosk engages you with a question about trying their product. At a minimum most people respond with “no thanks,” because we’re conditioned to do so which is an application of the principle of reciprocity noted above. Social norms dictate a response because not acknowledging the person asking a question makes you appear rude, as if you’re ignoring them.

A third tip I’ll share that can help is to include your photo on your email. Studies show the more familiar your face is, even if someone doesn’t know you, the more compliant people are when you make a request. Every time I interact with new employees, vendors, or consultants I include my photo on my initial email communications because I know it helps when I need them to do something.

To recap: 1) adding a name, 2) asking a question and 3) including a photo will translate into a significantly higher response rate than the standard email blasts you might be sending today.

Lest you think my story was a fluke or the excellent response was simply because I sent a second email I’ll share one more success story. Each year my company contracts with an outside vendor to survey our agency force to see how we’re doing in key business areas. Several years ago, after learning about the psychology of persuasion and how it can help, we tried a different approach to see if we could boost our survey response rate. Rather than just have the vendor contact agencies directly, we sent an email a few days ahead of the survey to alert agents what was coming. The email came from the VP of sales, was personalized to each agency owner and contained a question specifically asking them if they would take the survey. Hundreds of agents replied to the VP’s email and we saw the survey response jump by more than 50%, going from 900 agents completing the survey to more than 1,400!  

Of all the insurance companies that participate in that particular survey, every year we now have the highest response rate. Coincidence? No, it's the strategic use of the psychology of persuasion. Small changes can lead to big differences with very little time, effort or cost when you understand how people think and behave. Are you still sending emails to multiple people the standard way? If so, rethink your approach like we did and you’ll see better results because the science of influence tells us so. 

If you're viewing this by email and want to listen to the audio version click here. If you want to leave a comment click here.

Brian, CMCT 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

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