The Importance of a Timely, Valuable Email

Last week I was returning from Dallas where I gave a talk on Breaking the Rules of Email Marketing at Jason Falls’s Explore event. The flight leaving Dallas was delayed, resulting in some passengers missing their connection in Denver. I was not too worried as the plane I was taking to Denver was the same plane I would ride into Salt Lake City (my final destination).

Very long story short: They decided that the airplane I was on would be continuing on to Los Angeles (not Salt Lake City). The flight to Salt Lake City had already left when I arrived in Denver. I had to spend the night in Denver and waited several hours the next day (Saturday) to hop on a standby flight back home.

I understand this kind of stuff happens. Nothing in travel – or life, for that matter – is guaranteed. However, as I was sitting in the Denver airport on Saturday crossing my fingers that I’d be able to get on the next flight home, the following email landed in my inbox … at 11:57AM.

Travelocity Email

To be clear, this is the top (above-the-fold) portion of the email from Travelocity. The content below this simply showed my original flight itinerary.

Anything about this email jump out at you as “not ideal?” Before we look at the actual messaging, let me remind you of the timeline:

  • Friday: Flight from Denver to Salt Lake left (without me on board)
  • Friday night: I spent the night in a Denver hotel
  • Saturday morning: I waited in the Denver airport for a standby flight
  • Saturday at 11:57AM: This “flight change” email arrived in my inbox
Take a look at the two bullets I bolded. My flight left without me on Friday night yet it was not until the next day that this email update arrived from Travelocity. At that point, it was too late. On top of that, this email provided little to no value. They took the time to bold “this is a significant change from your original itinerary” and “Your immediate action is required.” The single call to action was to call Travelocity. In other words, I – the traveler who was inconvenienced, had to take action.

Just for fun, I called.

I was informed that my flight had left without me – yesterday. That fact, as well as the email above, was not only poorly timed, but also not all that valuable.

3 Things Travelocity Could Have Done Better

The goal of this blog post is not to ding Travelocity. Instead it’s to get you – the email marketer – thinking about how to best use email to deliver timely and valuable content.  Travelocity could have:

  1. Sent the email immediately after my flight had left Denver (without me on it). Timing, in this case, was everything. I realize they may not have had this information handy right away; however, by the time they sent it the next day it was out of date.
  2. Personalized the email more. Yes, they did include my original flight itinerary. I already knew that information. Why not include some links to alternate flights? Since I booked my flight through Travelocity, that information should be available to them.
  3. Provided a stronger call to action. The only call to action in this email was for me to call them. How about a link to their online customer support or live chat?

Are your email marketing messages timely and valuable? What are your thoughts on this email from Travelocity?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please share in the comments below.

Cheers,
DJ Waldow

10 comments
CTrappe
CTrappe

There is so much potential here. Sending a relevant email like this in the moment, especially with links to relevant information would be very helpful. I wonder why there was such a time delay. Kind of related: This year we announced how much money United Way of East Central Iowa (http://uweci.org) raised during an event. As soon as the number was revealed, I triggered an email to our newsletter list announcing the total and giving additional details. I had comments from audience members that they read that email during the program on their phones and liked the second layer of content in the moment. Christoph

jenn_seeley
jenn_seeley

Yikes! Too little, too late... too bad? Great take-aways for 'should dos' for email marketers.. There is hope (in my ever optimistic mind) that Travelocity at least gets it. Their efforts were just ill-timed. I was directed here by the fantastic @TCoughlin in response to my own post of a slightly different nature. Timing is everything in an age where we buy packages blazoned with words like 'instant'. Excellent points!

 

Jenn Seeley

Community Engagement, Radian6

timbrechlin
timbrechlin

This is emblematic of a rather significant -- and growing -- problem in Travelocity, which has been systematically outsourcing its customer support overseas over the last twelve months or so (for both its direct booking engine as well as the Travelocity Partner Network): Its customer service standards have plummeted far below acceptable levels.

Unfortunately, as Laura suggested, this is the problem with booking through an OTA. I don't mind it so much for hotels, but I haven't booked a flight through anyone but the airline in several years, as there are simply so many moving parts, and so much information flowing in real time, when it comes to air travel that I'd much rather have the airline be able to directly contact me, as opposed to the third party (which the airline hates, anyway).

Hey, at least you weren't stuck in a terrible airport. Denver's is pretty nice! (Although my last takeoff there probably sapped five or six years off my remaining lifespan...)

erica_g
erica_g

@djwaldow Could just be me, but that link is doing hard-to-read-the-whole-post things. Just thought you should know if it's not just me!

LauraC
LauraC

What a muck up. The only thing I can think is that you booked through a third party - Travelocity - and so the email update had to go from the airline to Travelocity and then on to you. Either way no excuse, their systems are wrong.

Latest blog post: Treating Your Gout

TCoughlin
TCoughlin

That is an entertaining case study (for readers, surely not so much for you).

Seems to me in terms of the three things they could have done better, once they missed #1, then #2 and #3 became mute points. I wonder what Travelocity's overall success rate is in terms of these types of email messages arriving in recipients' in-boxes in time to be actually useful. If it is pretty low, they might be better off having the purpose of the email be to apologize for the inconvenience (or at least acknowledge the likely frustration), express interest in determining that things are logistically OK with the traveler, and provide multiple channels for support if needed.

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

 @CTrappe Thanks for your comment! Totally agree about the potential here. Great example with that United Way email. Timing is everything, right? How would you suggest Travelocity improve their timeliness? Also, do you think it's a matter of priorities (as in, this is not a high priority for them). Or is it a resource issue? Or is it just ignorance?

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@LauraC Excellent point and you are probably correct. It likely took a bit of time to go from Frontier (the airline) to Travelocity (the 3rd party). That being said, shouldn't it have been close to real time? I mean ... it's 2012!

djwaldow
djwaldow moderator

@TCoughlin Thanks for your comment.

I LOVE THIS: " If it is pretty low, they might be better off having the purpose of the email be to apologize for the inconvenience (or at least acknowledge the likely frustration), express interest in determining that things are logistically OK with the traveler, and provide multiple channels for support if needed." - Excellent suggestion. Maybe they'll leave a comment too?

CTrappe
CTrappe

@djwaldow No idea on what's going on inside the company. Maybe they just don't know. Perhaps somebody there got a Google Alert that led them to your post.