Insurers have long communicated with policyholders for marketing and maintenance purposes, but a growing number are now communicating those messages via e-mail. Recent Experian QAS research showed that 55 percent of insurers classify e-mail addresses as the most utilized piece of contact information within their organization. While traditional methods, such as direct mail and telephone, are still being used, more insurers are employing e-mail for any communication that is not regulated. This growth could stem from the e-mail channel’s cost-effective nature, or its ability to reach an ever-more-mobile policyholder. As insurers start to make this shift, they must be cognizant of e-mail data quality. That same Experian QAS survey found that insurers feel as much as 40 percent of their database contains inaccurate or missing contact data. This high percentage means that insurers are not able to communicate via all channels with a large percentage of their database. And while there is no direct dollar cost associated with a bounced e-mail address, there are important repercussions.
Repercussions of bad e-mail data
Bad e-mails cause bounce backs for insurers. One important negative effect of a bounced e-mail is the detrimental impact on the company’s reputation with internet service providers (ISPs). ISPs like AOL, Hotmail and Gmail actively screen and filter incoming mail and rely on a mailer’s reputation to determine what mail messages will be delivered to users’ inboxes. Sender reputation is based on:
- Bounce rate: the number of messages that are returned as undeliverable divided by the number of e-mails sent
- Complaint rate: the number of people who report messages as spam divided by the number of e-mails delivered
- Spam trap hits: the number of e-mails delivered to addresses that are used to trace and catalog spam
Common E-mail Errors
There are a variety of errors that cause a bounced e-mail, and several different tactics for fixing those errors. Common problems with e-mail addresses include syntax errors, inaccurate domain names, non-existent mailboxes, and spam traps. Syntax errors are the most common problem with e-mail address information. Frequently, addresses can have inaccurately placed spaces, mistaken periods and an ‘@’ symbol in the wrong location. These issues are usually caused by typing errors or information incorrectly scanned from forms. Properly validating e-mail domain names – the portion of the e-mail to the right of the ‘@’ sign – is crucial to ensuring the usability of the e-mail address. Unfortunately, many domains are registered, but e-mail servers have never been set up to accept mail. It is import to confirm that the domain exists and accepts mail before sending a message. Insurers should also make sure that a specific mailbox exists at a given domain. For example, when looking at the e-mail address [email protected], is john.doe a working account in Gmail? While it appears to be valid e-mail, it may not be an actual mailbox registered with Gmail. Users may provide a non-existent e-mail address to avoid being contacted, or they may simply confuse one e-mail account with another. Whatever the reason, by ensuring that a specific mailbox exists with the domain, insurers can avoid another bounce. Finally, e-mail addresses can be spam traps. These are working addresses that are used to identify spam messages and senders of spam. Because spam traps are supposedly never actively subscribed to a mailing list, the reasoning is that any e-mail sent to them must be unsolicited. Mailing to these addresses can result in the sender being blacklisted and blocked.
Cleaning E-mail Addresses
E-mail verification software solves these common problems. This software can be used in real time or in a back-office setting for existing e-mail addresses. These tools can correct syntax errors, ensure the validity of domain names and suppress spam traps and fake e-mails. The goal of these tools is to ensure that they are validating each e-mail address down to the specific inbox. It is important to remember that these cleanses should be done on a regular basis. E-mail addresses become dormant and can be shut down by ISPs when they are unused for a certain period of time. Continuous hygiene will ensure that e-mails continue to be sent to valid inboxes. Ensuring that e-mail communications are delivered is critical for insurers in this growing medium of communication. By validating e-mails, insurers can improve their reputation with ISPs and ensure that communications reach policyholders and prospects. This will ultimately improve customer satisfaction and allow insurers to be confident that recipients are receiving intended communications.
About the author: Thomas Schutz is SVP and GM for Experian QAS North America, serving as the company's top executive for all strategic business decisions in the United States and Canada. Tom started with the company in 2004 as a sales representative and worked his way through the company, eventually becoming the VP of sales in 2008 before taking over North American operations in 2010. He be reached at [email protected]