email marketing upsell

How to Piss off Your Customers with a Personal Email

Dear SaaS (software as a service),
I really do love your product and rely on it every day but your customer relationship building could use some work. (aka don’t do this)

“Zach” from a SaaS I frequently use, sent me an email to “personally” talk to me (to me, or at me?) about…

  1. How much I use their product.. apparently a lot.
  2. How blown away they are by the stories they hear about someone like me using their product… apparently also a lot.
  3. How much their work feels vindicated because of these stories they hear about my activity… isn’t that sweet.
  4. How because I’m such an active user that I should give them more money for their upgraded service offering… um, what now?

I have so many questions. Who is telling these stories? What are they saying about my product use and is it good or bad? Is there a campfire that these stories are told around? How active must I be for them to feel vindicated about what their life purpose is? And if this was such a personal message, why are they using absolutely no specifics about my work with them?

Sorry, I’m really not trying to be snarky. I’m just trying to prove a point: we can communicate better. Their intent was a good one: to reach out and personally connect with a loyal and active customer. This is a vital part of building strong customer relationships that last for years. Not just relying on the purchase, but really trying to build a loyal following through a personal connection.

However, when you send an email that is more form letter than personal message, it can actually have the reverse effect.

Here are three ways it can actually damage your relationship, and some solutions on how to get back on track:

  • DAMAGE: The tone comes off dick-ish. They used phrases like, “It’s not everyday that we reach out to users personally“. So you’re doing me a favour treating me special by taking the time out of your busy day to grace me with your presence. That’s not the kind of person I want to have a relationship with.
    SOLUTION: Actually do reach out to customers personally, everyday. The best way to build a relationship is to be a part of their lives. Treat them as creative humans who are expressing themselves, their non-profits, their communities, their businesses with your tool. These are interesting people doing interesting things. You should get to know them.
  • DAMAGE: When you say “reach out to users personally” and then express it in a form letter that is anything but personal, you’re not showing you value me as an individual customer. You really haven’t done your homework to get to know me. “Hey there” to you too.
    SOLUTION: Look at your customer data and opportunities to personalize your communication. Do you know where they are from? What kind of content they create with your product? How frequently they use your product? There has to be something there where you can actually be personal in your approach. Hell, even using my name would make this email more personal. Just one or two personal touches can really make someone feel they are valued.
  • DAMAGE: Sending a “personal” note that really is just a way to get them to buy something.
    SOLUTION #1: By understanding your customers better, you’ll have a better idea if your product is or isn’t right for them. Talk to them like people, who you know and care about, offering your service as a fix to a problem they may have. The reason Amazon is considered a leader in customer service experience and not “creepy” with its spot on product suggestions is that it’s offering people what they want based on their search preferences. Why would I want this upgraded service other than that it provides you more money? Help me see the benefit of this new offering. Our relationship will only benefit.
    SOLUTION #2: Just say thank you. Period. No selling. Appreciate your customers for being your customers.

I love this particular SaaS. I think it’s a great product that allows me to quickly put together some pretty great graphics. But I’m not loyal to them at this point. This email was a great opportunity to tip the scale in their favour, but sadly came off as uncaring and self-serving. Please communicate better.

Treat relationship building as if you’re sending a message to a friend, and you want to strengthen that friendship. We’re talking about relationships here after all, so let’s look at it as if it’s a personal, human one. If you were my friend, sending me this email, I’d be pissed.

Any form letter fun you’d like to share? Please do so below. I’d love to hear them.


  • I enjoyed the post, Russel!

    One question struck me as I read the email. Would you have felt differently if the email didn’t make a half-hearted attempt to be personal and instead was clearly marketing?

    Of course, you make the point that the email was poorly targeted since you’re already using the service being promoted, but still wondering if you would have reacted differently.

    • Hi Jeff,
      Thanks for the comment, and your question.
      First, I would see this as clearly marketing. Just badly done so with the “personal” framing.
      But to your point, as far as removing all personal references, I wouldn’t have been as bothered by the bad communication but rather bored by the email. Assuming it would still have been a generic form letter, I would have deleted it as it being more “noise than signal”, not really offering me much or standing out. No real meat or hook. Just a missed opportunity: as either a marketing tool or as a customer relations tool.

      • So here’s an interesting twist.

        Yesterday, I received an email from Voice of San Diego. It’s an independent online newspaper that specializes in investigative journalism for my hometown of San Diego.

        The email was a request for a donation (they are a nonprofit). What caught my eye was a personal note at the top of the email from the publisher that basically said, “Yeah, I know this is a donation request email and you already donated, but I still thought you might want to see the impact that we’re making on the community.”

        It was a thoughtful add and she was right. Part of the donation pitch was describing a major news story the paper just broke along with the costs that were required to cover that story.

        So I thought it was a nice bit of both worlds. Form email and personal note to make it feel personal.

        • So an email with:
          – transparency and authenticity
          – An understanding of a bit of history you have with the organization
          – a bit of education and behind the scenes info

          I completely agree. The issue I had with my email was the fake personalization. Yours is a great example of the right blend. And it must have had the right impact because you’re saying nice things and telling me about it. 🙂
          Thanks for sharing that Jeff.

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