Why Using CSV Files in Your Email Marketing is a Big Problem

Many larger companies have to handle multiple email marketing lists. They may be set up by multiple departments, sometimes with insufficient communication between them. IT thus faces the challenge of integrating all of these lists.

Too many companies resort to the apparently simple measure of storing the lists as comma separated values (CSV) files, which can then be easily imported into their mail sending software. They can be opened and edited in any spreadsheet program. On the face of it, this seems like an ideal solution to ensure that email lists are readily available to those who need them. Unfortunately, it causes significant problems.

In today's world it is vitally important to properly secure your customer data

Data Replication & Security

In today's world it is vitally important to properly secure data, and this especially goes for personally identifiable information, including email addresses. Failing to do so can lead you to fall afoul of privacy laws.

CSV files are inherently insecure. Being raw text files, anyone who gets hold of them can read them and harvest your valuable customer data. In order to protect them, you can store them on an encrypted system, but this often falls down when the file needs to be transferred to another user. In fact, the file may be attached to an email and simply sent to another department without any encryption. Even worse, a business email compromise scam may lead to your valuable data being sent to a criminal.

Adding data to the file can also result in errors, such as typos, which can then lead to bounced email addresses and further problems. Systems used to store customer data should be designed so as to minimize manual entries, and using CSV files works against this.

Another issue happens when you merge CSV files. Unless you use a deduplication service, it's almost certain that somebody is going to be on the list twice. That person then receives two copies of the email and complains about spam. Or, more likely, just unsubscribe. Another issue this can cause is that somebody did unsubscribe, but their address is still in a different CSV file, and they find themselves back on the list. This puts you in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act, which gives users the right to opt out. Penalties under the act can be as high as $43,492 per email. So, this is not something you want to mess with. If you are dealing with people in the EU, the GDPR has similar provisions. And that is aside from the impact on your reputation when somebody decides to take their complaint public.

Your email list is valuable and private data and needs to be handled carefully and appropriately. 

Your email list is valuable and private data and needs to be handled carefully and appropriately. You also need to make sure that mistakes don't find their way into the list. While it might not be a huge liability issue to address a customer as Mr. Josephine Cox, it can certainly be an embarrassment, and that kind of mistake can easily happen when lists are imported and exported multiple times.

Improving integration between departments reduces data friction

Data Friction Between Departments

Data friction is observed when data is moved between different departments, whether they are sales, marketing, or accounting. When data is moved, internal barriers cause friction which slows the transfer of data and increases the risk of errors.

In this case, somebody must manually export the list to a CSV file, email it to the other department, who must then check the file and reimport it. Errors happen when the file is not checked (which can often happen when you are in a hurry to get a campaign out in a timely manner).

When data is moved, internal barriers cause friction which slows the transfer of data and increases the risk of errors.

Data friction can also occur when only certain people have access to the data and those people are unavailable, or when electronic communications fail to properly reach their destination. Improving integration between departments reduces data friction and encourages the smooth flow of information to an appropriate destination.

An excessive number of hard bounces can get your email server flagged as a spammer.

List Sanitization

The significant legal and customer service issues that occur when somebody unsubscribes and then keeps receiving emails have already been discussed, but cannot be emphasized enough. It is a vital compliance issue that can result in significant penalties, which may fall on multiple individuals, raising the monetary cost further. These penalties are punitive and designed to ensure that companies do not make this basic mistake.

Other issues in list hygiene can cause further problems for your business. First of all, if your emails are being marked as spam to an excessive degree, then eventually mailbox providers will start sending your emails straight to spam or they will blocklist you, meaning the emails you send to that provider will hard bounce. This reduces your audience dramatically and can be extremely hard to resolve. Blocklisting systems do not notify blocked senders, and while in some cases it can be merely a timeout period, you might have to apply to be removed, wasting significant time. If your application is denied, you may be left with the option of changing email providers, which can be prohibitive in time and money, and can cause lasting problems for your company.

Another issue that can come up is hard bouncing of emails. The most common cause of hard bouncing is an incorrect email address. Any time an email address is manually entered or transferred, there is the chance of an error which can cause the address to fail. These errors can then propagate across departments and even replace the original customer record, making it impossible to establish the correct address. Customers may also supply a fake email address, so as to receive a promotion or freebie without actually subscribing to your newsletter. This is relatively rare, but on large lists it can cause a significant proportion of bounces, and is best prevented by ensuring that your newsletter offers independent value to customers. Finally, the majority of customers, when they change email addresses, will not spend the time on unsubscribing from lists, even ones they consider important; instead, they will simply resubscribe with the new address, leaving the inactive one on your list.

To reduce bounces, it is vital to regularly scrub your mailing list, identifying and removing addresses that are hard bounced.

An excessive number of hard bounces can get your email server flagged as a producer of spam. Systems designed to protect consumers from spam, such as the blocklisting discussed above, will then come into play.

To reduce bounces, it is vital to regularly scrub your mailing list, identifying and removing addresses that are hard bounced. If your list is stored in multiple places, doing so becomes inefficient, and if different departments perform scrubs at different times, invalid and inactive addresses will be reintegrated into the lists. Customers who were removed for inactivity can also be restored when a CSV file is imported.

Don't let inefficiencies cost your business time and money

Wasted Time and Money

These problems are significant in and of themselves, but they also waste your valuable time and money.

When data must be transferred manually, the process becomes time-consuming. In this case, the file must be exported from a spreadsheet, sent to the recipient, and then imported. The person doing the importing needs to check data quality, which takes a substantial amount of time, but not doing so creates compliance issues that are even more wasteful.

When data must be transferred manually, the process becomes time-consuming.

If a CSV file is leaked, then you will need to notify consumers of the breach and take steps to prevent the breach from happening again. While cyberhygiene education is something your company should already be doing, keeping data secure helps ensure that these breaches do not happen.

Data friction can delay your ability to get contact information from sales and cause you to miss a key window to get out a campaign.

Dealing with a blocklist issue, especially if you have been blocked by a major ISP or a major provider such as gmail, can take a lot of time for IT and can cause major overall problems for your company.

Finally, cleaning and deduplicating lists takes a lot of time, and that time is wasted when an older CSV file is inadvertently imported, undoing all of that work. Using systems that flag duplicates in the first place can save a lot of time. Any time a valuable employee is doing this kind of gruntwork is essentially wasted; they need to be free to perform their core duties and focus on growth.

So, how do you solve these problems? The easiest way is to connect your email lists directly to your customer management database. Instead of exporting a file, the list is created directly from the database, pulling in customers who have specific criteria or fields. When a customer unsubscribes, it can easily be marked in their record and then it stays there, preventing email from being sent to them. Instead of generating a sales list, a marketing list, etc, you can easily generate a campaign-specific list.

For example, such a system allows sales to mark what stage a customer is at, then marketing can use that to automatically create a list of everyone who has reached a certain point in the buyers' journey, excluding those who have opted out of receiving more emails. Marketing doesn't have to ask sales for anything, and assets can be automatically generated.

The system will pick up on bounces and unsubscribes and automatically flag them, allowing you to remove bad customers from the list easily. The workflow is much more efficient, saving you money and your employees' time.

At Sendlio, we make it easy to create beautiful campaigns - across Email, SMS and Voice - that will attract customers without generating complaints, and allow you to access all of your data in real time and automatically segment your audience based on actions, inactions, and behavior. To find out more about what Sendlio can do for you, book a demo today.

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