Everything You Wanted to Know About Email Preference Centers

What is a preference center?

Preference centers allow your customers to create and update their profile and email preferences, desired content, frequency, etc. The system then delivers the data to your database, using either web services or batch file delivery, where records are then modified in the data warehouse. This customer preference data can then be available for suppression and segmentation purposes.

The creation of a customer-facing preference center allows your customers to control their interactions with your company, brand, and products. It allows you to continuously capture and leverage customer preference and permission data to drive optimization opportunities across the customer lifecycle, setting the stage for more targeted, timely, and personalized communications.

Best practices for getting started

Find an experienced technology partner to develop a flexible solution that allows end users to manage their preferences at any level of business unit or product hierarchy driven by business rules, roles, permissions, and automation. A centrally-hosted preference center solution will leverage best practices and allow for universal governance. The highly customizable web-based, customer-facing application will be the hub for all communication channel preferences. Customers can use the preference center to control the channels through which they receive messages as well as the frequency. In addition, should the customer be interested in opting out of communications, the preference center can be leveraged to decrease the number of opt outs as well as conduct reach-back campaigns.

The preference center is the most visible portion of the solution. Behind the scenes is a powerful operational data store (ODS) that resides in a clustered environment for 24/7 availability. The data model of the ODS is designed to handle frequent, concurrent transaction processing as well as batch file delivery. The ODS is synced with the CRM database so that both systems have the latest data available. In addition, a web services layer is leveraged so that other customer systems and vendors can interact with the solution in real time.

It’s important that your technology partner designs the preference center to be a highly engaging model; this involves a collaborative relationship among marketing, IT, and the chosen technology partner. After first agreeing to the approach at a high level, the team should then conduct multiple discovery sessions to understand the business requirements. Once the base requirements are understood, the user experience team conducts various interviews to build personas to better understand the different groups of users that will be interacting with the preference center; this allows for the preference center to have a unique look and feel for your customers. The outcome of these personas is to build wireframes and, ultimately, visual designs for the entire application.

What you’ll get from a preference center

Rich, relevant, and meaningful customer experiences can only be achieved through enhanced personalization efforts intelligently applied to various media and channels. The preference center tool provides extensive capabilities that enable organizations to manage and enforce global contact rules, privacy policies, regulatory compliance, tax considerations, and consumer preferences that apply across the enterprise.

A well-designed preference center includes the following capabilities:

  • Native web-based profile center tools
  • CAN-SPAM Act compliance checks
  • COPPA compliance (age-based send suppression)
  • Email archiving and data retention for regulated industries
  • Global contact/do-not-contact strategy and frequency management
  • Ability to send messages from micro-sending centers in specific states for tax purposes
  • Content approval and workflow for regulated industries
  • Safe Harbor data privacy compliance for international organizations
  • Security features such as two-factor authentication, data export controls, and watchdog, among others

In addition to extensive functionality, the preference center provides a consistent user experience with the same look and feel regardless of the user’s country, language, or access method (desktop, tablet, smartphone).

Some example use cases include:

  • One client uses a custom-built preference center to capture more than 50 preferences, used by 24 countries. The tool allows for preference capture across multiple channels (direct mail, email, SMS, phone, fax). Users are able to specify topic interests in six key areas and 40 sub-areas. The tool also captures contact information, including name, company, and role.
  • Another client’s preference center allowed the company to consolidate 18 subscription centers. The client’s new tool supports 26 different languages from Hungarian to Turkish to Thai. We integrated the solution with the client’s email service provider, enabling email triggers. The solution resulted in over 100,000 new emails captured within the first month after launch.

A preference centers allows you to learn useful information about your customers to increase the relevancy of your messages. You can control language and layout, place the most important questions in prominent locations, and keep navigation simple and consistent for their subscribers. We find that our clients are generating more customer relationships and gather the most important information.

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