leaky faucet with window behind it
PHOTO: Edouard TAMBA

You sign up for a free trial. You agree to terms and conditions you never read. You know somewhere in there, it says you agree to be added to a mailing list and you won’t zap them later with a GDPR complaint.

That first email arrives offering tips, support and, “Hey, did you know about this feature?” You ignore it, delete it or you want to unsubscribe. But what if there is no unsubscribe option?

“I really hope I end up in a drip campaign,” said no user ever. But here you are and this time, there’s no unsubscribe button. You hit reply and ask to be taken off the mailing list.

The company’s reply is surprising: 

“When a person signs up for a free trial, we support that experience by sending emails with steps to undertake and notifications such as your free trial ending to help you get the most from your trial. These emails are classed as operational and are sent because you have expressed a legitimate interest in our product, hence we don't have unsubscribe links.”

Are Those Really Operational Emails?

Did sales come up with the “these are operational emails” line or did the legal department? No worker focused on the customer’s experience would be likely to say that putting a trial user into a drip campaign without the possibility of unsubscribing matches their needs, intentions or desires. Very few people are anxious to be added to more email mailing lists.

The trial can function without someone receiving these emails, so they are not operational. The interface could be designed to count down your free trial and warn you when it’s nearly over, making email reminders unnecessary. Also, there is a difference between the operational email saying, “Your free trial ends tomorrow,” and the drip campaign with frequent how-tos, sales pitches and feature explanations.

Check metrics. Many people like to say drip campaigns work as long as one person or a few people become customers because of them. Is that really how low our standards for success have become? Will we change our minds when tracking systems become smart enough to associate our potential customer dumping us with that lost customer writing negative tweets, social posts, blog articles and other public commentary about their free trial experience?

Related Article: Evernote Falls Prey to the Freemium Model Catch-22

Doesn’t Your Free Trial Sell Itself?

How did we ever manage to choose software products in the days before drip campaigns? If you're confident in your product’s ability to wow potential customers with how easy it is to set up, use and make itself indispensable, then do you need to keep actively pushing pitches to customers?

If this product is intuitive, your customer doesn’t need daily or frequent emails trying to train them on how to accomplish their tasks. If you are sending those emails, one would assume this system might be hard to learn or use.

email drip campaign screenshot
This screen shot is from one of many emails received from a drip campaign after booking a new hotel and checking the box agreeing to join its loyalty program.

Emails started coming in daily about how to use its loyalty program including this one, which promised its program was very easy to use, all you had to do is watch the video to get to know it. These are direct opposites. If the program is easy to use, nobody needs videos about it, and nobody needs multiple drip campaign emails trying to explain it.

In reality, this loyalty program was complex and confusing. Multiple emails declaring it easy negated themselves. Design something intuitive and you won’t need to train customers on how to use it.

Could the product have just-in-time, contextual help or tips for new users? When they’re looking at a feature, you could suggest a great way to use it or something on this screen they might not yet have noticed. That would be in the moment, relevant and keep inboxes clear.

Related Article: What We Really Mean By 'Clean Design'

The Problem With Unsubscribe Links: People Use Them

The only reason to exclude an unsubscribe link from your email campaigns would be the dark pattern of making it difficult to unsubscribe. If you care about reducing friction, making experiences easy for users and designing what users need and would prefer, then you offer an unsubscribe option.

Bonus suggestion: Don’t automatically put customers on the company’s other mailing lists, especially if they let the free trial expire and disconnect from your company. They didn’t like your product, they didn’t choose your product, they probably chose someone else and they are unlikely to be interested in what this company does next. You lost them.

Lose them gracefully and don’t opt them into multiple email lists or other drip campaigns.