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#4.03: The Worst Unsubscribe: The United Airlines Issue

United Airlines teaches us all a few lessons with the worst email newsletter unsubscribe instructions ever.

1> United’s Unsubscribe Instructions
2> What They (And You) Should Do
3> What About Passwords And Security?
4> The Lesson: A Bad Unsubscribe Costs Good Customers

1> United’s Unsubscribe Instructions

Take a look at the unsubscribe instructions copied right from United Airlines’ weekly deals newsletter:

“To UNSUBSCRIBE FROM UNITED OFFERS AND ANNOUNCEMENTS Go to: Update file [a link to a web page]. Login with your Mileage Plus number and password. On the Update Profile page select Email information. Uncheck the option(s) that correspond to the email you no longer wish to receive. Finally, click the Submit button at the bottom of the page. Requests to unsubscribe to United notifications may take four to six weeks to process.”

Wow. Five steps to get off of an email lists — plus you need to look up your frequent flyer number and a password. And you still have to wait four to six weeks.

2> What They (And You) Should Do

The only correct unsubscribe method is a one-step unsubscribe. Give a link that removes readers from the list in a single click. Even better, let users send an email to a special email address that will unsubscribe them. The email method is better because it can be used even when someone is reading their email but isn’t connected to the web (such as if they’re on an airplane). Think about it — you have a real customer who asked to get your emails. You are probably going to be doing business with them soon. They want you do them a simple favor by taking them off a list. Keep them happy by making it as easy as possible. Don’t ask them to log in and don’t ask them to fill out a form.

3> What About Passwords And Security?

Do not ask for a password. It’s a silly inconvenience. Just take them off the list. At United, if you can’t remember your password, you have to ask them to email a temporary one, go back to the unsubscribe page again, type in a temporary password, choose a new password, type it in twice, and then wait for them to confirm it via yet another email. A password is never necessary when unsubscribing someone from an email list. There is no widespread issue of hackers unsubscribing people against their will. If you are concerned about security, any off-the-shelf email list management software will generate a unique unsubscribe link that only works from the original recipient’s mailbox.

4> Lesson: A Bad Unsubscribe Costs Good Customers

Think about the inconvenience United causes its customers. Anyone who gets this email in the first place is already a frequent flyer. All they want to do is stop getting announcements of weekly deals — they don’t want to stop buying tickets. United wastes their time, annoys them, and still can’t complete a simple request in a timely manner. These premium customers will never again sign up for a United email list — and United loses their most cost-effective channel of communications. At the worst, these customers will fly another airline. All because of a simple function that any web site can do well at no cost.

THE LESSON: Don’t annoy your customers.

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