Complaints: A Wake-up Call for Marketers


As a Mom, I’m no stranger to complaints. And while I would love to tune out these complaints, I can’t. From “I don’t like this shirt” to “I don’t want to go to the store or take a bath or (insert almost anything here),” I’ve heard more than my share of complaints.  With my children, I have taught them that every complaint is an opportunity to learn how to “use our words” and “find solutions.” Unfortunately, complaints aren’t limited to the life of a Mom (or Dad or grandparent). Complaints can also be a challenge for marketers. While ignoring complaints may be the easy thing to do, marketers can’t afford to do so. Complaints are subscribers’ way of communicating dissatisfaction with your email program; and should be treated as a wake-up call for marketers.

Recently, Return Path has been talking quite a bit about complaints.  Our recent study has revealed how high complaints affect your reputation (and how a low complaint doesn’t necessarily mean you have a good program).  In addition, our new and improved Reputation Monitor breaks down sender reputation into a variety of key metrics, and can help you quickly identify what is affecting ISP inbox placement, and how you can immediately set forth to resolve those issues.

So what can marketers do to address complaints or decrease the likelihood of complaints in the future?  Here are some basic guidelines all marketers should follow at the various stages of the customer lifecycle:


    • Acquisition Stage: When a new subscriber joins your email program, ensure expectations are set appropriately. What type of email will be sent (newsletter, promotions, exclusive deals)? How often will messages be sent? How can subscribers communicate their preferences? When subscribers are primed to receive your email communications, they are more likely to anticipate your message and less likely to complain.




    • Conversion Stage: Lack of relevancy is one of the main reasons subscribers opt-out of an email program. If data (i.e., subscriber preferences, demographic, web site behavior) are not used to target offers and promotions, subscribers are not only less likely to purchase from you, they are more likely to unsubscribe (or complain).  While many consider email an affordable way to drive purchases, continually sending irrelevant content to subscribers can end up being very costly if subscriber complaints land you in the junk/spam folder.  Use the data at your disposal and target your messages to limit subscriber complaints (and protect your sender reputation).


    • Engagement Stage: With email’s impressive ROI, pressure from stakeholders across the organization to send email more frequently (and often untargeted email) can have a detrimental effect on your email program. Do you know how your subscribers truly experience your program? With triggered messages, planned campaigns, and blog alerts, how many emails do subscribers typically receive in any given week?  Does the frequency and type of content match the expectations set during email opt-in? If not, subscribers are more likely to complain.



If complaints are on the rise, are there specific messages that are driving up complaints? Have there been any major program changes that changed your subscribers’ experiences? Did you send emails to an older file? Digging into the root cause of complaints can provide email program insights for the future.


  • Win-back Stage: Continually sending irrelevant content or mailing too frequently to unengaged subscribers can lead to increased complaints. Define your inactive segment and actively work to re-engage them with relevant content. Send surveys, discounts, preference center updates, or other incentives to drive subscribers to open and click through on your emails. If you still can’t get a pulse, be prepared to remove these persistently inactive subscribers from your file permanently.



In addition, make it easy for disengaged subscribers to unsubscribe from your email program.  Losing a subscriber via your unsubscribe process is a much better alternative than a subscriber hitting the “this is spam/junk” button and registering a complaint with the ISP.

Complaints provide an opportunity for marketers to find solutions, but it can be tricky. In addition to the improvements made to Return Path’s Reputation Monitor, the Professional Services team at Return Path can help you identify the areas of most vulnerability and provide practical and actionable advice for decreasing complaints and positively impacting response.

Need more information? Call 866-362-4577, visit us at or email [email protected] to get started today.

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