I was a customer on the brink of loyalty, but I needed that extra push.

As a traveler, I searched for a solid conditioner bar that would leave my hair silky. After a bottle broke open, causing a big mess in my luggage, I had a problem to solve. Like so many customer journeys, mine started with an online search.

After typing “solid hair conditioner bar” and other keywords into the search bar, I soon found myself on a website for just that. I scrolled through their different products, read the reviews, considered the different fragrances, and then — like so many other customers — I got busy with other things and forgot to purchase the bar I liked most. I even forgot the name of the company.

Good thing their marketing team had effective retention strategies in place. I saw a pop-up while browsing the internet that offered 15% off my purchase if I provided my email address — which I did. When they sent the coupon and then a follow-up email with a link to their products, it was enough for me to finally buy a bar. 

It smelled like rich sandalwood and made my hair feel wonderful. I loved it.

But that was just the beginning of the story — and here’s where small and medium-sized business owners should start taking notes. My inbox soon received regular emails from this hair care company. They announced new products and shared limited-time deals. They also reminded me about that great purchase and encouraged me to buy again. 

I’m now the type of loyal customer that business owners dream of. 

They got me by using a practice known as retention emails, and it works because loyalty pays. It’s easier — and less expensive — to foster a relationship with someone who already knows and values your products or services that attract new customers. 

Marketing executives estimate it costs five times more to find new customers than to keep current ones. So it makes sense to learn how to retain customers. After all, a lot of hard work goes into landing a customer in the first place. If you consider that upfront cost as an investment, you’ll want to find ways to maximize your dividends.

By putting in the effort to encourage customer loyalty, you’ll discover how effective retention emails are at building your business. To maximize this strategy and get more repeat customers, you’ll need an in-depth understanding of:

  • What a retention email is
  • Why you should integrate this practice into your marketing strategy
  • What makes good retention emails
  • How to send retention emails
  • Examples of the best ones so you won’t have to reinvent the wheel

Once you master the practice of sending effective retention emails, you’ll likely discover a strong return on investment (ROI) for your efforts. 

What is a retention email?

A retention email is a digital communication sent directly to an existing customer as part of a strategic effort to strengthen your relationship.

This could be as simple as sending a thank you note for their purchase from your personal email. But that process isn’t scalable. 

To be most effective, customer retention emails should be part of a comprehensive marketing plan. It’s possible to automate your emails using a business account. With smart targeting, you can create a feeling of personalization, as if communication came from your personal account.

Retention emails use customer satisfaction as a foundation. You first must already be providing a service or product that meets a specific need of your target audience to find success in creating customer loyalty.

That hair conditioning bar, for example, was great. If I hadn’t been satisfied, I would have immediately unsubscribed from their retention email campaign. Instead, I enjoyed the communication just as much as I enjoyed the bar.

Why you should be using retention emails

Retention emails are some of the most popular kinds of emails that small and medium-sized business owners send — and for good reason. Just a quick search of email marketing statistics, and you’ll discover that the ROI on email marketing has an average return of $36 for every $1 you spend. 

Why? Because customers like me really do want to hear from companies they enjoy doing business with. It may be hard to imagine at first since many business owners fear the emails will be seen as spam. But if a customer signs up willingly — like I did, for example — research shows that they want to hear from you frequently.

How do I get people to make a purchase?

You need to send more emails than you think, but those emails should primarily be customer retention emails.

Marketing professionals often cite wisdom known as the “rule of seven,” meaning that it takes seven interactions with a potential customer before they finally decide to make a purchase. But once they make that first purchase, they’re up to 70 percent more likely to buy again. 

What makes a good retention email?

You’ll want to send a retention email that effectively connects with your customers. It’s important that the email looks attractive, which can be done by using a well-designed and mobile-responsive email template. And that’s just the beginning.

There’s a strong subject line

A subject line is the words that show up as the title in your inbox before you open an email.

Your customers will see the subject line before they decide to open your email, so put extra effort into crafting it. 

Good email subject lines are short and unique. Avoid adding “click bait” verbiage or anything that may sound a little spammy. Try including something time-sensitive, such as new announcements or limited-time deals. The active voice, even as a command, is especially powerful.

Readers know where to click

Digital marketing connects the most when it offers an interactive element. This could be an inserted short video or a link to a landing page. 

Always have a call to action, also known as a CTA. That is, know exactly what you want the reader to do after they open the retention email and make it easy for them to do it. One way to do this is by adding a colorful button that leads them to whatever page on your website you want them to see.

Email content is engaging

You know your customers are busy, so make it worth it for them to read your email. Some tips for engaging content are:

  • Break up the copy visually with bullets or sub-heads (or both!)
  • Use infographics, original photography, short videos, or other graphic elements
  • Write for your specific audience, which in this case are customers who already know you
  • Tell them a story that conveys your (and their) values
  • Edit your writing so that it is clear and concise
  • Be consistent with your style and tone
  • Know your goals and measure your success

How do you write an email to retain clients?

While it’s not always easy to produce content that creates the best retention emails, you can do it if you follow the same best practices that marketing professionals use.

1. Organize your email addresses

This “behind the scenes” tip lays the groundwork for your success. Often, companies will request email addresses and create one big list of contacts. If you organize these contacts into smaller sections — a process known as email segmentation — your emails will reach the right target audience.

Each business is different when it comes to creating different segments. For example, if the hair care company I purchased my conditioner from offered a beard balm, I wouldn’t want an email encouraging me to buy it. Create segments based on the messaging each audience requires.

2. Pick an appropriate email template

Once you know the specific target audience, the next step to writing retention emails is to pick an appropriate email template. While templates aren’t necessary, they make it easy to lay out your digital message clearly and attractively. Simply put, templates make your life easier.

3. Start with the end in mind

What is the goal of the email message? Beyond strengthening your relationship with your current customers, you should know exactly what you want them to do. Unless you’re creating an email newsletter template, keep the purpose of the email narrowly focused. Those newsletters could even be a wrap-up of the specific messages you send to customers throughout the month.

Goals should be measured, so remember to create time to follow up on whether your strategy was successful. For example, if you want me to try a solid shampoo bar, set up the backend to see if I clicked on the link and completed my purchase. It won’t take long to learn how to interpret your email reports.

4. Create a schedule

Retention emails shouldn’t come out of the blue. Instead, schedule your email campaigns so that your soon-to-be loyal customers will come to expect something from you at a specific time each week or even more regularly. It’s better to send an email every Wednesday, for example, than three emails one week and none for the next month.

5. Take your time with the writing

When you write too quickly, you’re likely to make errors that will make your company look bad. It’s a shame, but one glaring typo could be enough to get a fair-weather customer to unsubscribe. 

Take your time.

Enlist the help of someone with an eye for detail to look over your customer retention email before you hit “send.” Everyone needs an editor! No matter how many times you look at something you write, even the most obvious problem could be overlooked. It’s better to create a review system than be embarrassed afterward.

How do I send a retention email?

Yes, it’s possible to send emails to customers through a personal email inbox — but it’s not recommended. Investing in an email service like Constant Contact can save lots of time and produce a more professional result.

Few CEOs have time to answer customer service-related questions, which might come from someone hitting the “reply” button on a retention email. If the email comes from another personal account, you risk the email bouncing if that employee moves on to another position or company. 

When you send from a company-wide email address using a professional email marketing service, your communication stays consistent. You’ll also likely discover that the entire process is easier than trying to create an attractive design using an email tool that wasn’t created for that kind of outreach.

Types of retention emails 

There are many kinds of retention emails, just as there are many reasons to connect with your existing customers. Feel free to be creative as you plan an email campaign and try ideas that feel authentic to strengthen your relationships and deepen the loyalty of your customers.

Best customer retention email examples

Add these customer retention email examples to your annual digital marketing plan to improve your relationship with the people who already know and love your business.

Abandoned cart email

An abandoned cart email is a great way to follow up with a customer. If they are interested enough in adding an item to their shopping cart, they may just need a little push to complete the transaction. Consider this email a gentle and friendly reminder as you let them know you value your relationship. Once they’ve made the purchase, send them a confirmation email so that they know their order went through.

example: abandoned cart email
Abandoned cart emails can encourage customers to overcome any hesitation and make a purchase.

These kinds of retention emails can help seal the deal when you’re still developing a relationship with a customer. I recently signed up for a dog-walking app, but it took me a while to complete the steps. Those abandoned cart emails encouraged me to finish the process.

VIP programs 

How do you make your customers feel special? A powerful way to do this is by creating a VIP program that offers incentives and discounts they wouldn’t otherwise receive. 

example: retention email for VIP programs
Your VIP program should have the same voice and tone as your overall marketing campaign and speak directly to your customers.

When crafting your program, think about what your customers are most interested in. They may appreciate a special discount or enjoy bragging rights. For example, I visited the interactive art exhibit Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I didn’t need a discount to return, but I love that they sent me videos showing me a behind-the-scenes look at how their art exhibits were created.

Refer-a-friend programs 

Sure, everyone loves a deal — but nearly everyone has a friend who loves a deal, too. Try sending your customers an email with an incentive for word-of-mouth advertising. The best examples of these so-called “refer a friend” programs often provide a discount for both the customer and their friend.

Example: retention email for refer a friend incentives
Adding a button or a link to this Refer a Friend email makes it easier for the receiver to share it.

Create a specific discount code for this program, so it’s easier to track. This way, you can determine if the program is working. With campaigns like these, give it enough time to generate data before trying something else.

Thank you emails

If your business had an especially successful holiday season or an event, don’t forget to thank all the customers who made that success possible. Gratitude-focused emails don’t need to sell anything. Sometimes, the best customer retention emails can solely demonstrate that your company appreciates them.

example: Thank you email
Customers not only appreciate being thanked, but they also like to see how you plan to improve for the next event. It’s important to be humble and admit any shortcomings as this makes you and your team relatable — which goes a long way toward building those priceless customer relationships.

You’ll still want to have a CTA. It could be a link to a recap video or a photo carousel. Or, you can encourage your customers to add your social media accounts to their news feeds to stay connected. 

Celebratory emails

Every year, I look forward to all the small discounts I get from my favorite businesses simply because I survived another year or am reminded to celebrate love. Birthday and holiday emails are easy to automate as you can send these out as a group every month. 

Example: special occasion email for retaining customers
Any holiday is a good time to offer a deal for existing customers but look for specific holidays that dovetail well with your business. For instance, this spa sent an offer for a gift that any couple would love.

During the holiday season, be aware that not every one of your customers will celebrate the same event. If they are Jewish, you may turn them off with a well-meaning Christmas-themed email. Instead, look for holidays that are universally loved by your customers. For example, if you own a restaurant that sells hot dogs, National Hot Dog Day is July 19. Don’t miss it! 

Raffles and giveaways to existing customers 

Another fun way to interact with your customers is to offer raffles and giveaways. You can offer a best seller or a new product you’d love for people to try. With this, you can create your own rules: Perhaps you’ll require people to follow your social media pages and share a post with their friends to win.

example: retention email with thank-you gift
Giveaways can be an opportunity to partner with complementary businesses. Here, the customer doesn’t get a gift card for parking but for food delivery.

Raffles and giveaways also happen to be my favorite way to collect testimonials, which you can add to your website to attract new customers. Ask current customers what they like best about your products and services for a chance to win something. 

Customer retention emails help businesses grow

When you create email marketing campaigns targeted to existing customers, you enhance your relationship and encourage them to try new services or products. With consistent, effective communication, you can even get them to share their loyalty with their friends. This can keep customers coming back and grow your business, too.

The trick to integrating this marketing practice into your monthly routine is to break up the tasks into more manageable steps. Start by creating a schedule for when you’d like to send emails. Once you have the “when,” you can add the “what.” Pick a time to brainstorm with your team and fill in your calendar with messages your current customers will want to receive.

At the end of each quarter, you can revisit your plan. Remember, marketing plans should be dynamic documents that can change as you learn what works and what doesn’t.