6 special transactional email functions you can’t afford to miss

Transactional emails are often the most valuable emails you can ever send. Deliverability is highly important, because you don’t just want them to arrive: you need them all to arrive.

But there is more to transactional email beyond deliverability, what else is there to improve our transactional emails?

Transactional email, the most valuable email you can send

Without a doubt, transactional email is a very important (and valuable) type of email. Sometimes also called “triggered” email, transactional email is triggered by a user’s interaction (like a password reset) or process (like a monthly invoice).

Examples of valuable transactional emails are:
* Order requests and order confirmations
* Digital contract signature requests
* Invoices
* Digital entrance tickets
* Usage overviews as used by utilities companies.
* Auction sites and bidding updates
* Software as a service messaging
* Password reset mails

Research shows that, compared with standard bulk mailings, the average revenue per email from transactional email is 2 – 5 times greater, and can be up to six times greater than the all-industry average of $0.13.

transactional email revenue statistics

Delivering transactional email is an art. Even providers that have their own email component are now getting specialised companies to handle their transactional email – just because these emails are so important. Beyond deliverability, here are 6 special functionalities to improve your transactional email flow.

special transactional email features

1) Quality Assurance of dynamic transactional messages

With email marketing, one often sends a test batch to assess the campaign before the actual campaign is sent out. But what is the implication for testing and checks of transactional messages of automated flows that might run all year long? The risk of fully automatic flows is that the output is never seen by the sender.
Look for a transactional email provider that allows you to “Set it and Check it”.

  • Source check email notification: if no input has been received from a source system, the administrator will get a notification in his or her mailbox. This can prevent, for instance, failure of system integration and impediment of mail delivery caused by the source system! Certain systems have daily or weekly triggers and, if an event occurs that stopped the trigger, you want to know that.
  • Input validation: Include checks to ensure that messages are not sent when input data is not as expected.
    For example: if a client ID number is missing, the message is not sent out. Or an email address has an invalid character. Such messages should be put on hold and listed, so they can be dealt with separately.
  • Failure notification: When it is essential that email is sent correctly and on time, it is important to generate a notification if a message is “on hold” or “bounced”.
  • Send Carbon-copy sample mails: Most of the valuable transactional messages are dynamically and automatically populated with content. An extra quality check is to receive sample mails. A carbon copy of every X messages will be sent to a designated email address. In this way one can see what is sent and check if everything is as expected.

2) Sending PDF attachments with transactional email

Many email marketing solutions don’t offer a way to include any attachments, but in transactional mail there are cases where automated email attachments like PDFs are a requirement.

There are two options to attach a PDF:

1) Send along an external PDF with the trigger or let the transactional email provider pick up the PDF externally and then attach it. You can even add some logic that lets the provider determine which PDF to attach.

For instance, an ecommerce shop wants to add a PDF product sheet to their order confirmation. It can be picked up and attached based on product ID.

2) Let the transactional email provider generate the PDF. This is based on a dynamic PDF template. The template just needs to get the data to fill in pieces that are dynamic. Think of the fields for invoices, policies, tickets, etc.

dynamic pdf generation for email

It is possible to include other attachments – because of the risk of spam filtering, not every filetype would be smart. But there are exceptions, like sending an XML file in automated invoicing (called a UBL invoice).

3) Archive your transactional emails

There are different reasons why archiving transactional emails is desirable:

  • The ability to resend the identical email on customer request is a requirement.
  • The ability to retry sending the email if a previous attempt has (temporarily) failed to deliver is required. And, very important:
  • Proof that the email has been sent is desired (more on this below).

It is important to realise that archiving should involve recording the message that was actually sent. Most email marketing applications will rebuild the message. As a result, it is possible that the data no longer matches the data used in the original message. (For instance: someone has moved to another home address or got married and last name has changed).

The period of archiving can be set based on what makes most sense. For instance a year, but also shorter (6 months, 3 months or 1 month). We have recently introduced the adjustment of the duration of archiving in the context of GDPR.

4) Provide proof that an email was sent

Providing proof of sending can be extremely important. In legal proceedings one must demonstrate that email has actually been sent.

For example:
A university that has a number of lawsuits from students each year who say they didn’t get an essential email.
An online auction site that has legal proceedings regarding “you have been outbid” messages.

But how does one prove that a transactional email has been sent? For one, emails can be archived. Additionally, one can record and report on the technical 250OK ‘delivered’ event per email message sent.

5) Responsive transactional email

Today, it is no longer a question whether email should be responsive or not (mobile first). Especially when we know that, on average, 81% of people regularly uses mobile to check their email.

devices used to check email marketing messages

Responsive email is the standard for marketing emails. But this is certainly not yet the case in transactional emails!

A large part of transactional email is generated in applications that use only basic HTML template engines, if they even generate HTML mail at all. Text mail is very common in transactional emails. This technology seems stuck in 1999! All transactional emails should be responsive – there is no valid excuse not to.

Transactional Email Reviver brings old email templates to life

A cool feature for email nerds is that an “unresponsive” email from an old system can be sent through an intermediate SMTP server. The Transactional Email Revive server picks up the email, takes the data and voila… puts it in a new, fully branded and responsive template and sends it on its way: zero integration needed. :)

revive transactional email responsive

6) Switching channel for guaranteed delivery of transactional messages

For important messages it is essential to choose the right channel. But what if this channel is not available? For transactional email, if the email address isn’t correct or bounces, the message can still be delivered via print, SMS, push message or through a call centre.

Consider a utilities company that has different channels to send invoices. First, they should send the invoices via email, before printing. They should ask for a new email address if it hard bounces. Think bounce-then-call. The business case is very clear, considering recovered email addresses are not only used for transactional messages, but also for commercial mailings.

The mere availability allows for insight into and control of transactional communication with customers.

Transactional email – more possibilities than you think

Transactional email is the most important and valuable email type one can send. Possibilities and requirements go beyond pristine deliverability. Our clients often do not know what is possible in areas of responsiveness, sending PDF attachments, quality assurance, archiving, proof and recovering lost email addresses.

Ronald Dubbeldam

About Ronald Dubbeldam


Ronald Dubbeldam is Chief Commercial Officer of the transactional email service Flowmailer. A true email marketing veteran, he has part been of the DDMA Email Council and actively sharing his email marketing knowledge and best practices since 2000.

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