Uber: Too Little Urgency, Yet Too Little Time to Save

I recently wrote about an offer from TD Bank that lacked urgency because of a hard-to-find offer expiration date. This targeted offer I received yesterday from Uber also merits a Fail for Creative for missing the mark regarding urgency. It may also merit a Fail for Offer.

Uber sends an offer with a compressed, hidden response window
Email from Uber 2/21/19

The Subject Line is smartly personalized with my first name with an offer to “enjoy 50% off.” There appears at first glance to be a significant discount opportunity. The body of the email is also prominent in messaging 50% off not just my first ride, but my next 10 rides with Uber. However, down in the Disclosure, one would learn that the offer expires 2/25/19 at exactly 6:00:00 am. The email was sent on 2/21/19 at 6:54 am local time, which means that I, as a customer, have fewer than 96 hours to take advantage of this offer. (Or maybe I have 99 hours. Perhaps the offer expires 6:00:00 am Pacific Time while I live in the Eastern Time Zone.)

Let’s assume the offer is targeted based on my customer history with Uber. I used Uber’s service only twice in the past 18 months. So, perhaps this offer was targeted at me to encourage me to be a more active customer. If true, I don’t understand why Uber would target a basically inactive customer with an offer that would apply to as many as 10 rides in as few as 4 days. Is Uber expecting me to say, “Wow! Uber is cheap now! I’m going to skip the faster subway or not use my own car for four days?” It doesn’t make sense. If Uber wants me to try out their service again more than once or to prioritize it above Lyft or other services, why not expand the offer applicability window to at least a week?

If I were to write this, I would start with an upfront, clear, honest message with an adequate opportunity for customers to hail an Uber.  It would open with:

“Thank you for being an Uber customer. 

Enjoy 50% off your next 10 rides in the next 10 days.”  

  1. Include a clear, prominent respond-by date.
  2. Allow customers an adequate opportunity to respond to your offer.
  3. If your offer is specific to time of day, specify the applicable time zone.


TD Bank: New Account Offer Missing Urgency

I recently wrote about an email from Vanguard that lacked a respond-by date -- and, therefore, lacked urgency. This self-mailer from TD Bank also lacks a clear respond-by date and thus merits a Fail for Creative.

TD Bank New Customer Offer

TD Bank New Customer Offer
Outside of Self-Mailer

TD Bank New Customer Offer
First fold-out panel

The folded self-mailer includes an offer of up to $500 if the customer opens a checking account and a savings account. The amount of free money is as low as $150 if the customer opens only one type of checking account, but that’s not chump change. The call to action is to open the banking accounts at a local banking branch, TD Store, or by visiting a special landing page. The landing page reinforces the offer with the same imagery as the self-mailer. That’s nice creative coordination.

TD Bank New Customer Offer

TD Bank New Customer Offer
Inside panels
However, the mailer buries the offer expiration date in the disclosure. The first line reads, “Offer valid from January 15, 2019, through March 13, 2019...” It is found in small, light gray type (e.g., not designed to be read). The only sense of urgency conveyed is in the call to action to “Get started today.”

TD Bank New Customer Offer
Only mention of offer expiration date
(I added the red circle)
The landing page includes mention of “Offer expires March 13, 2019” above the fold and in the pictures, making them hard to miss. That’s smart. However, the person who receives the mail needs to visit the website to be able to clearly see the offer expiration date.

TD Bank New Customer Offer
Offer landing page: td.com/Earn500

If you want customers to respond to your offer, include a clear, prominent respond-by date.


Citi: Thank You Card Offer Conflicts

One of my responsibilities when I worked at Citi’s Credit Card division was profitable balance growth on their Citi AAdvantage Credit Card. A common way to grow balances then (and still now) was to mail to customers balance transfer checks they could use like regular checks to pay off higher-interest credit cards or use to make significant purchases.

These checks were directly tied to the credit card number and existing account. The functional implication was that, if a customer changed his or her credit card number, the check would bounce. This occurred when a customer’s credit card was replaced due to theft or fraud, or if the customer switched to a different Citi credit card. Poor customer experience!  

Occasionally, the business priority would be to solicit customers to upgrade their existing Citi AAdvantage Card to a more premium product—say, from a basic card with a $50 annual fee to a Gold-level card with an $85 annual fee. The upgrade solicitation list would be prepared in advance and deduped from the balance transfer check solicitation list. This not only prevented checks from bouncing, it also allowed our customer communications to focus on only one aspect of the credit card product during a time period.

Outside of Upgrade Mailer
That policy from years ago comes to mind when I reviewed these two offers, which the same person received related to his Citi Thank You Preferred Card around the same time. In late January, he received an offer to switch his existing Citi Thank You Preferred Card to the new Citi Rewards+ Card. This new card offered a different points accrual method. It’s a shiny self-mailer complete with details, comparison of the customer’s current Citi Thank You Preferred Card to the new Citi Reward+ Card, and more disclosures than you can shake a stick at. Creatively, this is a pretty persuasive mailer.

Upgrade Self-Mailer Inside Panels

A week later, in early February, the same person received a self-mailer with an offer to add an authorized user to his Citi Thank You Preferred Card. Specifically, the offer was an opportunity to accrue 2,500 Thank You Rewards points—worth $25 in gift cards—if the customer adds an authorized user to the card and spends $2,000 by 2/28/19.

Outside of Citi Thank You Add A User Mailer

The first Fail here is for a combination of Offer and Timing. Setting aside the upgrade offer, this offer has a response window of under 30 days. Normally, 30 days is an ideal response window to allow a customer enough time to read the mailer, consider the offer, and take action. But this offer requires the customer to take two separate actions. First, the customer has to request the card for the authorized user. Subsequently, the customer and/or the authorized user have to spend, together, at least $2,000. If there is an expectation that the authorized user would do the spending, the customer would have to wait for the card to arrive in the mail, activate it, give it to the authorized user, and hope that authorized user already had plans to make a pretty significant purchase or two. That’s a lot of activity to expect of a customer during the cold month of February.

Citi Thank You Rewards Mailer

Citi Thank You Rewards Mailer
Inside of Citi Thank You Add A User Mailer

Most credit card bonus points offers for new customers have a window of 90 days to meet a spending threshold. Perhaps Citi could have structured this offer such that the customer would have 30 days to add an authorized user and another 60-90 days to meet the spending requirement.

The second Fail is a combination of Offer and Targeting. The fine print on the offer to add an authorized user includes the line, “If your account is closed for any reason, including if you convert to another card product, you may no longer be eligible for this offer.” In other words, if the Citi customer accepted the offer he had received one week prior to this one, then this offer is void. Poor customer experience!

When I worked at Citi, we took measures to avoid overlapping offers. That does not appear to be the case today. It does not appear to me that one of these mailers was delayed in the mail for a long time, so let’s rule out bad postal delivery. Maybe the Citi Rewards+ Card Product Manager wasn’t aware of what the Thank You Preferred Card Product Manager had planned, or maybe they had conflicting business objectives. I can only speculate.

  1. When planning the timing of your mailing and determining the offer response window, consider customer actions required to fulfill the offer.
  2. When you mail an offer to your own customers, be sure your offer doesn't conflict with other offers or create a negative customer experience.


Vanguard: Transition time is when?

This email from Vanguard merits a minor Fail for Creative.

It appears that Vanguard is moving its investment platform from one system to another, and needs customers to take action to support the move. The email explains to the customer that a “3-step transition” is required, and doing so would take a “few minutes.” It includes four FAQs, but that’s all. The Call to Action is to “Transition Now” by clicking a button, which leads customers to the typical login page.


Vanguard email to customers 

This email was sent to consumers. While one can assume consumers who use Vanguard for investments have some savvy, because they avoid the high fees of other investment companies, that does not mean they are familiar or comfortable with technical terms like “transition.” The opening, in all-caps — “YOUR ACCOUNT NEEDS TO BE TRANSITIONED” — has a tonality of forcefulness that is generally not in the Vanguard communications style. To the uninformed, the fact that the account where one’s retirement savings is managed needs to be “TRANSITIONED” is scary.

There is some explanation regarding the rationale for the move, but why not position this transition as an upgrade from the onset? Sell the benefits upfront.

Furthermore, the request to the customer lacks any immediacy. The Call to Action should include a respond-by date. Internally, perhaps a decision was made not to include a date in the communication now because the IT folks have a year-long implementation plan. But even a soft request to take action by a specific date would help a customer decide to take action. Otherwise, the customer might ignore this or prioritize this task somewhere between, say, replacing the baking soda in the refrigerator and watching the last season of House of Cards.

Below is my attempt to rewrite the main message in a communications style I more typically see from Vanguard. It includes an upfront communication of customer benefit and a timely (but soft) call to action, but avoids using industry jargon and scary words.
Dear [Customer Name],
We have upgraded our platform for customers like you to make and follow your investments. This new, flexible platform will allow us to save money and make continuous service improvements, which will benefit you as we can lower our costs to serve you and improve your online experience.
Please help us move your account to the upgraded investment platform by completing 3 easy steps. It’s quick and easy—taking less than 5 minutes of your time. Just log into your account using the button below to get started.
If you could complete these 3 steps by February 28, 2019, that will help us help you. Thank you for your consideration and your time.
It would also be useful to label the FAQs below the Call to Action simply, “Frequently Asked Questions” and consider offering a separate page on the Vanguard site with additional FAQs. Doing so would boost customer confidence while reducing the expense of calls to their customer service center.

  1. Avoid industry jargon in customer communications.
  2. Any request for a customer to take action should include a date.