MarketingSherpa Video Archive

How an Online Financial Services Company Uses Email to Reduce Customer Friction, Help Take the Confusion Out of Banking, and Increase Engagement 407%

Sarah Esterman, Lifecycle Marketing Manager, Simple

Gain access to the 2017 MarketingSherpa Awards Book for full case studies from the top customer-focused campaigns of the year

The session for online financial services company Simple at MarketingSherpa Summit 2017 begins with staff, including speaker Sarah Esterman, Lifecycle Marketing Manager, Simple, reading handwritten cards they had received from customers.

In a financial world where bank tellers are virtual, and investing decisions are made through online portals, it’s almost stunning to see a financial company receiving handwritten notes from customers.

Until, that is, you hear Esterman discuss Simple’s ethos, which is to rebuild “the whole idea of banking” to work in “genuine human goodness.”

“We are a mission-driven company. Our mission is to help customers feel more confident with their money,” she said.

From the ground up, she said, the company is customer-first. As a customer herself, she feels in touch with not only why people switch to Simple, but the struggles and frustrations that lead them there.

Step #1. Use customer support to learn more about your customers

In a brick-and-mortar, Esterman said, when a customer starts an account there is probably going to be some face-to-face contact.

Because Simple can’t do that as an online banking company, she had found that there was some anxiety around that process, and said, “We were getting a lot of customer contact around, ‘When am I going to hear? What’s going on? Did I do all of the things I needed to do?’”

Because of that feedback from customer support, they decided to add an email confirmation. This would help sooth customer concerns and assure them that their information had be received.

“We found that we reduced the related support cases by 36%, which was huge,” she said.

Step #2. Look at device usage data

“We are online banking, so the only way to bank with us is from your mobile device, we have iOS and Android apps, or on the web,” Esterman said.

While many customers, who typically skew to a more millennial audience, use the mobile app, the company still does have desktop users. Besides that, emails get opened about 40% of the time on desktop. This means that the company must be optimized for both device types.

“We want to provide our customers with the right path forward, regardless of where they open the email,” she said.

One of the tactics she and her team uses to accomplish that is canonical deep links. “Canonical is just a fancy word for it will redirect in your browser to take you to the app if you’re on your phone, or directly to the web app if you’re on desktop,” she said.

Step #3. Use customer empathy to learn more about the customer

Every year, banking institutions are legally obligated to send an email or otherwise notify their customers about “Regulation E.”

“Regulation E is a really legalese-y piece of banking jargon that tells you really important stuff — it tells you what to do in case of fraud, your rights, protections and responsibilities,” Esterman said. “It’s something that our customers need to know, and we are legally obligated to email our customers every year to remind them of it.”

The email can’t just link to the information, and the team must include the entirety of the 800-word text, word-for-word, in the email.

“Which is a huge marketing challenge if you’re trying to help customers feel more confident with their money, because it’s difficult to read,” she said.

In a meeting with Business Opportunities, Legal and Compliance and Marketing, the team was trying to figure out what they could possibly do with the 2015 Regulation E email to make it more customer-friendly.

Esterman had an idea inspired by her high school classes, and called back to “No Fear Shakespeare,” the text that gives students the entirety of a Shakespeare play but puts simple and modern explanations of what, exactly, the original text is saying.

Taking that inspiration, the team broke up the text into digestible pieces with a clear explanation of the meaning of the previous paragraph.

They also worked with a designer to ensure the email would look fairly beautiful, even considering the heavy legal content.

For the 2016 version of the email, the team didn’t just want to repeat what they had done the year before.

“We went back to the drawing board; we didn’t want to do [the sequel], even though we had … acquired a lot of customers in the year before who had never seen our approach,” she said.

They created an email that had the theme “Museum of the Mundane.”  It included things like dental floss and a pencil — “things that are important and useful,” she said, and they added Regulation E in.

“[Regulation E] is important and useful, but it could be mundane on the surface,” she said.


The Simple team saw a 55% open rate on the 2015 Regulation E email and had nearly 200 replies to it as well. Customer contact via customer support increased by 70%; the team received over eight handwritten responses, and Twitter engagement skyrocketed.

For the 2016 email, they saw a lower open rate at 47.59%, but “we aren’t too worried about that, because the subject line wasn’t as engaging,” Esterman said.

Twitter engagement again went up and the team also saw a few press pieces written about the effort.

“Be human, because … our customers are all human. So let’s talk to them like we are. That’s how we build relationships, and this work is a lot more fun if we are building real relationships,” Esterman said.

You might also like …

2017 MarketingSherpa Awards Book – Gain access to the full case studies for the top customer-focused campaigns of the year

Beyond Advertising: Creating value through all email and mobile touchpoints

Email Marketing: Five ideas to increase your email’s perceived value

Email Marketing: How focus on value proposition in testing led to a 66% increase in event registrations from email