Send renewal notices by email

On the face of it, sending renewal notices by email is an attractive proposition. Delivery is speedy and the cost is virtually nil. But as always there are some negative aspects that need to be considered. The first thing to consider is how you expect the subscribers to respond to your invitation to renew. It is probably not realistic to expect them to print out the renewal notice, sign it and mail it back. Instead you should provide a telephone number they can call, or you could provide a link to a web site where they can renew. If you are using the QuickFill Internet Extensions then the mechanism for accepting renewals via the Internet is already in place.

The second thing to consider is the difficulty in ensuring that your email actually gets through to the subscriber. The scourge of bulk email, or spam, means that many companies and Internet service providers go to great lengths to shield their users from spam. Although it is true that you have an ongoing business relationship with your subscribers and you have a valid reason for contacting them by email, you still have to get past the gatekeeper. To maximize your chances of getting through you should:

Getting started

To send email messages QuickFill uses a third-party software program named Gammadyne Mailer. You can download a free evaluation copy of this program from Gammadyne's web site at http://www.gammadyne.com. This evaluation copy is fully functional but adds a banner to the beginning and end of each email message that it sends. You can remove the banner by purchasing a license for $130.

Setting up the renewal series

We recommend that you set up a separate renewal series for the purpose of testing the email renewals.

If your standard series is of the "by days" type we suggest that you start by replicating your standard renewal series. Change the series code (on the series you are creating) to EMAIL, or some other name of your choosing. Add extra efforts to this renewal series for your email notices. We suggest sprinkling the email efforts between the regular efforts. This way you can send a notice by regular mail and then follow it up by email a week or two later, thus ensuring that there isn't too long a gap between the regular notices, just in case the email messages don't get through.

If your standard series is a "by issues" series you have a bit more to consider. Depending on the frequency of your publication you may not be able to add email efforts between the regular efforts. If this is the case you should consider creating a new "by days" series that uses regular (postal mail) notices in a way that approximates your standard "by issues" series and then add email notices to this new series.

Each line of your renewal series is linked to a renewal effort record—that is where you the list the offers that will be presented to the subscriber on the renewal notice. You can view the renewal effort record by right clicking in one of the fields in the 'Effort Code' column of the renewal series and choosing 'Change' from the popup menu. The renewal effort record in turn is linked to a renewal package record—that is where you specify the format of the renewal notice, and how it should be delivered. As before, you can view the renewal package record by right clicking in the Package field of the renewal effort.

On the renewal package screen there are three choices for delivery:

Delivery by email is possible if a) the subscriber has an email address (either of the two email addresses will do) and b) the subscriber has not requested that you not contact him by email (see the "Allowed usage" fields on the customer address screen).

Please note that selecting either of the "Deliver via email" options will cause QuickFill to automatically produce a renewal file that is suitable for processing by the Gammadyne Mailer software.  The format of the file produced is as described for the MMERG4 mail-merge renewal file format.  If a subscription is eligible for email delivery this will be true regardless of your choice of mail-merge formats on the renewal package screen.  If the subscription is not eligible for email delivery and/or the renewal is to be delivered by postal mail then your choice of simple, detailed or mail-merge formats on the renewal package screen will apply.

Setting up a test

Once you have your email renewal series set up and have decided which efforts will be delivered by email you should assign a group of your subscribers to the new series. You can use the Change Renewal Series update to do this. On the Customer tab of the Change Renewal Series update you will find an option that allows you to select customers that are eligible for email renewals. Ideally you should only assign eligible customers to your email series. This is important to preserve the validity of the statistics provided by the Renewal Rate report. If not all of the customers on the EMAIL renewal series have email addresses then you can never be sure just how much of the performance of that series is due to the use of email.

Editing the email message templates

The next step is to decide just what you are going to send in your email messages. We provide two templates for the email renewal notices. One is in HTML format and looks like this. It makes use of colored backgrounds, font styles and other formatting tricks made possible by HTML. The other is in plain text format and looks like this. It is important to provide both formats since a significant percentage of Internet users prefer plain text messages for security reasons or have email software that will not display HTML messages. Gammadyne Mailer satisfies both types of user by sending your messages as a "multi-part MIME" message, containing both plain text and HTML. Depending on which email program the recipient uses he will see either plain text or HTML.

The HTML template can be found in your QuickFill program directory and is named Renewal.htm. You can edit the template using Gammadyne itself, or with any HTML editor, such as KompoZer, a free HTML editor available at http://kompozer.net. We do not recommend that you use Microsoft Word to edit it because you risk embedding fonts that the recipient may not have available on his computer. Microsoft Word will also greatly increase the length of the message, thereby adding to the time it takes to transmit your renewals.

The plain text template is also in the QuickFill program directory and is named Renewal.txt. You can edit it using Notepad, or any other text editor. Again, do not use Microsoft Word to edit it.

Within both these templates you will find references to field names that look like this: [[ORDERNUM]]. This is a reference to the ORDERNUM field in the mail-merge data file generated by the renewal update. You can find a complete list of the field names here. Substituting fields from the data file into your template is pretty straightforward—just enclose the field name in double square brackets [[ ]] wherever you wish to substitute the subscriber's name, address or other data. The only tricky part is the section of the template that lists the offers. The data file contains 31 sets of fields for this area, named TYPEn, DESCRn and AMOUNTn where n is a number from 1 to 31. Each set of fields corresponds to one line of the offer section of the renewal notice. The TYPEn fields identify what is on the line, the DESCRn fields contain the text that should appear in the left column of the area and the AMOUNTn fields contain the dollar amount that should appear in the right column of the area. Most renewal notices don't actually contain information in all 31 lines so the extra blank lines need to be removed. This is accomplished in our sample renewal templates by loading the descriptions and amounts into variables and then removing the blank lines from the end using Gammadyne's "G-Merge" scripting language, which you can read about in the Gammadyne Mailer's help file. Unless you have some experience working with scripting languages we recommend that you copy this section of our samples without changes when you create your own customized renewal notice template.

You must edit the renewal templates that we supply to change the layout or add any text that you desire. In particular be sure to edit the "Yes I want to renew my subscription" hyperlink so that it takes the subscriber to your web site.  If you are using the QuickFill Internet Extensions you can arrange it so that the hyperlink takes the subscriber directly to their account so that all they have to do is complete the renewal transaction. Call CWC technical support for details on how to do this.  If you have more than one publication and you want to have different, customized versions of your renewal notice for each of your publications you can accomplish this by appending the publication code to the template file name. Thus Renewal_QWKFIL.htm would be the HTML format template for publication QWKFIL. Or you can have even finer control over which templates get used by appending the form ID code from the renewal package to the file name. Thus Renewal_QWKFIL_SPEC.htm would be the HTML format template for form SPEC and publication QWKFIL. This allows you to have a different notice format for each effort.

When QuickFill searches for the renewal notice templates it begins by looking for files that are of the form Renewal_pppppp_ffffff.htm and Renewal_pppppp_ffffff.txt where pppppp is the publication code and ffffff is the form code. It looks first in the database directory and then in the QuickFill program directory. If it fails to find files with those names it searches for files with the name Renewal_pppppp.htm and Renewal_pppppp.txt. Again it searches the database directory first and then the program directory. Finally it searches for just Renewal.htm and Renewal.txt. So by varying the names of the renewal notice template files and placing them in either the database directory or the QuickFill program directory you have considerable control over which template will get used for each mailing.

Creating the renewal mail-merge files

After you have set up your renewal series and renewal packages the renewal update (or issue label update if you use a "by issues" series) will automatically produce mail-merge files containing all of the information needed for the email renewals. These files are standard dBase files, have names of the form ERNnnnnn.DBF and are located in the mail-merge directory of the database. Generally there will be one file for each publication and form ID combination, although you can tell QuickFill to combine the files so that there is only one file per publication by checking the box on the Mail Merge tab of the Preferences screen. After running the renewal or issue label update you can see the ERNnnnnn.DBF files by going to the Mail Merge tab of the Print Saved Reports screen.

Sending the email renewal notices

On the Mail Merge tab of the Print Saved Reports screen select an ERNnnnnn.DBF file and click the Email button. QuickFill will prompt you for the "From" address and "Subject" line to use for this mailing. At minimum you must replace the "youraddress@yourdomain.com" part of the "From" address with your own Email address. Be sure that the address you use is a valid email address and that there is somebody whose job it is to read any bouncebacks and complaints that come in to that mailbox. Failure to do this may result in your being placed on or more spam blacklists, thereby preventing you from sending any email at all to companies or Internet Service Providers that subscribe to those blacklists.

The subject line that QuickFill proposes for your email messages looks like this:
Subscription Renewal Notice for [[PUBNAME1]] [[PUBNAME2]]
When your messages are sent the PUBNAMEn fields will be replaced with the name of your publication, as it appears in the ERNnnnnn.DBF file. This subject line is probably acceptable but you can change it if you wish.

After you have verified and/or edited the From address and Subject line click the OK button. QuickFill will remember your changes and show you them to you the next time you send email. QuickFill then searches for the appropriate renewal notice templates using the naming conventions described in the "Editing the email message templates" section above. If it can't find them it will prompt you to select template files.

QuickFill then starts Gammadyne Mailer, instructing it to get ready to send the renewals using the template files that were previously located and the ERNnnnnn.DBF file containing the email addresses and other data for the renewal notices. Gammadyne Mailer will display its Preview screen which has a list of email addresses on the left side and the email content on the right side. You can click on any of the email addresses and see the complete text of the email message that will be sent on the right side.

At this point you can click the "Send Messages" button on the bottom left of the screen to start the mailing, or if you like to be more cautious you can click the "Test" button at the bottom of the list of email addresses. Clicking the "Test" button causes the Mailer to send the selected email message to yourself instead of to the subscriber. This allows you to double check that the content of the email is as you expected. The "Send" button on the other hand also sends a single message but to the subscriber, not to yourself.

As Gammadyne Mailer sends each email message it deletes the corresponding record from the ERNnnnnn.DBF file. This is done so that if you have to interrupt the mailing for any reason, when you restart it won't resend email messages that have already been sent.

Printing the undelivered renewal notices

When the mailing is finished all of the records for the renewals that were successfully delivered will have been deleted from the ERNnnnnn.DBF file. Actually the data is still there but the record has been flagged as deleted. Applications such as Microsoft Word or Excel will not show you the deleted records. On the other hand Visual Foxpro will not only show them to you but will also let you undelete them. After the mailing is done the only records remaining in the file will be the ones that could not be delivered, usually because the email address is no longer valid, or the destination mail server is down. You should print these and deliver them by postal mail, together with all of the other renewals that the renewal update or issue label update created for subscribers without email addresses. To print the undelivered renewals, select the ERNnnnnn.DBF file on the Mail Merge tab of Print Saved Reports and click the Print or Preview button. This will start a mail merge operation using Microsoft Word, and will create printed renewal notices that look just like the standard QuickFill notices.

Delivery mode

Out of the box, when QuickFill starts Gammadyne Mailer it normally tells it to use "Direct delivery" mode. This means that it will contact the email server of each recipient individually, depositing the email directly into the mailbox of the subscriber. The main advantage of this method is that it bypasses the email server of your Internet Service Provider, thus avoiding complaints that you are flooding it with bulk email. It also means that delivery problems are detected immediately, thus avoiding bouncebacks. There are disadvantages to direct delivery though—the foremost being that it rarely works these days due to spam protections instituted by many businesses.  If your ISP uses dynamically assigned IP addresses, and it does not provide DNS PTR records for those addresses then it is possible that many Internet Service Providers will not accept your email messages since they cannot do a reverse DNS lookup on your IP address to verify its legitimacy. Gammadyne's web site has an article on direct delivery that goes into more detail on this problem at http://www.gammadyne.com/direct_delivery.htm

To use standard delivery mode instead of direct delivery you must have an SMTP server. There are several possibilities for obtaining access to an SMTP server.

To tell Gammadyne about your SMTP server you should click the  'SMTP Server Settings' button on the screen that asks you for your 'From address' and the 'Subject' line. Click here for details on the settings available on the SMTP Server settings screen.

Other Gammadyne Mailer settings

You can control many other aspects of Gammadyne Mailer by placing settings in the Gammadyne.txt file, which can be found in the QuickFill program directory. You will find these documented in the Gammadyne help file in the Pseudo-Projects section under the heading "Pseudo-Project File Format".