The difference between triage and planning
I read an interesting post by Andrew Kordek at Trendline Interactive this morning. Its premise is that “Organizations need to do a better job at defining an inactive.” And the fact is, he’s right.
I also think that this ties into recent discussions regarding whether “best practices” are actually the best things for folks to do on a regular consistent basis. Consider this quote from Andrew’s article:
In addition, the general rule of thumb for X amount of time has long been 6 months. Not sure who made that rule up or all of us (me included) who have used it as gospel over the last several years, but 6 months cannot be further from an industry standard. There are so many factors that need to be looked at: seasonality, product mix, previous engagement metrics, time to inactivity, trending etc….that 6 months is no longer the standard.(Kordek 2011)
I know who came up with that: it was someone who specialized in reputation repair. The purpose of this “general rule of thumb” has nothing to do with reactivating subscribers and everything to do with quickly fixing a problem that was leading to loss of revenue.
This is the difference between triage and planning. I teach CPR and First Aid (something I’m qualified to do all the way up to Wilderness First Responder). In my more advanced classes, we study and apply the START algorithm to sorting victims in a multiple casualty event. When you are engaged in triage using START, there are four possible outcomes for someone that you come across who is bleeding and breathing: Minor, Delayed, Immediate Care, and Deceased. All that triage is, then, is sorting your injured into one of those buckets. You wait on helping the Minor and the Delayed cases. You do what you can for the Immediate. And you completely write-off the Deceased.
The first three buckets are the easy ones, it’s “Deceased” that’s hard to call. That’s why, in most circumstances, we want doctors to do that. And in our training slides, we look at one scenario when you have to label a 3 year old as deceased, even though he’s probably someone who could be saved. (And, for your peace of mind, we also point out that if resources become available, you should go back and try to save that one.) But, everyone, no matter their age or socio-economic status, has to go into one of those buckets.
When you are dealing with a triage situation, everyone is hurt. Everyone needs care. And the care that everyone gets is not going to be the same level of care arrived at using the same decision trees that you would find if you were sitting in your doctor’s examination room receiving your annual physical. When you are with your doctor in an exam room, you have time and access to long-term information that allows you to make more precise decisions. When you’re laying out in the field, unconscious and bleeding, that luxury doesn’t exist. The people providing first aid have to rely upon rules of thumb and treatment protocols and algorithms.
So, let’s apply that to email. When you are experiencing good delivery it’s as though you are sitting in your doctor’s examination room — you can take the time to look at various strategies for subscriber reactivation. You can consider factors like “is an inactive someone who hasn’t opened, or someone who hasn’t purchased.”
On the other hand, when you are not experiencing good delivery, when your sender reputation has tanked and you need to turn to someone like me (or my co-workers), then neither of us has the time to engage in an extended discussion about what an inactive subscriber might be. This is a triage situation and you’re going to experience some loss as a result of allowing things to deteriorate to this point. The people that you are working with to fix things are likely using rules of thumb and treatment protocols and algorithms — like “an inactive subscriber is someone who hasn’t opened or clicked in the last six months.”
When you hear about “best practices,” those are generally going to be the rules of thumb, the treatment protocols, and the algorithms that get used in triaging delivery problems. They’re good for fixing problems, and represent a minimum level care that will generally “do no further harm.” Just as the treatment decisions made out in a field are not likely to be the same (or even the most appropriate) decisions that could be made with time to reflect and make appropriate plans, following “best practices” are probably not always going to be the best decisions for you or your business. But, when decisions need to be made now, you need to have something to turn to.
So, what is the takeaway from this? It’s better to do things because you planned to do them than because you have to in order to stop the bleeding. You have better (and more granular) options, along with the time to come up with a plan to accomplish what you’re hoping to do.
- Kordek, Andrew. 2011. “Retention Programs Start With Defining An Inactive.” Trendline Interactive. September 27, 2011. http://www.trendlineinteractive.com/2011/09/retention-programs-start-with-defining-an-inactive/.