Malleable Musings

January 6, 2009

Go ask Apple

Filed under: Emails, iphone — Brendan @ 9:21 pm

I felt that I had to blog about my very interesting experience earlier today / yesterday with Constant Contact.

I’ve signed up for a guest account with them and was going to run a test campaign this evening through them. If it had been successful I could well have been pushing our email marketing out to them.

Constant Contact has got a nice simple interface with a WYSIWYG editor and an API that seems to do what I want and to cap it off we’ve just appointed a new member of staff (started on Monday) who is likely going to be writing a lot of the email who is used to using Constant Contact.

Screen shot of a Constant Contact Template on iPhone

Screen shot of a Constant Contact Template on iPhone

However doing some testing I noticed something that I didn’t like in their footer. Look what happens when you send a message to someone using a free webmail service (e.g. yahoo or gmail) on an iPhone.

Why does it do this? Well at first I thought it was entirely to do with the code used to insert the Constant Contact branding images, which is in a footer that I can’t edit.  I noticed that there are no width attributes on the img tags. Without the width attributes the alt text will expand to fill whatever space is available, ie. in this case the entire width of the iPhone screen causing disruption to the top of the template.  However on closer inspection I don’t think it is this but I’m not enough of a coding guru and don’t have the patience to work through the nested tables and div tags to find out what is actually going on.

Anyway I used their live chat facility to ask a few questions. The full transcript is saved on their support section. I could paste it here but I don’t think it would add anything. Whilst I was having a live chat a sales person from Constant Contact rang me. Now I don’t know about you but if I’ve got the option of voice or IM contact I’ll opt for voice nine times out of ten so I excused myself from the Live Chat (the sales person apparently didn’t know I was chatting online) to concentrate on the phone call.

Side note: Live chat is great from an organisational point of view (good blog post highlighting benefits) but it doesn’t satisfy me as a customer – but that’s probably for another blog post?

The gist of both chats (online and voice) was that I could probably get the footer changed for $100 if I upgraded to a paid for account. But usually the turn around time for a custom footer is 2-3 business day. The sales lady I talked to passed me through to one of their “senior” technical people to see if he could do anything.

So I explained the situation – explained how we do a lot of work out in emerging markets in which mobile is important and how our %ges of mobile users within our site visitors are at least double or triple stats like this and how they are growing fast.  I also explained that I expected email to be even more likely to be accessed via mobile phone technology than web browsing. I then offered to send through a screenshot to explain the situation, which I did straight away.

I got an autoreply with the following (very helpful?) links:

Adding an image to an email
How does Outlook 2003 impact your campaigns?
Match graphic dimensions to template layout
Classic Wizard: Inserting extra images
Adding stock images to an email

and then an hour or so later I got the following email.

Dear Brendan,

I see that you already spoke with our of our representatives regarding this issue. I would like to inform you that most handheld devices (PDA) and iPhone have webbrowsers that aren’t fully compatible with HTML emails. This may result in your emails to not appear properly. When we create our templates we try to make them appear properly across most widely used web browsers (targeted to PC’s and MAC). However since the issue is relate to the compatibility with the browser/client in iPhones you must report the matter to Apple support directly. In the meantime I will also forward your email to my engineers to see what can be done to make all our HTML emails compatible with iPhones.

I’m very sorry this was not exactly the information you were hoping to hear; but if I can be of further assistance, then please don’t hesitate to reply to this email.

Thanks for using Constant Contact!

Regards,
Abhijit
Constant Contact Customer Care

For me reading this email was one of those wake up and smell the coffee moments…

1. It made me think a lot about the steps we’re taking in customer service and whether we have enough mechanisms in place to really help a customer.
2. It reminded me how I want to be working with organisations that are looking to the future and are easy to deal with (N.B. despite how this post may come across I think that Constant Contact may still fit this criteria).
3. It reminded me how much testing is actually needed on things like this. My guess it’s not just the iPhone that’s impacted it might well be anything that displays less than the default 600 pixel width templates that Constant Contact are currently using.
4. It also reminded me how easy it is sometimes to phrase things badly…. e.g. it’s not that the templates aren’t compatible, with the way I think an increasing number of people will be accessing their emails, it’s that:

most handheld devices (PDA) and iPhone have webbrowsers that aren’t fully compatible with HTML emails

So what’s next – well I don’t know. I haven’t got any emails planned for a while but maybe next time I’ll give myself enough time to tinker with their CSS or I might pay $100 to get a custom template designed (if I remember that is).

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3 Comments »

  1. On re-reading this post I realised that it may come across that I think Constant Contact are not worth me bothering with. I actually don’t feel that at all – as yet I feel I haven’t tested them properly. If anything it just points to the importance of things like the Email Standards Project.

    Bob from Constant Contact sent me a really nice email this evening and I’ve replied and will probably look to try and test them properly next week – although it looks like it will cost me $100 to test them (in a way that I’m happy with).

    Pingback by Brendan — January 7, 2009 @ 8:04 am

  2. I spoke to Constant contact about this issue because quite a few people have called me asking why they can’t read certain newsletters on their iphones. Although constant contact says it’s an iphone issue what they don’t get is that this only happens with their templates. If you use your own code the emails display correctly. I create email marketing campaigns for a living and it’s 100% related to bad coding by constant contact.

    Comment by s — March 7, 2009 @ 1:20 am

  3. Thanks for the comment – couldn’t agree more – it’s just sloppy coding in their templates.

    Comment by Brendan — March 7, 2009 @ 10:57 am


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