We're Sorry to See You Go

I'm a big fan of the Irish goodbye. You know, where you slip out the back door before anyone knows you're gone? It's easy, efficient, painless and saves you from long goodbyes and agonizing "don't go's." Given that many people feel this is acceptable for in-person farewells with people they actually know, I'm surprised by how little it applies to farewells online. When it comes to email, unsubscribe messaging could benefit from a hefty dose of Irish.

Whether you never wanted to receive certain emails in the first place but somehow got signed up, or you voluntarily signed up but no longer wish to receive them, you scroll to the bottom of the most recent email to find the blessed "unsubscribe" link. Seeing the light of freedom, you click on the link...only to be taken to a page that does one of five annoying things:

1. Asks you if you're sure you want to unsubscribe. I can assure you I didn't just casually scroll to the end of the email, stumble upon the microscopic "unsubscribe" link and accidentally click on it. Yes, of course I am sure I want to unsubscribe!

2. Gives you about five alternatives to unsubscribing. Do you want to receive just one email a day? Do you want to receive two emails a week? How about three every other month? No. The fact that I'm unsubscribing indicates that I am no longer interested. Don't give me 25 options when I've already made my decision. Instead, businesses and publications should make a separate link to update preferences. If people merely want fewer emails, they can follow a separate path.

3. Makes you feel like a terrible person for even considering wanting to unsubscribe. "Boo! Sorry you want to stop getting the best emails ever," reads one unsubscribe message. Rather than feel bad, I feel overjoyed that I'm finally rid of a business that thinks it's that amazing.

4. Makes some lame attempt at being funny in hopes that you'll think, "Actually, this is a pretty awesome company/site/newsletter/brand. Maybe I won't unsubscribe after all." I want to chuck a brick at my computer every time I see this. Not only did your emails waste my time, now your crying cat meme has wasted my time and annoyed me.

5. Allows you to unsubscribe but then refuses to let you go. Some companies, in a last-ditch, begging-on-their-knees effort ask you questions after you have officially unsubscribed, such as "Would you mind taking our survey?" Really? I'm unsubscribing because I have too much time on my hands, so yes, I'll take your survey. (Rolls eyes.) Another pet peeve is receiving an email that lets you know you're unsubscribed. Ahhh! Please, for the love of all things holy, stop emailing me. (Silently weeps at desk.)

What businesses should do instead

We are all adults here, so let's treat one another like it. When a person wants to unsubscribe from your emails, he knows what he's doing and doesn't want to be made to feel horrible for it. Yes it's a bummer, but it's not necessarily personal. Let the person go with a plain and simple message: "You are now unsubscribed from all emails." If (and it's a big if) someone were to have second thoughts about unsubscribing, I can guarantee a clean, guilt-free break would only help push her decision in the right direction.

Some email marketers believe that there are opportunities to retain subscribers even through the unsubscribing process and that you should leverage these opportunities. I see the argument, especially when it's your job to boost email communication metrics. But just as telemarketers' attempts to keep customers at all costs have become universally accepted as irritating, I predict email communication will go the same way. When you tell a customer service representative on the phone that you don't want to continue a certain service, you mean it. When you tell a company's email marketing team you don't want to receive emails, you mean it.

MailChimp's Voice & Tone--an internal but publicly accessible style guide--does an excellent job outlining exactly how different customer service scenarios should be handled, language-wise. The Compliance Alert section gives this advice: be straightforward, be calm, be serious and don't joke around with frustrated people. Companies and publications should consider similar guidelines for their unsubscribe messaging.

In short, let's cut the BS. There are plenty of places to get creative and saucy with writing. Conversing with uninterested people is not one of them.