They’re often the least conspicuous emails we receive, but they’re among the most profitable tools smart marketers have in their arsenal. The basic transactional email – order confirmations, shipping notifications, service updates, etc. – can drive clickthrough rates more than three times that of commercial email, according to industry analysts.

And yet, in most organizations, transactional emails are an afterthought.

Recently, I presented a Webinar with WhatCounts titled Multiply Your Revenue Returns with Transactional Email, in which I walked through several best practices and samples of good and bad transactional emails, including some best practices that can be leveraged immediately to improve response and revenue performance. (The presentation slides are also available here).

In addition to the best practices, there are several common mistakes many companies make with their transactional email – many simply because there’s too little focus on leveraging them as proactive, intentional customer communication tools. Here are eight common mistakes we’ll get into in the Webinar:

Marketing doesn’t own the email. According to industry research, 53 percent of transactional emails are controlled outside of marketing. They’re quickly written by customer operations, IT or another department with little thought to the message, intent and desired next action. Rectifying this ownership conflict alone (and folding transactional email into the purview of the core email marketing team) will put most organizations on the right path.

Undercommunication. There’s a difference between commercial email (often about something we didn’t ask for) and a transactional email about something we care about – our order, our account, the service levels we receive. As consumers, we want this information, and smart companies provide a lot of it. Yes, you can overcommunicate via email with your customers. But when it comes to the core of your relationship, and purchase behavior that the customer initiates, most companies aren’t communicating enough.

Focusing only on the transaction. Your customer bought something, and you send them a receipt. That’s appropriate, but it’s also too linear. What did they need it for? What else might they need? If they bought an appliance, would they like it delivered? If they bought a new HDTV, would they like to purchase installation and set-up services? Transactional emails are a great place to do contextual upselling at the point of purchase.

Not paying attention to timing. I’m so surprised when I receive an email confirmation for something I ordered long ago. And in Internet time, long ago means 20-30 minutes or more. If I just placed the order online, I’m still at my computer. I’m still thinking about that order. I might still be thinking about the things I left in the shopping cart for later. At this moment, I’m most likely to 1) read your email, and 2) take action on something related to that purchase that I also need.

Making it a one-way street. Some companies and service providers apparently don’t want to hear from you. They want your order, sure, but the “do not reply” in the email address makes it clear they want to talk at you, not with you. Every interaction with your customer is an opportunity to build brand preference, future purchase behavior, loyalty and pass-along value. Make that interaction a one-way communication channel and you’re missing the point, let alone the opportunity.

No personality. You’ve worked hard to create a consistent brand. Most of your marketing – your Web site, your advertising, your content strategy, your social media channels – all play a key, integrated role in reinforcing that brand. And then you get that transactional email – text-based, cold, from a corporate email address (that tells you not to reply, no less). Every touch point with your customer is a chance to reinforce their choice, confirm their decision to go with you, strengthen the bond you have with that customer today and tomorrow.

Hard to read. It’s so incredibly clear when transactional emails are written by someone who isn’t thinking about the customer experience. Isn’t thinking about what the customer wants to see, and what you want them to do next. If you send me a shipping notification, make sure the details I care most about (when my product will arrive, for example) is the most prominent thing on the page. Cross-selling is fine, but if you bury the primary message, your response-driven transactional email might have the opposite impact you’re looking for.

Not enough resources. Let’s say your transactional emails are in fact owned by the marketing department. I bet they get far less attention than your commercial emails. Few companies think about how to optimize transactional emails – A/B testing, trying different offers, segmenting messages by different customer segments. If transactional emails are proven to drive significantly higher response rates than our other email campaigns, shouldn’t the resources we put behind them be somewhat commensurate with that?