Email Expert Talk 8: Kornelia Dorsch, Team Lead Deliverability at Episerver
In our series 'Email Expert Talk' we discuss all things email with distinguished experts who know about the struggles and strategies of working with high volume emails. We talk about how they cope with daily challenges, what their opinions are on the latest industry developments and how they manage to stay on top of the ever-changing email landscape.
For the eighth edition of Email Expert Talk, we reached out to Kornelia Dorsch, Team Lead Deliverability at Episerver. Kornelia gained six years of deliverability knowledge and experience during her time working at two large Email Service Providers.
In her current role, Kornelia ensures that the sending infrastructure of Episerver runs smoothly and that their clients get their emails delivered in the inbox of their recipients. Continue reading to see how she deals with difficult situations and what advice she would give to deliverability "newbies".
What does a typical workday look like for you?
Kornelia: "A typical workday for my team involves monitoring the infrastructure for bounces and blacklistings, managing complaints about abuse, and handling support requests from our customers. We react quickly by identifying root causes and educating our customers in industry best practices.”
We react quickly by identifying root causes and educating our customers on industry best practices
"Additionally, there are projects where we evaluate new technical standards, make improvements to our own infrastructure, create training materials and guidelines, and hold consulting workshops for our customers."
"Other departments at Episerver, such as Customer Success and Support, Product Management, and Operations – as well as external stakeholders like the Certified Senders Alliance (CSA) and postmaster teams of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – use us as subject matter experts. We sometimes participate in industry events such as the CSA Summit, or the regular Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (M3AAWG) conferences."
What are the most common deliverability challenges/issues you assist your clients with?
Kornelia: "Sometimes, our client’s emails are blocked by an ISP and they reach out to us to investigate and analyse the issue. We come up with strategies to overcome the obstacles in a sustainable way for our clients. We also develop strategies to deal with delivering to the spam folder and low open rates, which is mostly due to problems with the email strategy."
"In other cases, issues can have a root cause at the receiver end. We attempt to resolve these issues through communication with the affected stakeholder, such as the postmaster team of an ISP. These may also lead us to review our message transfer agent (MTA) configuration and adapt it, if necessary."
We deal with spam trap reports by investigating the sender based on CSA guidelines and industry best practices
"We field complaints about spam from recipients, the CSA, and ISPs. We deal with reports of spam trap hits and blacklistings by investigating the sender based on CSA guidelines and industry best practices to avoid repeat violations. We also sometimes work on list bombing and phishing attack cases."
How do you tend to approach communication with clients in difficult situations?
We formulate statements and requirements, backed and proven with data from our logs and third-party services and tools, to achieve the biggest impacts and positive outcomes.
Kornelia: "Our focus is to secure our infrastructure, which is the basis of our business, but we are also very keen on customer-centricity in what we do. We formulate statements and requirements, backed and proven with data from our logs and third-party services and tools, to achieve the biggest impacts and positive outcomes. These include tables, graphs, and visualization of a sender’s Key Performance Indicators (KPI) from the customer’s own accounts. We make business strategies and tactics based on numbers, and the same applies to a company’s email strategy. Visualizing the issues helps customers take necessary action."
"Senders with deliverability or compliance issues can get frustrated because they may lack knowledge in this area. Changes to their email strategy can have potentially big impacts. We find it best to get everyone on a call to listen to the concerns, but also be open about the sender’s issues and the ESP’s infrastructure. After clarifying the situation, we set proper expectations and provide an improvement plan for the customer that includes clear instructions and a follow-up agreement."
Where do you draw the line between a deliverability issue and an abuse/compliance issue? How do you distinguish them in practice?
Deliverability issues are connected to the pure email delivery
Kornelia: "Personally, I would categorize them as follows: Deliverability issues are connected to the pure email delivery, meaning bounces or entire ISP blockings, issues through blacklistings, spam folder delivery, as well as technical issues like dropped connections or infrastructure performance issues. Furthermore, low open rates can also be an indicator for deliverability issues, but also for strategy issues."
The abuse/compliance side of our job is mostly concerned with spam complaints and spam trap hits
"The abuse/compliance side of our job is mostly concerned with spam complaints and spam trap hits, but also abuse where the actual sender is not the cause but the victim, such as list bombing incidents or phishing attacks."
"Some ESPs have separate departments for deliverability, compliance, and abuse management, but our small team at Episerver handles all these issues."
"Differentiation is relevant only for internal processes because, in the end, they are often closely connected issues. For example, a compliance issue might not immediately lead to a deliverability issue, but as ISPs become stricter and spam filters become more sophisticated, they can easily lead to one. We can avoid deliverability issues, high support effort, and sender frustration by resolving the root cause issue at the moment the compliance issue is noticed."
Looking forward, where do you see email deliverability in 2025? What new challenges will we be facing and what current issues may be tackled by then?
Crises like COVID-19 or political situations will produce more spammers
Kornelia: "Most of the world’s population will have an email account, so surely email will still be around by 2025. Delivery will keep working for those who comply and really put themselves into their recipient’s shoes. On the other hand, there will be more issues for those who don’t. Crises like COVID-19 or political situations will produce more spammers, but ISPs will also keep working on more sophisticated mechanisms for recognising and blocking unwanted email. I am also expecting more enforcement of legislation such as GDPR which will become clearer through more published rulings, and more countries might follow a similar approach."
The focus has already been strongly set on user feedback
"Email marketing-wise, personalization and relevant content will be more necessary than ever. Already today, companies have started to sell experiences in addition to products, which is great. Senders will (have to) strive more for a good brand reputation, including improved visible authentication of their emails (like it is possible with BIMI for example). The focus has already been strongly set on user feedback. Interactive email content will become more popular, leading to fewer barriers in the customer experience journey and enabling more options to actually ask recipients for their feedback about the email they are receiving. And of course, the mystical‚ “Machine Learning” and “Artificial Intelligence” will support senders even more in achieving that."
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in email deliverability?
Be open-minded and stay up-to-date on current developments because things change fast
Kornelia: "Email deliverability involves many different and interesting aspects where one can build and apply technical, legal, and market-driven strategy-related knowledge. It’s a great combination for our digital industry."
"My advice to new members: Be open-minded and stay up-to-date on current developments because things change fast and there is always something new to learn. Stay calm and don’t get frustrated, even when it is hard to balance the needs of the company with the needs of your customer and the industry. Be hands-on and pragmatic in resolving problems and base your claims on data. Be customer-centric, but know what the limits are. You will develop a feeling for this over time. Very importantly: connect with the industry, build relationships, attend community events, and have some fun!"