Can Emails Improve Your Customer Service and Relationships?
by Bob Selden
How do most of your customers enter your business? Through the front door? By phone? Via the web? By email? Chances are some of your business comes to you by email. Or If it doesn't initially, it's a fair bet that you will have email contact with many of your customers during their relationship with you.
Is your email service as good as your face-to-face or phone service? For example, do you have some standard policies and protocols that all employees must follow? And are you taking the marketing opportunities provided by email contact?
1. Make sure your email message is as good as your face-to-face message.
My wife and I recently visited a provedore store in Lyon, France where we were met at the front door by a sales person who handed us a cane basket. He asked whether we would like to look by ourselves or could he assist. We took his assistance and he proceeded to show and explain some of the items we were interested in. Once we had selected our items, he escorted us to the cash register. As we went to exit the front door, he was there to show us out, thank us for our business and wish us well. Our visit lasted no more than 15 minutes. Yet it was one of the nicest retail shopping experiences I have ever had.
Buying should be an experience, not merely a purchase.
Every email exchange with a customer or potential customer should be as good as your face to face service. Now that's a big challenge!
2. Make sure your email message is clear and based on reason and logic, not emotion.
Emails lack the non-verbal cues we use in our face to face discussions (it's been suggested that non verbal cues make up 60 percent of the understanding of the communication). As a result, often the intended message is miss-perceived. Emails are also like no other form of written word. They are not books, newspapers or such where a great deal of thought has gone into the written word (and which is often accompanied by a picture or image). Nor are they read that way, but keep in mind, that they can be re-read by the receiver many times over!
To illustrate how the written word can be misinterpreted, read the following statement:
"I did not say she stole the money"
Now read it aloud (doesn't matter if anyone else is around, they won't know what you're doing).
The key question! What is the meaning of this statement? What did you interpret from this written statement?
Did you think that: * "I" did not say she stole the money..., or that
* I did "NOT" say she stole the money ..., or that
* I did not "SAY" she stole the money . . . , or that
* I did not say that "SHE" stole the money . . . , or that
* I did not say that she "STOLE" the money . . . , or that
* I did not say she stole the "MONEY".
Starting to get the picture? You see, whenever we put words on paper (or in this case in emails) they can be interpreted in many different ways -- and often are! In fact the legal profession (with apologies to anyone of a legal nature reading this) have built an entire industry on the interpretation of the written word. Signed any contracts lately? Notice that they almost never have punctuations and even when they do, they can still be interpreted by two independent people, quite differently.
3. Use the phone and face-to-face contact to supplement emails.
Many of you can probably remember the time before emails and it wasn't that long ago. A very far sighted colleague could see both the advantages and potential pitfalls of emails when they were introduced. At the time, he instituted his own email rule which he told everyone about - "I will only respond to your emails every Friday".
Could that rule still be valid today? Well, for him, it is. He is an extremely popular and successful consultant, so much so, that he has so much work he has to regularly pass on work to colleagues. So, how do people contact him? Guess what, they phone. And he's not overloaded with phone calls either. You might ask, "What's happening here?" What he's done is to train us, his colleagues, customers and others, to really think about "Why?" we want to contact him and "What?" our message will entail.
4. Save valuable time -- have an email free day!
Now, it maybe a bit late for you and I to start a similar rule with our key people (unless you're just starting out in business of course). However, there is a small but growing number of organisations around the world who have realised the loss of productivity caused by the over emphasis on emails. For example, to help overcome the problem, Scott A. Dockter, CEO of PBD Worldwide Fulfilment Services, has instituted a "No email Fridays" policy. He is reported to have told his employees to use the phone on Fridays for all their communication (internal and external) and to reduce email use the rest of the time. Not only has this reduced the reliance on emails and improved interpersonal communication, but in less than four months it also resulted in quicker problem solving, better teamwork and happier customers.
If you are in a small business, they have one great advantage over large businesses -- speed of execution. Because you are small, you can move quicker. Why not take advantage of this and get on the phone to some of your key clients (and suppliers) or better still, go and see then occasionally?
5. Use emails to support the buying decision, not to sell.
We've known for a long time that people buy based on their emotions, not logic. Once the decision to buy has been made, logic is used to support that decision. Just think for a moment about the last time you bought something that you thought your partner might not fully approve of -- it's probably fair to say that you looked for some very strong reasons to support your decision.
This is where emails shine. You can provide the reason and logic that allow people to support their buying decision, but it is unlikely that an email will influence them to buy. For that you need face-to-face or at a minimum, phone contact.
Now if your business is purely web based, that also presents a challenge. But there is some good news. Most often when people decide to buy via the web, they have seen the product or spoken with friends about the service, so they have made the emotional decision to buy -- it's up to your web design to support that decision and make sure they buy from you and not someone else.
6. Make the most of the marketing opportunities offered by an email.
Many of us have probably used an email marketing campaign, or been targeted by one. They are useful, but not the subject of this point. What's important here is the marketing content and flavour of your email. For instance, do all your emails:
• Use the recipient's name at least once after the introduction? People love to hear their own name -- use it as you would in a normal conversation. Oh, and whilst we are talking about the introduction, make it suit the recipient. For example, if you would normally say "Hello" when meeting this person face-to-face, why start with "Dear . . . "? Also keep in mind cultural norms if you are emailing someone in another country or from a different ethnic background.
• Make your words sound like a normal conversation, not like a formal letter. This will encourage the recipient to relate to what you are saying.
• Use practical examples to explain your message, for example a short case study or the experience another customer has had with this product, service or issue.
• Sign off personally and for this person only. Picture the person you are emailing -- how would you sign off in a normal conversation? Please avoid the standard words such as a printed or water-market "With kind regards" contained in many footers -- they are very impersonal and can spoil the good message you have strived so hard to construct and communicate.
• Ensure you have a "hook" in the form of a link to your website, product or service in the standard address footer. Do you have a "click through" counter to test the effectiveness of your various footer messages?
• Above all, ensure that the email only contains reason and logic, not emotion. If it is an emotional message (such as responding to a customer complaint) phone the person or go and see them. You'll be amazed and what this point of difference can do for your business (this also means none of those emoticons -- they really do turn a lot of people off.)
• Make sure your phone number is displayed prominently with a message such as "Please call if you would like to chat" -- you may be surprised how often people start ringing you if they know how!
Used selectively and well, emails can be a fabulous support to your other marketing initiatives. Keep in mind their purpose is to communicate reason and logic. If you really want to influence someone's behaviour, speak to them face to face.
Bob Selden may be contacted at http://www.nationallearning.com.au/
Bob Selden is the author of the newly published "What To Do When You Become The Boss" - a self help book for new managers. He also coaches at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and the Australian Graduate School of Management, Sydney. You can contact Bob via http://www.whenyoubecometheboss.com/