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Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O'Flahavan[February 18, 2005]

Customer Service E-Mail in a "Do Not Call" World

By Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan, E-WRITE

The national "Do Not Call" list, spam filters and anti spam sentiment are changing the e-mail marketing climate. If prospective customers are saying loud and clear that they don’t want you to call and don’t want you to send them e-mail, how can you market your products and services? What's left? Customer service e-mail.

Now's a good time to take a second look at customer service e-mail, to recognize that it offers many marketing opportunities. Yes, millions of people have cut off marketers' access by saying, "Don't call me." But at the same time, a growing number of customers are e-mailing companies for support, help, or information. In doing so, these customers are giving permission - sometimes begging companies - to contact them. When a customer e-mails you, he's initiated a dialogue. Okay, maybe he's e-mailed you to complain. But any communication from a customer gives you an opportunity to strengthen your business relationship. Too many companies still act as if answering e-mail from customers is a nuisance rather than a marketing opportunity. But customer service e-mail may be the last wide-open channel companies have for communicating with customers.

How is responding to customer service e-mail a marketing opportunity? We are not suggesting that you respond to your customer's e-mail complaint about poor dial-up service by upselling your new DSL option. The last thing an unhappy customer wants is a pitch for another product. But an e-mail from a customer, even a complaint, represents a golden opportunity to create a customer for life. So, instead of calling and e-mailing people who don't want to hear from you, spend your resources satisfying and nurturing your relationship with customers who, by sending you e-mail, are saying "Please e-mail me." Here are five tips for transforming routine customer service e-mail into e-mail that markets a relationship ... with you.

1. Solve Customers' Problems Quickly and Completely

They'll be grateful! And grateful customers will tell their friends about your company’s great products and services. "Do you believe it? They sent me the part I needed for my laptop by 10 a.m. the next day!" Great customer service e-mail can be the foundation for the best kind of viral marketing.

2. Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Customer

After delivering service by e-mail, send a follow-up message to see if the customer is satisfied with the service he received, or the product or information he asked for. Ask "Was your problem satisfactorily resolved?" Or "Did you get the information you requested?"

3. Offer Relevant Information

You could close your e-mail with something like this: "Were glad to have solved the problem with your laptop battery. And we thought you’d like to know that we have a way to protect you from unanticipated and expensive repairs. Check out our service agreement..."

4. Ask Permission to Contact the Customer Again

Customer service e-mail gives you the opportunity to ask customers to opt in to other kinds of e-mail communication. For example, ask "Would you like to subscribe to our free newsletter for laptop owners? It features trouble-shooting tips you can use right away."

5. Add Offers to Customer Service E-Mail

Reward customers who have communicated with you by e-mail. Include relevant special offers in your customer service e-mail response: a discount on the next purchase, a two-month product trial, a valuable research report for free. Be sure your offers are targeted to what you know about your customers buying history and interests. Your customer will keep reading - and buying - when your customer service messages contain valuable offers.

With do not call lists and spam filters, it is increasingly difficult to get your marketing messages to your clients. So why not take advantage of e-mail that customers ask for and open? Carefully crafted customer service e-mail creates satisfied customers eager to buy your products and services.

(c) E-WRITE, 2005.

Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O'Flahavan are partners in E-WRITE, a training company specializing in e-mail and online writing. They are the authors of Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents.

Marilynne and Leslie have worked with organizations of every size and type to improve their e-mail communication and create user-focused web content. They have a special interest in helping to improve the writing of front-line customer service agents.

Their clients include Intel, Target, The College Board, Atlantic Lottery, Key Bank, Coca-Cola, American Airlines, Consumer Electronics Association, the U.S. Air Force, Pan American Health Organization, and the National Wildlife Federation.


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