True Customer Dialogue

by , , Nov 22, 2005, 5:00 PM
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Every e-mail program I've worked on was founded on a desire to better understand the customer and create an interactive dialogue. But virtually all have missed an opportunity to do just that by reading and responding to e-mail replies.

We disdain customers who reply to a mass e-mail. "They should know better," we think. "This is obviously not sent by a real human being, so they shouldn't expect a response. We have contact information on our Web site."

The main concern at budget time is expense without a hard ROI. As any call center manager will tell you, the corporate directive is to cut costs, not capitalize on opportunities to nurture or rescue customer relationships. But a successful salesman tells me that if you fix a problem for an unhappy customer, he or she is loyal for life.

How are you handling your e-mail replies? Do customers get a canned "no one is home" response or, worse, no response at all? Does a computer answer them or a real human being?

Consider the worst-case scenario: a customer sends a complaint e-mail, receives no reply or an inappropriate reply, and the next day gets a marketing e-mail. Nothing says "just shut up and buy" more effectively. Remember that at that moment, your e-mail IS your company, from the customer's perspective.

Then consider the best case scenario: customers are so surprised by a helpful response from a real person that they tell people about it. As great service becomes rarer, it is more likely to become a topic of conversation. With the diffusion of blogs, the audience for these conversations, both positive and negative, can be vast. Check with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (www.womma.org) for some examples.

Yes, it's expensive to respond to the few customers who provide feedback by replying to e-mail. But the payoff--an interactive dialogue with and better understanding of your customers--makes it worthwhile, in terms of great word-of-mouth marketing and fulfillment of e-mail's promise to senior management.

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