'Would You Care For The Watermelon Salad?': Serving Your Subscribers Right

by , Apr 23, 2008, 2:00 PM
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Yesterday I returned from a week of travel, during which I experienced customer service ranging from stellar to abysmal. One of the high points of my trip was flying Virgin America from Seattle to San Francisco. As the flight attendant decorously placed a watermelon salad appetizer onto the tray before me, I plugged my laptop into a personal electrical outlet and got to thinking about what defines good customer service.

Bad customer service is easy to identify; it's lukewarm soup or an unreturned phone call. Good customer service can be elusive -- it's more difficult to describe -- yet we always know it when we experience it. In their study of Nordstrom's famed customer service, "The Nordstrom Way," Robert Spector and Patrick D. McCarthy quote Erik Nordstrom on the topic: "You need to be humble to do service. The moment you think you're really good at it is when you're not really good at it... If you are really looking to the customer, if you're really sensitive to the customer, and sensitive to the people on the frontline, you are aware of your shortcomings. That keeps us focused on the things that are necessary in order to give customer service."

Keeping Nordstrom's words of wisdom in mind, let's put ourselves in our subscribers' shoes. (And if we're shopping at Nordie's, they're probably nice ones.) Let's explore how we can use transactional, triggered and personal messaging to provide exceptional customer service via email.

(1) Transactional Messages are generated by your customers' and prospects' actions - from an online purchase to an account password change. Use email to deliver informative details - and peace of mind. A few examples:

  • Order Confirmations should be sent immediately; don't leave your customers worrying about whether or not their order is complete.
  • Shipping Confirmations should include tracking URLs that allow customers to obsessively follow package delivery status.
  • Account Updates -- particularly those related to sensitive areas like billing and passwords -- should be confirmed with an email.
  • Reservation Reminders and Status Updates are mission-critical for airlines, hotels and other service industries. Serve with extra style when you include not only reservation information, but also extras like weather forecasts and tonight's specials.

    (2) Triggered Messages are different from their Transactional cousins. While they are inspired by your subscribers' actions, they are generally not born of conscious behaviors such as a password update, but more subtle ones such as Web site browsing activity and purchase history.

  • Browse Behavior Messages are triggered based on just that - your subscribers' Website browse behavior. For instance, if a subscriber browses custom-upholstered couches without making a purchase, that subscriber receives a series of emails on the topic of (surprise!) custom-upholstered seating. These messages can be either transparent (We noticed you showed an interest in custom upholstery - how can we help?) or coincidental (Check out our new upholstery options for Spring '08.) Either way, avoid the Big Brother role by using browse behavior to provide your recipients with relevant and time-saving information.
  • Notifications are familiar to Facebook and LinkedIn users; our friends and colleagues trigger these messages. Requests, comments, pokes, and music of the '80s quiz scores all fall into this category. Serve your users right by giving them control over (a) the frequency and types of messages they want to receive and (b) the information they want shared with others. Facebook has embarrassed several of my colleagues by broadcasting their takeout orders to the community. We all have the right to order pizza at midnight discreetly!

    (3) Most regular Email Insider readers are familiar with Transactional and Triggered messaging, but Personal Messages are rare and ripe for exploration.

    When was the last time you received an email from a customer service representative personally thanking you for making a purchase or booking a reservation? Have you ever been notified by a retail associate via email that the shirt you were eyeing last weekend just became available in your size, or that a pair of cufflinks that suit your taste have been set aside under your name?

    Empowering frontline associates to send customers and prospects personal email messages is an enormous untapped opportunity. We talk about the email marketing channel's unique ability to stimulate dialogue, develop relationships and build loyalty; let's explore that, one subscriber at a time.

    So, would you care for the watermelon salad? When in doubt on whether you are delivering customer service via email, ask yourself this simple question: "Am I more focused on eliciting a conversion, or providing a benefit?" As Erik Nordstrom suggests, let's humble ourselves and honor our subscribers with exceptional service. They will reward us in turn with loyalty and repeat business.

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