“This wild, wonderful web! All of the opportunities at our fingertips! Customers galore!” “They'll be beating down the server and I'll have so many orders I won't know what to do with myself!” As a business owner, have you ever had those thoughts? Think again. :) While it may be easy street for a select few, for most, it's not. So how can you make sure your business is successful? Try a little E-Mail Courtesy. Seriously! Many of the businesses who have established themselves on the Internet haven't the faintest idea of how to address one of the most important issues online: Customer Service. “Why should customer service matter? My product's right there, along with my order form.” It does matter. Shoppers on the net are still wary. They may e-mail you first to see if they receive a response and what the response is like. They may ask questions to see if you express enough knowledge about your own products/services and to gather your enthusiasm about what you're selling. Businesses come and go on the web, and only those who show true interest and enthusiasm about what they're selling will survive. If the shopper is another business, they might request to exchange links -- and see how they are treated in their request. Or they may request a free sample. And all of this will most likely be done through e-mail. So how can you and your online business show courtesy through e-mail? Here are 10 tips to get you started:
1. Answer your e-mail and answer it promptly. The Internet is FAST. It gives people information in a much shorter amount of time than having to go through a more traditional route of finding what they want. Customers expect FAST replies. An appropriate response time in my opinion should be 48 hours. No longer. If you wait a month to answer a request from a customer - forget it. They are GONE.
2. In addition to regular inquiries, answer your customer *complaints* immediately. Within 24 hours. Nothing irritates a consumer more than to order from you, receive a product with a problem, then have to wait over a week for your reply as to how they should handle the situation. If you wait longer than one day to respond to a customer with a complaint, you might as well kiss future sales to that person goodbye. Even if you don't know what the customer and/or you can do to rectify the problem, at least make contact with the customer. Assure them you are working on it, and then DO IT. There aren't too many *easy* sales on the net - you have to work for them, and this is one way you can accomplish your objective.
3. Address letters to your customer or potential customer in a business-like manner. Dear “Mr./Mrs. So & So” will suffice. When addressing other businesses on the net and you don't know the name of a contact person, try something like “ATTN: Director of Marketing”.
4. If you offer something FREE for the client, whether it be information or a sample product, be sure to send it. If it is to be sent via e-mail, send it the SAME DAY. If you are not able to send information daily as it is requested, use an autoresponder. Don't wait two weeks until the potential customer forgets they've ever heard of you. If you are sending a free sample, send it the SAME WEEK. Customers would expect a snail-mail package or product to arrive slower than e-mail, but no longer than a week.
5. When sending an unsolicited marketing pitch to a potential customer via e-mail, keep it short. I learned this the hard way. :)) Now, my pitch goes something like this -- “If you'd like to consider a unique, personal, and colorful advertisement for your company -- and at a reasonable price compared to traditional online advertisers -- please e-mail me or visit my web site for more information.” That way if the prospect is interested, the pitch isn't forced on them before they're ready. They can look at their leisure. Which is what you want them to do, so they'll have the proper time to consider your offer. And of course, it doesn't hurt to comment positively on their web site and give your impressions. :) It also will help if you buy one of the company's products while you are visiting.
6. If someone mails you a pitch and you're not interested in the product or service, don't blast them will a slew of obscenities. If you're not interested, don't answer. Or maybe consider replying in this fashion: “Dear Mr. So & So, Thank you for making me aware of your fine service. I am not currently in a position to employ such services, but will definitely keep you in mind if and when I decide to do so. And since you visited my site, I'd like to offer you a free copy of___________ (or free sample of our most popular herb) (or 10% discount on our gold watches, good for this week only).” What does this do? It turns the selling party into a potential buying party. For one, they will appreciate the fact you took time for a personal reply. And they might just buy your discounted product!
7. If someone gives you an award, recognition, or other form of positive communication, THANK THEM. And do so promptly. That person giving that award or special mention of your company name didn't *have* to take the time to do it. You can assure great future relations if you immediately zip them off an e-mail expressing your thanks. After all, how long does it take? Three seconds to type “thank you” and hit “send”.
8. Follow through. If you are corresponding with a customer via e-mail on a situation, be sure to keep the contact going until the situation is resolved. The customer will appreciate your attentiveness to both them and whatever the situation might be.
9. Never, ever, ever address the customer by the *wrong name*. Always look at their letter, observe the spelling of their name, and get it right. A person's name is an individual trait, specific to them. When addressed by the wrong name, or misspelled name, people tend to feel they don't mean much to you, or you are showing lack of attention to detail -- not a good trait for an online vendor to display.
10. Always remember...the way in which you deal with people online - either within e-mail, on mailing lists or newsgroups -- will reflect back to you. If you make negative comments about another online vendor, the customer could lose respect for you as a business person. After all, who's to say the next negative remark won't be made about *that customer*?
You've heard “The customer is always right” and “The customer always comes first”. Both of those statements should be adhered to online, just as they would be if you were face to face with them in your off-line place of business. Because for every business online, new ones are popping up daily to provide competition. And who will be the winners? Those who are courteous and respectful of everyone online.
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