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Email makes communicating easy. But sometimes that ease comes with a price. When it’s so simple and quick and automatic to fire off an email, it can be hard to remember that there is a human on the receiving end.

photo by flickr user NatalieMaynor

Every now and then, you’re going to have a customer who doesn’t like your product or  service, or who just had a bad day and uses you as a convenient venting outlet. In the old days, those customers might have gotten ranty in your store lobby or called you on the phone and yelled a little. But these days, because of the impersonal nature of email (no name, no face or voice cues to respond to), what should be a simple and valid customer complaint can get ugly and result in nothing but hard feelings on both ends.

The best way to avoid being flamed by the occasional angry emailer is to treat your email customer service like you would any in-person service. Be prompt. Be polite. Exceed expectations.

Basically, you want it to be clear that your company is made up of people dealing with people, not faceless agents responding to emails. Without sacrificing efficiency, you can create relationships with your customers via email that build over time. If there’s ever a reason for somebody to voice dissatisfaction with you or your company, a solid relationship will go a long way toward guaranteeing civility.

There are some simple ways to help achieve these results.

  • Be prompt. I can’t say it enough. Replying quickly to emails is a sure-fire way to create satisfied customers. You’ll be amazed at how many people take the time to write back with thanks because you provided fast service.
  • Say Hello and use the customer’s name. If the customer doesn’t sign their email, check your contacts or your CRM for their name. They’ll be impressed that you made the effort to know who they are. Thank the customer for taking the time to contact you.
  • Use carefully written templates to answer the most frequent questions. Not only will they save time, but they’ll also demonstrate to your team the general tone you expect all emails to carry.
  • Be thorough. Sometimes it takes a few readings to determine what somebody means in an email. Try to avoid responding with requests for more information. The more back and forth to get an issue resolved, the more frustrated everyone is.
  • Use a personal signature. Never send an email from The Customer Service Team or The Staff of My Company.  Include not only email addresses but phone numbers in the signature. But don’t go crazy with the contact information — when the signature gets too long, it just looks like clutter.

Finally, when all the pieces above are in place, there’s one final thing you should do whenever possible, to ensure that your customers will look forward to contacting you.

  • Exceed expectations. It’s really not that hard. Find ways to add value or information every time you reply to a customer email.  Tell them about complementary products or services you offer. Send them links to more information about the topic they emailed you about. Go the extra mile.

This might all sound like the basics of customer service. It is, but it’s also much more. It’s about providing a person-to-person experience.  Typing and texting and tweeting have replaced much of our face-to-face communication, so we would be well advised to remember that there are people on the other end of all of our devices. How you treat your customers has a lot to do with how they treat you in return.

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