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This is the second installment in the series,  “Email: A View From Above”. Stay tuned over the next two days while we take an unconventional look at what email has to offer. This communication channel is not entirely based on spam or marketing blasts…

Whether you work for a huge corporation or operate your own small business, you know that email has become a primary source of contact with your customers and clients. They want to send you messages at their convenience, and they expect fast, accurate information from you in return.

Flickr photo by Mubarock_zid

Flickr photo by Mubarock_zidreturn.

How you provide that service can make or break your customer relationships.

For many of you, the accepted method of email support is to put a handful of email addresses on your website and respond to incoming mail in a triage mode. That might work to keep your customers satisfied — for a while. But if you approach email for what it is — a primary customer service tool — and handle it accordingly, you’ll create customers who look forward to doing business with you.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but one of the first tasks required for providing superior customer service via email is to actually reply. Auto-responders are fine in certain situations, but unless they’re absolutely necessary, avoid them. Why send two emails — one saying, “We’ve received your email” when you could just send one, resolving the issue quickly and efficiently? You know the logjam that happens in your inbox? Your customers’ inbox looks just like that, too. Try not to make it worse.

Get up to speed, quickly

Once you abandon the auto reply, you’ll have to make sure you reply promptly. Nothing impresses a customer more than when they send an email and receive a reply in less time than they expect. If you can reply in minutes, or within an hour, you’ll be amazed at the feedback your customers will give you. Nothing tells your customers that you care about their needs as much as responding to those needs quickly.

There are some tricks to providing speedy email customer service. One is to create templates for your frequently asked questions. If you have questions that get asked repeatedly, why write the same answer time and time again? A template library can really help you save time. Of course, you’ll edit those templates to suit each situation. When done well, your customers won’t even know that your message wasn’t crafted just for them.

If you’re not accurate, you’re not relevant

Now, speed is no replacement for accuracy. If you have to give up the immediate response to ensure the correct one, it’s a swap worth making. Sometimes you need to do some legwork and gather information before you can respond to a customer’s request or question. Say an email comes to an info@ address that really should be handled by somebody in marketing, for instance. Having an easy way to get the right answers — effortlessly collaborating between departments — will help you provide the best possible service to the customer, who doesn’t care who answers their question or how. They will just appreciate getting a response back with the information they needed.

Communication continuity = branding

The final piece of the customer service puzzle is continuity. If you respond to a customer’s request, and they come back with another question, it’s in everybody’s best interest, when possible, for YOU to be the one to answer again. The customer feels like they are communicating with a person, not just another faceless representative of the company. You know the prior history so there’s less wasted time getting up to speed on the customer’s story. When email addresses are shared amongst a team, this can be difficult, but it can really make a difference between mediocre customer service and excellent customer service.

Everyone wants to feel like they’re important, that they’re being assisted by the person best suited to the task, and that that person is going to be there for them until all their needs are taken care of. When these conditions are met, you build customers for life.

Be sure and check back tomorrow for the third post in this series: “Can’t Find Your Organization’s Pulse? Check Email”

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