This is going to sound somewhat contradictory to my advice to “ignore your email” in my article 4 Tips For Becoming A More Productive Entrepreneur – but hear me out, this is a very important point and so many businesses get it wrong.
If you think about it, it’s BECAUSE so many businesses get this wrong that when you even make a tiny attempt to get it right, you really stand out from the crowd.
What am I talking about? I’m referring to responding to emails from customers and prospects as if they were your closest friend. The fine art of providing personal contact over email.
During last week when Blog Mastermind closed doors I had many emails come in from people asking questions about whether they should join, or after joining having problems or questions about certain things in the program or about their blog.
Normally with email I follow my rule and if I have more important things to do I will let the email sit until I can batch process them all at once (as per my other article). However, during last week – and most of the time in general – my focus is my clients in Blog Mastermind. They pay money to join my program and thus I feel a sense of responsibility to be there if I can.
Life doesn’t always let you respond immediately, but usually during a launch period you are in front of your computer working to keep things running smoothly, so when an email comes in you can shoot off a reply quickly. Nothing impresses people more than receiving a response a few minutes after sending a question, however you don’t have to even be that speedy.
In today’s attention starved Internet world, people have fairly low expectations that they will get a personal reply, especially from the “owner” or the “guru” behind the business. I always have a laugh when an email comes through to me beginning with “I expect this won’t get through to you Yaro, but I just wanted to say…”. Imagine the surprise when it not only gets through to me, but they also get a response!
Sometimes a day or three can pass before I reply, but even then most people are impressed that a personal reply was forthcoming. This demonstrates that most people are used to being ignored (and amazingly, how much trouble they have getting some attention from someone they are paying money to), but it also presents an amazing opportunity for a business owner with the time to respond personally.
We all know first impressions count, and if there is one area where this is really is important, it is customer service. When a person has a problem or question about your service or product, especially if they are a paying customer, and they send off an email to you, their current opinion of you and your business is framed on external elements, such as what your website says, or what other people have said about you.
In other words, they really have no clue, and what you do from the minute they send off a message to you, will define what they think of you from that point forward.
If you want to make a good first impression, don’t do what every other organization or “busy” person does. If they submit a helpdesk ticket, make sure the ticket is responded to as soon as possible. If an email message comes through, reply personally as if you were talking to a friend. This is such a powerful technique and it’s so easy to do, especially if you are a small business where you can handle the volume.
In a world full of stale business relationships, where corporate speak is the language used to interact with clients, customer service reps that never quite understand what you are asking and have a tendency to rely on cut-n-paste knowledge base responses to answer everything, even if the question doesn’t have a cut-n-paste response, the business that treats each interaction as unique with a real human response, wins.
During last week there were at least ten occasions where because I responded personally – and sometimes it was a few days later before I had time to do so (there’s a lot going on when you take in 150+ new customers) – that I financially benefited because of this.
Simply because the person decided to come work with me as a result of seeing that I was contactable, that I did respond in person and that their first experience with me backed up the initial impression they may have about my service – that I was willing to spend time helping them.
Now I’m no saint. I always have too much email and a lot of things happening at once, but I know that a few minutes spent responding to an email from a customer or potential customer can result in a business relationship that lasts years, provided you don’t go and screw things up along the way (I’ve done that a couple of times too!). One positive client experience can result in thousands of dollars added to your bottom line over the next few years and of course, a satisfied customer as well, which can lead to my next point – the birth of client evangelists.
Throughout my business life there has always been a special type of client that you need to pay extra special attention to. Why? Because they are paying extra special attention to you and they are very vocal with their opinions. They travel around the Web, go to many websites in your industry and often have something to say about what you do and how you do it.
This type of person can be a very good thing for your business or a very bad thing, and it’s entirely dependent on their experience with you and your products and services. They will ask a lot of questions – ten times as many as the average customer – and always have something to say about a resource you provide. Once they have become involved in something – and that happens the minute they buy your product or even just pay attention to you – they tend to take some form of ownership and as a result, have the ability to influence others because of how vocal they are with their opinion.
In short, this type of client can be a huge asset for your business or a hindrance, and in today’s interconnected Web, they are even more crucial because they have the potential to spread their messages far and wide just by commenting, posting in forums and writing blog posts.
You want this type of person to be an evangelist for all things good about your business, not the other way round, and in order for that to happen you have to be extra careful with your interactions with them. This means prioritizing their questions, making sure they don’t wait too long for a response and never reply half-hearted. If you are honest and earnest in your approach, they will respect you, even if you do something they don’t agree with or they feel you haven’t performed entirely up to scratch. However, get on their bad side by delivering poor service or a negative customer experience, and they will have no problems traveling around the Web to any threads or blog posts that discuss you and what you do, adding their two cents of opinion and helping to muddy your reputation. This is not good.
If you really look after this particular type of client, they can turn into the best asset any business can have – an evangelist. It’s not always clear when one of this type of client comes into your world, and as a result, it’s best to treat every client as someone special, but once you identify a potential evangelist, it’s best to keep an eye on them and never let an email from them sit too long in your inbox without a reply.
Entrepreneurs like myself who operate in markets where they present themselves as experts tend to experience an ever increasing amount of email and contacts. You know you are becoming successful when everyone wants a piece of you.
A natural progression for this type of entrepreneur is to set up layers of communication defense, for example a helpdesk that you can have other people man for you, such as I do. Other people, like Mike Filsaime, make a public email address available, but set up an autoresponder explaining that mail sent to the address may not receive a reply and if you have ever emailed someone famous I expect you know how likely it is that you get a response.
This is completely understandable and acceptable, once you get a certain level of exposure you simply cannot deal with everything flying at you. Trying to respond to everyone in person is a recipe for breakdown. Unfortunately, as this happens you lose the benefit of personal contact, and even with the best customer support team, you never quite make the same impact as you do when you reply in person.
The important point to understand is that there are certain people who communicate with you who are more important than others, at least in a business context. Obviously you determine the criteria that defines importance, but for most people it begins with friends and family as the most critical, then staff, followed by customers, prospects, the general public and ends with people who just contact you because they want something from you.
From a business standpoint, once you realize the importance of every customer, you may decide that personal communication is in fact one of the best marketing techniques you can implement, and while it’s not possible to do so all the time, if you can fit in some period each day to respond to customers personally and create authentic connections, it can do wonders for your bottom line as well.
You don’t always know what’s going on in your marketplace as a result of the power of personal contact, but rest assured, there is always someone, somewhere, talking about you, and if you want that to be a good thing, you need to treat people with respect and courtesy, and thankfully in the business world today – especially online, a two minute personal reply to an email can be all it takes.
Customer Service Department
PS. While writing this article I remembered I had written something about customer service previously, so I dug through my archives and came across this from over two years ago – A human business for human customers. It seems the same concepts that worked previously for my businesses, are still working today, or I’m just having trouble coming up with new ideas for blog posts 🙂 .