Say ‘So Long’ To Snail Mail

E-mail: squeeze more power from a great business tool

We laughed at the Beverly Hillbillies for hauling water into the mansion from the “ceement pond,” but there isn’t a business out there that fully taps the technology it already owns. E-mail may be the best example–an incredibly powerful yet inexpensive force for your business once you crank the faucet wide open.

E-mail can help your firm perform a variety of functions: build and maintain business relationships, cut mailing costs, respond automatically to certain types of queries, independently route requests for more timely customer service, create a sense of community, relieve telephone support staff from answering the same questions over and over, and advertise promotions at frequencies chosen by customers. All of this can be done without “spamming,” or sending unsolicited commercial e-mail.

The keys to winning with e-mail are gaining client consent and satisfying customers’ wants quickly and efficiently.

CONSENT: OPTING IN AND GETTING OUT
To build great relationships with existing and potential customers, it’s vital that they don’t perceive your e-mail as junk or spam. Get explicit permission to send mass mailings. Obviously you can respond to mail you receive, but don’t take a question about one of your mutual funds as an invitation to send unsolicited information about other financial products. Instead, answer potential clients’ questions accurately and quickly, and ask if they would appreciate getting your semimonthly e-newsletter with helpful tips on investing and timely news on particular products (SEC and other regulatory agencies permitting). Always make sure your mailings follow the rules for your industry and heed liability issues.

To reach people who haven’t e-mailed you first but have an interest in your product category, use other media and correspondence to ask if they’d like to be included in free mailings of valuable information. You can do this by asking people to:
Check a box on their monthly bill

  • Check a box in a form when they visit your Web site
  • Click mail to:newsletter@yourbiz.com at your Web site and type “subscribe” in the subject line of the letter that action creates
  • Circle a number on a magazine’s reader service card
  • Check a box when they fill out a contest entry form, questionnaire, registration card or other form
  • Tell sales or tech support people “yes” when they call for information, for help or to place an order.

Whatever mechanism you use to add customers to your list, make an effort to double-check identities with a confirmation e-mail, registration number or the like, so people aren’t signing up others as pranks. Provide a reminder at the top of each mailing that the customer asked to receive your newsletter, but can get off the list instantly by sending an e-mail to (for example) yourbiz@yourdomain.com with “unsubscribe theirname@theirdomain.com” in the subject header. (Then, take them off without delay.) To respect customer privacy, suppress the list of recipients–use an alias (single name for the whole list) in the To: line.

SATISFY CUSTOMERS: PUT THEIR GOALS FIRST
Now that you have a list of attentive friends, treat them like patrons who’ve paid $80 a seat to get into a professional show. Like you, they’re

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