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Stop and think before you delete! If you don't, you risk killing your brand and ultimately your business. In today's marketplace, ignoring the e-mail inbox could shorten your business lifespan by killing your brand image.
Think about it: Would you intentionally ignore your clients and send messages saying you don't care about them or their business? That is exactly what you do when you ignore e-mail or respond slowly or inaccurately.
Brand image is built from the inside out. Every communication that takes place between a company and a client, potential client, vender, consultant and even competitor results in a positive or a negative brand impression. And when those impressions are added together, they make up brand image.
As consultants, our brand images are our lifeblood. They must reflect near perfection, if we expect businesses to trust our expertise and to want our advice and recommendations. Furthermore, we need to ensure that our clients' understand the dangers of messy e-mail communications, both inbound and outbound.
A recent survey of the retail industry tells the tale of what looks like an approaching trend in the business world.
Current numbers from this survey indicate that most businesses are in a lot of trouble when it comes to their "customer e-service." Twenty-six percent of retailers surveyed failed to respond to e-mail inquiries from customers seeking to make a purchase.
In the same study, conducted by Benchmark Portal and sponsored by eGain Communications Corp., the cross-industry response rate (all verticals) of 41 percent shows that businesses in general have a pretty abysmal record. Forty-seven percent of retailers, for example, fail to respond to customer e-mails within 24 hours, against a cross-industry rate of only 61 percent.
Conducted in July 2005, this study also benchmarked the quality of company responses to client e-mail inquiries. Among companies that do respond to client or customer e-mails, 35 percent of retailers sent e-mails rated by Benchmark Portal as "good" at answering customers' questions while the cross-industry rate is a sad 17 percent. Twenty-eight percent of retailers sent e-mails rated "fair," compared to a cross-industry rate of 26 percent; and nine percent of retailers sent "poor" e-mails, compared to the cross-industry rate of 14 percent.
Another study provides even worse news for e-centric client and customers, and ultimately for overall business success. This one, reported by Internet Retail, shows that 51 percent of small- to mid-size companies and 41 percent of large businesses do not respond to customer or client e-mail at all. And of those who do respond, 70 percent of small- to mid-size companies and 61 percent of large businesses do not respond within 24 hours.
Since brand image depends on every single representative of a company, no matter their functional area, it doesn't matter who inside a business deletes or responds badly to e-mail communications. Doing so creates a destructively negative impression to the person who sent the e-mail. Since every external and internal communication creates an impression that impacts the brand, those communications also impact marketing and sales results, and consequently the bottom line.
eMarketer's Senior Analyst David Hallerman also recently surveyed the state of business e-mail marketing and reports that more than two trillion e-mail messages will be sent out this year. Businesses cannot afford to ignore those numbers, even if only a tiny percentage of these e-mails fall into the commercial category. Alienating even one client hurts brand image and eventually sales. Alienating hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of e-mailers over the life of a business can therefore be deadly.
Brand image is all about client perception. When businesses delete e-mails or respond poorly, the brand suffers. Before long, current and future sales take a direct hit on the negative side. Furthermore, responding badly to e-mail opens the door to competitors who treat every communication channel with the constant attention it needs. This includes e-mail.
Acknowledging that businesses are managed by busy people who may not understand the damage done by not responding or by badly responding to e-mail, business leaders must recognize before it is too late that such numbers point to a serious crises on the horizon for those who ignore the e-side of their businesses. In our pervasively online technological age, shoppers, customers, clients, vendors and competitors are choosing e-mail more and more as their preferred communications tool. Furthermore, study results suggest that businesses may miss up to two-thirds their potential audience by not adding e-mail to their marketing tool kit.
When businesses treat e-mailers badly, they risk such responses as anger, rejection, hurt, frustration and revenge. In addition, ignoring e-mailers generates harmful word of mouth. When done right, word of mouth grows businesses, increases sales and expands margins. When done badly, the opposite occurs, and a brand begins to die a slow and painful death.
As consultants we must take an active role in solving communications problems that my batter either our brand or our clients' brands. Here are a few tips for turning e-mail into a business "growth tool" rather than a weapon for business suicide:
- Respond accurately to all e-mails with 24 hours.
- Embrace e-mail as a marketing tool.
- Use SPAM filters, if necessary (but only if necessary), to block e-mails originating from Spammers, but do so cautiously. Blocking e-mails from legitimate clients and others will hurt your business in the long run.
- For best results and greatest returns on investment, customize outgoing e-mail messages by employing some kind of consolidated client and prospect database that allows you to specifically identify client groups' needs, wants and desires.
- Communicate customized messages that meet the needs, wants and desires of those client groups.
When utilized correctly, businesses bask in results-oriented e-mail marketing and brand building. Home Depot, for example, has grown its client e-mail database from 500,000 to five million contacts in just the last two years. Each one of these five million e-mails represents solid future sales.
In conclusion, by embracing e-mail, a consulting firm can grow sales by melding ingredients gleaned from its client data points and managing them so as to:
- Collect the right data
- Craft the right message
- From the right sender
- Through the right channel
- At the right times
First and foremost, customers and clients count. They measure your value and develop a perception around that value. By ignoring e-mail or practicing it poorly, opportunities for positive perceptions may be missed, dismissed or destroyed, shortening your business's lifespan. Treating e-mail like the winning tool it can be, however, holds the potential of extending your business's lifespan (and profits) indefinitely.