How to answer customers emails?

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29-04-2012

You can use the most advanced marketing concepts, build incredible marketing strategies, be efficient on Social Media, attract visitors from all over the world… if you can't answer customers emails properly, your work is condemned to failure.

JulienRio.com: Comment répondre à un email client

When talking about customers, the important thing to always keep in mind is that a disappointed customer has more power than a satisfied one.

A recent report from Colloguy clearly shows that a disappointed customer will spread his experience much more than would a satisfied customer do.

Consequently, it is essential to ensure that your customers are happy and satisfied with the product or service you are providing.


But the challenge does not end here! Your company isn't simply providing goods and services: you also need to offer a free and efficient follow up.

Some might say: "This is after-sales or customer service. What does it have to do with marketing?".

The link is direct: the way you answer a customer directly impacts your company image. In other words: a well-studied answer to each question or problem is the key to a successful marketing strategy.

Here are a few essential points you would want to keep in mind when replying your customers via email (I am clearly talking about email, as traditional mail and phone have different rules):

 

1. Your signature

Your signature must clearly state your name and position. It is essential for your customer to know who is handling his case.

Make sure you also provide him with alternative communication tools by displaying your phone number, mail address, fax etc...

Those must appear in your signature so that your customer never feels trap in a single communication channel that may not fit his requirements.

Finally, avoid inserting automatically the usual greetings: those should always be personalized and reflect the overall atmosphere of the email.

2. The structure

When replying an email, try to get rid of all unnecessary items such as the anti-virus signature or the space consuming automatic headers.

By doing so, you remove things that bring no value and clarify your email and put your customer in better reading conditions.

Please note that more and more people check their emails on mobile devices: make sure your messages are readable from such platforms.

3. Be polite

There is no need to develop further: always be polite.

Emails are different from traditional mail as there is no need to be excessively polite. There is also no need for extensive headers, date, address, etc... your signature makes the trick.

Nevertheless, it is essential to keep in mind that being polite is a keyword, even when using email.

When receiving an email somehow rude, you are tempted to reply with the same tone: don't. Remain calm and polite at all time, be humble and show respect to all customers, even those who lack those virtues.

JulienRio.com: Comment répondre à un email client

4. Timing

Don't postpone your emails. This is an essential rule.

How many times have you been frustrated, waiting, in vain, for some customer service to answer your questions?


A satisfied customer having a simple question can quickly turn into a disappointed one if ignored.

The best solution is to organize an automatic reply using your contact form. This automatic mail must inform your customer that his request has been well received, thank him for his interest and indicate when he shall receive an answer from you. Then, the customer won't have any reason to wonder whether you received his mail or not or when you will reply.

It happens very often that indicated deadlines can't be respected. In this case, send another email before the deadline is met and inform him that you are currently treating his case but that you would need a little longer before getting back to him. This way, he won't have the impression you forgot him and will feel respected.


Apologize: it costs nothing and makes your customer feel better.

 

Timing is crucial, and you should not delay answers. However, the opposite is also true: don't run too fast, answering emails without making sure your answer is correct. Take a few minutes to read each answer before sending it out. This way, you will avoid mistakes such as misunderstanding of the original question. Empathy will help you answering most emails.

 

5. Clarify

Before answering a question, make sure to repeat it.

Extract the most important points and reformulate the question. "As I understand, you would like to know if the product XXX exists in YYY and is available in ZZZ".

That way, you will avoid any misunderstanding and show your involvement to the customer.

 

6. Difficult emails

There are emails that are really difficult to reply.
We could divide those in three categories:

  • « I don't know »,
  • « I don't understand »,
  • « I am not responsible ».

 

"I don't know" email is typically an email for which you have no answer.

The customer asks you a question regarding an accessory manufactured by another company or regarding a technical detail you outsource and you have no clue of the answer. Never answer "I don't know". It isn't an answer. The customer expects you to help him. If you have no answer, make sure to redirect him to someone who will.


"I don't understand" email is typically incomprehensible.
The syntax is strange, the language unknown, the question has no context or lacks information... in short, you have no clue of what the customer wants. Don't ignore him! Ignoring a customer is the worst thing to do.
Ask him politely to re-explain his problem with further details because you have difficulties understanding the question. Be humble. The important thing here is to use empathy so that the customer does not feel you are looking down on him.

 


Finally, "I am not responsible" email is typically a complaint for something on which you have no power.

A good example would be the delivery: you have no power on the post office delivery service, but if your product arrives late, you are the one blamed by the customer.

Here also, make use of empathy: the customer certainly doesn't want to hear "it's not my fault, complain to the post office". He is frustrated, probably angry, he wants to express his feelings and, unfortunately, he chose you to blame.

But each customer is king, he pays for your salary. Thank him for his message, be sorry about what happened to him, assure him his message will be transferred to your manager, precise it isn't in your power to change it but that you will make sure some solutions are found to avoid such situation in the future.

It isn't necessary to be responsible for a problem to try solving it.

JulienRio.com: Comment répondre à un email client

7. Be professional and factual, not personal and emotional

When a customer sends you a message, he is addressing the 'professional you' and does not care for your personal life.

Do not reply  emails with personal comments or judgments ("I think", "I believe", "personally", "I prefer", "Normally"...). You represent your company and as such you have to remain neutral. Your preferences interest no-one but you.

The only exception here is compliments. If you feel like congratulating a customer for his ingenuity (for example), it is always welcome. Indeed, make sure not to cross the line and remain professional and clear.

8. Be short

That is the main advantage of emails: there is no need for long text.

Go straight to the point and don't over-write unnecessary information. A short and clear email is more efficient than a long letter.

9. Be clear

The whole purpose is to offer a solution to a problem, not to create a more complicated one.

If your solution is too technical or uses very specific vocabulary your customer might not understand, you will lose him. Forget about all scientific and technical words: use simple words, go straight to the point and divide your answer in steps that your customers can simply follow.

10. Customization

It is always nicer to read "Dear Mister Johnson" than "Dear customer". If you know your customer's name, use it!

Thank him personally for his interest and time, make him feel important.

End up your email with adapted greetings: "I wish you have a very nice day" is much better than "Best regards" in most situations. All depends on the overall atmosphere of the conversation.

Remember: your customer is nowhere different from you. We are all customers of someone. A little empathy solves most problems.

Try to see what you would expect as an answer if you were in his situation. There is no better way to satisfy a customer than putting yourself in his shoes: this is the basic of all marketing strategies.

 

If you had to remember only one point of this article, remember this: empathy is the only thing that differenciates you from an automatic answer; Use it!

 

For the technical aspect of your emails, I strongly advise you to read the great article from Cyril Mazur "Good practices for sending emails from your webserver", which gives a very complete overview of what can be done to improve your mailing system.

 

To go further with customer communication, I encourage you to read my article "The art of writing a successful newsletter".

 

Julien Rio.

Last update: 2017-05-24 Tags:

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