Warm Fuzzy E-mails?

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OK everybody, take off your direct marketing hat and put on the consumer hat. Ready?

When is the last time your widget maker sent you a warm fuzzy? After you bought that wonderful widget, did you ever hear from the widget maker again? Did you ever fill out a product registration card and wonder what happened to it? Did you know that the widget was vastly improved over the previous year, and that the widget maker was offering a special upgrade incentive to their existing customers? Probably not.

Why? Because that's the way it used to be!

Direct marketers and sales professionals are so wrapped up in the process of getting prospects and closing new business that we typically forget the most important part of the business equation: the existing customer. Customers are expensive to come by and are more expensive to lose.

The Internet has really changed the business paradigm. Success in e-commerce means increased revenue opportunity, lower cost of sales and a global marketplace even for smaller enterprises. It also has increased customer expectations for response and lowered the threshold for frustration.

Successful e-commerce companies have begun to exploit the efficiencies of e-mail for customer communications. They are sending order confirmation and shipping information via e-mail almost immediately after the transaction. For the first time, many companies are able to touch their customers through the intimacy and efficiency of the Internet and e-mail.

This ability to interactively communicate with customers provides untold opportunities for relationship management that can focus on service, support, increased sales, and, above all, loyalty management over the life cycle of a product or service.

Life cycle management programs that are e-mail centric can enhance customer loyalty, reduce support costs and give the vendor multiple opportunities to upsell to the customer much more cost effectively than traditional direct marketing programs.

It all starts with shifting the product registration process from paper-based forms to a Web-based profile form. This profile form can capture purchase information, postal information, purchase/user information and also can get the customer's permission to send additional information on a regular basis via e-mail. Once the registration is complete, the widget maker immediately returns a welcome e-mail filled with information on support, service, tips and resources and encourages the customer to change his profile at any time.

Periodic e-mail messages based on date of purchase can be used to communicate changes, enhancements and new products. E-mail messages can be used to communicate service and support issues, which can prevent costly inbound telephone calls. Moreover, these messages also can be used to offer deals to special customers -- and everyone likes to get a deal.

Imagine being able to sell off inventory that is date sensitive by simply sending an e-mail to your customer base. Using your e-mail this way enables you to communicate to all your key buying influences including those generally inaccessible to your sales people and motivate them to buy.

Be prepared to manage the inbound return mail that is a natural outcome of one-to-one communications. The ability to manage the inbound e-mail is more important than the message. It's the heartbeat of your customer and how you handle the inbound message will be a significant factor in the loyalty of that customer. As the volume of inbound e-mail increases, outsourcing the routing and handling of the inbound e-mail should become an option as with inbound telephony-based programs today.

An important thing to remember here is not to inundate the customer with too many e-mails. This is not about simply sending e-mails. It's not about volume -- it's about value.

It's about creating a closed-loop, value-based e-mail campaign that is focused on relationship management with existing customers, adding value by being information based and showing the customer that they really are important. Everybody loves a warm fuzzy now and then.

OK everybody, take off your consumer hat and put on your direct marketing hat. Ready?

Ed Kopec is vice president and general manager of EmailChannel, www.emailch.com Boca Raton, FL, an interactive communications management company. His e-mail is ekopec@emailch.com.

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