Why Your Business Should Always Answer Email
Are you running a business? Then you should answer your email. Period. There was a recent article post called, Treat Your Blog like a Business, where Ben made some very good points about how you should run your blog. I want take that a little step farther and state the obvious. You should treat your business like a business, and one of those steps is to answer your email, in a professional manner no less.
This will probably not be the most popular post in the world, after all, we all get to much email, and some we just don't want to mess with. I am speaking about the necessity of answering your email if you are in business, but this includes those who run a small home based business, or someone that sells their services online as well, large or small. If you are online just purely for personal reasons then, answer it, delete, do whatever you want, but I think this applies to personal accounts as well if you want to be successful online. It seems to be common place now to not answer your email. It is the easiest means of communication to ignore, and takes a lot of time.
So if you want to stand out among the others, respond to those emails.
You should try to either answer your emails personally, or if there is just to much to handle, you should delegate it to someone you have hired for administrative duties. Just be sure they reflect your company's good customer service and aren't going to add to a problem. Either way, the volume should dictate who answers it, but that doesn't mean it should go unanswered.
If you receive to much email to answer then it sounds like your business is big enough to have an employee take over these duties, if not, it sounds a lot like an excuse. So, lets look at a few quick reasons why you should and a few steps how to keep up with answering your email.
It is Your Business Reputation
Nothing can turn away business faster than word of mouth or a bad reputation. This could be in print media all the way down to a small forum in your niche market. You want new visitors, right? When a customer first finds your site, they have some initial questions, and most are easily answered but sometimes they want to interact with someone for one reason or another.
When you receive an email from a new customer (or site visitor) like this, they are evaluating your business and how you interact with people. By not answering their email it sends a pretty clear message to them. You are not important enough for me to hit the reply button. They don't care if you have been out of town, have more pressing (revenue generating) things to do, all they get is this business probably doesn't care (and you may not). On the other hand, if you make efforts to reply to even the most mundane emails, it will make a very good impression on your customer or visitor. I am not suggesting that you have to answer their email within 5 minutes, time is not the most important thing here. I have responded to an emails from customers days later, after their orders have arrived, because I just couldn't get to it, and they even appreciate a late response.
Something I always try to remember from the customer side of things. I can always remember who did not reply to my emails, sometimes years later, and it usually is on a negative note. This goes with the smallest business up to the largest corporations, people in general just tend to remember the negative and forget the positive things. Just something to keep in mind when ignoring or deleting that email, or even responding in a negative way. It took some planning and understanding of how to use email effectively, but I have responded to just about every email in the past 5-10 years and when someone sends me an email saying "you never responded to me", I generally have a good answer to that question, a copy of my response.
It Can Increase Your Sales Revenue
This flows right down from the first point. Once you have established a rapport with your customer they may actually want to buy something from you. Want to loose a sale or a repeat customer fast? Don't answer their email. This is especially true on eBay.
eBay has an easy way for potential bidders to contact you, so you will tend to get overwhelmed with email about trite things that don't really matter, or that the customer should be able to figure out on their own. Well, if they could figure it out on their own they probably wouldn't have shot off that email to you. I have found that there is a direct correlation on eBay to bidding and responding to emails. I can attest, yes, most emails are stupid questions, and yes, I have come to realize there ARE stupid questions. This fact doesn't really make a difference to the customer. If you respond to their email, they are much more likely to bid on your auction.
If you don't answer their question before they actually buy the item from you, from the customers point of view, what are you likely to do when they have a problem with the product or service after they have spent their money.
Responding Can Avert Problems
One of the fastest ways to solve a problem, or fix a potential one, is to respond to customer questions. Some customers or visitors are not as dumb as you may think. They may have found a problem with your product or service that you did not know about.
This works for the smallest to the largest companies. My wife is a pattern designer and she has received emails asking about a particular area of the pattern, and sometimes there is an error in the pattern and she can change it before it becomes a bigger problem. This works on your eCommerce platform. Take Amazon for example. A book store may have emails come in that ask about if this book is a certain edition, publication year or whatever. Answering the email will provide the customer with enough information about the product so they know whether to buy or not to buy it, but you don't want them to just buy it just to have them return it a week later?
I have emailed several companies about bugs in their software. Some have returned their emails thanking me for the information and others I have received no response. I still use the software from that particular vendor.
It Builds Your Networking
Something to always keep in mind when deciding whether to ignore an email or reply to an email. You may never know who you are actually corresponding with. It may actually be someone that can help or improve your business, or just wants to give you something. It is not always that stupid customer that should know you have an FAQ page posted with all these dumb questions. An email from a business exec can look the same as an email from Joe Bob who types in all CAPS because he just bought his first computer last week and doesn't know his mouse from his dog, you just don't know who is on the other side of the screen much of the time.
Ignoring emails will certainly get you results, just not much. There are many other ways to communicate and network with people on the net other than email, but email is a personal response that tells your recipient that they are important enough to respond to. Sometimes time can be the most precious gift ever given. Spend a few minutes to respond to that person and you never know where the relationship might take you. It has given me more than a few freelance jobs in my day.
A Few Recent Examples
First, I had another consultant ask me for advise that would help him with his clients. I responded to his email with some basic information and he gave no response. About two weeks later he did email me and asked me a more in depth question and I took about two hours of my busy day to write out a specific how to he could use for his clients.
Weeks went by and I receive no response. I emailed him again and just asked him if that was helpful for his clients. He didn't respond. I am not likely to respond with ANY more information to "help" anyone over there. All that was needed was a very quick reply saying "I got it, it worked". I don't need a pat on the back, just some communication to know my 2 hours wasn't wasted. A second example would be when I contacted a very small (one person) online business, but one that reached a large audience. I had something from my business I wanted to give him. That's it. I didn't want anything from him, I didn't ask for anything other than an address to which I could ship an item I thought he would want.
I sent two emails before I received a response, but I had already decided to give it to someone else until I received the email. Once I got the email with the address I was able to ship the item off to the business. We can all give example after example, but when someone takes the time to send an email the least you can do is respond to it, and you might be surprised who is on the other end or what they can do for your business.
Some Concluding Thoughts
If you want to be successful online, answer your email. Yes, email can be one of the biggest headaches of the business day, and many business now just do not respond to email, so be one that does and stand out. I have read so many company profiles (and about me blog pages) that say they get to much email to respond to each one. This may be the case, but think about what that says about your company.
I effectively answered my emails to all my customers for years by doing some basic steps I will outline in my next post called, How to Effectively Answer All Your Emails, that explain how to prioritize and plan for those emails, and also as important, how to reduce the number of emails you receive. Reducing the number is as effective and keeps you from having to live in your inbox. I will say that you can take this to absurdity, and that is not the point of course. There are some emails I don't respond to like spam, fraud, or phishing emails, and the occasional badgering customer that we have taken all business to its utmost conclusion, and one other... when you don't respond to my email.
What about your company? Do you respond to your emails or ignore them until they go away? What positive effects can you show when you answer those questions? Now I better go answer all those emails I have been ignoring for days now, the inbox runeth over.