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Using e-mail for customer service

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By Karen J. Bannan

E-mail isn’t just for sales pitches anymore. It’s also a great customer service tool, as an increasing number of companies are finding out. Dave Lewis, VP-deliverability management for e-mail service provider Digital Impact, lets us in on an e-mail secret—and an e-mail lie—that you may not know about.

E-mail secret: You can include marketing messages with transactional data, as long as you follow a few rules.

Last month the Federal Trade Commission explained the difference between transactional and commercial e-mail, an important distinction for anyone wondering if their customer service messages fall into one bucket or the other. The result: The FTC said messages aren’t lumped into the commercial category as long as their subject lines reflect a transactional nature and any marketing messages appear at the end of the message body.

"As a marketer, you want to be taking advantage of the opportunities that are present," Lewis said. "If you have a situation where there’s been a change to a product or the client has done something where you’re confirming the order, use that as an opportunity. CAN-Spam does not prohibit you from using the transactional customer service notice as an opportunity to reinforce your message—up-selling or cross-selling—but it does require you to keep those things in balance."

Lie: You can’t use e-mail for b-to-b customer service.

Customers that have purchased something from you in the past will expect ongoing communication from you, such as information about upgrades or potential enhancements. The key is to let customers know at the time of their initial transaction exactly how and when they will be receiving messages from you, Lewis said.

"Your customers probably won’t make purchase decisions [because of an] e-mail; that requires face-to-face or phone communications. But marketers should realize that transactional messages are a vital part of the sales cycle," he said.

Keep the e-mail creative informational rather than promotional. Make any ancillary sales pitches, which are just as important, less overt, Lewis said.

"Review your customer service templates from both a legal and common-sense slant, and make sure they are in compliance with FTC regulations," he said. "Make sure there’s plenty of service in your customer service e-mails."

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