Use e-mail to listen to customers

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"Don't talk, just listen." It's the motto of some of the most successful business people. It's also a motto you should consider when planning your next e-mail marketing campaign. Once you start listening, your prospects and customers can start talking, which can help you improve sales and customer service, said Loren McDonald, VP-industry relations at Silverpop.

"E-mail is a two-way medium," he said. "If you don't solicit feedback, or if you ignore it when you get it, you miss the chance to improve your programs, solve problems, expand to meet new needs or retain customers."

Figuring out how to get people talking so you can listen isn't always easy, though. But there are ways you can increase your chatter factor and get the most out of what you're hearing. And remember: Be careful what you wish for. If you solicit feedback but ignore it, it's one of the fastest ways to hurt your deliverability statistics, McDonald said.

"Readers who don't get answers or responses might assume you're a spammer. Also, you can miss unsubscribe requests sent as e-mail replies, and those can turn into spam complaints." Here are tips to help you reach customers.

  • Provide plenty of ways for people to contact you. There are the obvious methods, such as the e-mail address you send your messages from or a "contact us" link at the bottom of your e-mail. However, you'll also want to provide a very visible link on your home page designed specifically for feedback, since people may want to contact you after they have already deleted your message, McDonald said
    "Promote [your feedback e-mail address] vigorously, in your broadcast and transactional e-mails as well as [on] your Web site. Support it with copy that invites readers to tell you what's on their minds," he said.
  • Survey your readers.You can encourage feedback right out of the gate by including a survey for all new subscribers asking them if they like what they are receiving and if they would like to suggest any features or information that they'd like to receive. Then, periodically, follow up with an official survey inviting readers to tell you what's on their minds about your company, your industry and their business problems.
    "While only a small segment of your readers might respond, surveys are a pain-free way to collect feedback without waiting for problems to crop up," McDonald said. Online polls, which only require clicking a multiple-choice box and provide instant feedback and response to readers, can also be beneficial.
  • Watch for responses.This seems obvious, but it's something that many companies fall down on. Make sure that you designate at least one person to monitor all your inbound channels, McDonald said. "Empower that person either to reply to [a responder's request] or to circulate it to the correct person," he said. "Plus, manage feedback every day. Don't let any comment go unanswered for longer than 24 hours, even if the answer is, "We don't have the answer yet, but we're getting it for you.'"
  • Create fun items that encourage response. People love to chime in and give opinions, especially when they feel passionate about a topic. So create features that inspire comments—top lists, a collection of most-forwarded links—and ask people if they agree with those designations. Other fun comment-producers: Product ratings from third-party sources, other reader comments and Q&As with customers or your own executives. Facebook or LinkedIn fan pages or groups also provide newsletter fodder. "These things stimulate interest and buy-in, and start regular conversations," McDonald said.
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