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Question: How do I use e-mail to take customer relationships to the next level?

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Answer: Leveraging e-mail to build customer relationships requires a strategic approach and commitment to the customer through the creation of relevant, timely e-mail communications throughout the customer lifecycle. Today’s successful marketers focus on five simple messaging tactics to accelerate customer value at every opportunity and touch point:

  1. Lifecycle messaging: Lifecycle messaging should be developed throughout the relationship. First impressions matter. Once you’ve acquired a new customer, engage them with a welcome message that exposes the benefits and value of the subscription and the relationship.
  2. Marketing/persona messaging: Take time to understand your customer segments and personas. Craft relevant communications that include targeted promotions, up-sell/cross-sell offers and usage-stimulation messages specific to each persona’s interests and needs. Remember to apply the lessons you’ve learned in future messaging and relay the specific benefits at every interaction.
  3. Service messaging: Service and convenience are key to customer satisfaction—making service messaging, such as statement alerts, essential to the relationship while reducing servicing costs. Marketers should audit customer interactions and service opportunities to build messaging that provides them with added convenience and intelligence about their brand relationship.
  4. Automated triggered messaging: Marketers have another opportunity through e-mails triggered by behaviors and actions. Audit the various online interactions and opportunities your customer has with your brand—such as online bill payment, rewards redemption, balance transfer and shipping confirmations—and automate follow-up e-mails to those actions to further engage the customer.
  5. Inbound/outbound messaging: For every action there is a reaction. Yet, a survey by Jupiter Research (“Email Automation Making the Internet’s Killer Application Pay Off,” June 2003) showed only 54% of sites responded to incoming e-mail inquiries within 24 hours, despite the fact that 88% of consumers expected complete resolution to their inquiry within 24 hours. Jupiter Research also estimated that 21% of all online CRM spend will be applied towards inbound e-mail automation and management. Integrating inbound customer “touch points” (Web site, e-mail, call center) with relevant outbound e-mails can decrease costs, promote efficiencies and increase customer satisfaction.

Finally, measure your success. Well-crafted, integrated e-mail communication programs that consider life cycle, marketing, service, automation and inbound/outbound integration will drive ROI and build a strong, impenetrable relationship. Now all you have to do is implement.

Michael Della Penna is CMO of Bigfoot Interactive (www.bigfootinteractive.com ) , a provider of e-mail communications solutions and marketing automation technologies.

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