Study: E-mail critical to customer retention

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What is one of the most important things your customers want from you? While solid products and services and excellent customer service fall into the obvious category, there’s something else that’s not only important but will have the greatest impact on business processes and online investments over the next five years, according to findings of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Digital Company 2013 study: customer empowerment through technology.

The survey of more than 650 enterprise executives—half of whom hold C-level titles—found that technology-enhanced interaction between employees, suppliers, investors and customers will be key for those companies looking for success in the coming years. “Empowering” companies, according to the report, will see a positive impact on every new product and service development as well as revenue. Another significant finding of the study, which was co-sponsored by AT&T, Concep Global, Habeas, Nokia, PricewaterhouseCoopers, SAP and WebEx, was the fact that e-mail remains the preferred business communications channel for 93% of all respondents.

We spoke to Des Cahill, CEO of Habeas, to discuss what these findings mean to b-to-b marketers. Here is his insight.

EMI: What’s the main take-away from this survey?

Cahill: That e-mail is critical and central both today and through 2013 for customer retention. E-mail is a primary mechanism that businesses expect to use to communicate with their customers—at percentages that are higher than blogs, higher than Web sites. And although in the future these Web 2.0 segments such as mobile data and Web conferencing might be an increased way to communicate with customers, e-mail is not going to be supplanted. People rely on it for communications and customers rely on it, too.

EMI: How will this need for e-mail customer service and communication affect marketing in the future?

Cahill: There is an overlap between customer service and marketing. The two are actually one and the same. Customer service is an opportunity to touch a customer or a newly converted prospect and build a continuing relationship. And this isn’t something you can overlook. Customers today are more empowered than ever to influence a business; they can help it and they can hurt it. They can go to a blog and post things about that company. They can click a “This is spam” button. There are lots of opportunities for people to use the power of the Internet to say good things and bad things about a business. So customer service is so important as part of providing an overall good experience, which is why it can’t be looked at as a cost center.

EMI: Do the study findings apply to transactional e-mails as well?

Cahill: Absolutely, because there’s an opportunity within transactional e-mails to include marketing messages. But there is a danger there as well. It’s kind of like how I view the frequent-flier statement that comes into my in-box. Somewhere in the e-mail in six-point font is my mileage statement, and the rest of the e-mail is a bunch of ads. It’s not a good thing. But there is an opportunity to insert important messages as well as using the transactional e-mail to solicit comments. The companies on the forefront are actually asking people to submit comments into a blog. But empowering customers this way, you’re showing them you trust them and will listen to them. There’s also an opportunity for the company to take the information they get and use it to co-create what they do, to use that feedback to change the way they do business.

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