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Email Etiquette Is Good Customer Service

By Pamela Hazelton
for Practical eCommerce

Treat email recipients as if they are physically in your store

I had an interesting e-conversation a few weeks ago. It turned into a one-sided blast fest, with me at the brunt of it. The source? A business professional looking for work. I let it all roll off my shoulder, but something about it seemed all too familiar. I searched back through thousands of email archives and found that it has become more commonplace for small business customer service to throw common email rules out the window, even with their customers. It makes me wonder who has real passion for doing business online, and who is here to make the fast buck.

I donít just work with online stores; Iím a regular online shopper. While Iíve experienced my fair share of poor communication with some "big guys," the majority of abrupt communication comes from one-person shops and small companies selling on the Internet.

Iíve come to a conclusion: Itís time for everyone selling on the web to go back to netiquette school. Back to the basics, where you wouldnít write anything in an email you wouldnít say to someoneís face, and would implement the rules of proper grammar as if you were writing a letter that was going to save or break your business.

But, My Customers are Idiots
Chances are your customers arenít complete morons, or they would have trouble even starting their computers. But everyoneís level is different, so when faced with requests that make you roll your eyes and wonder, "What is this person thinking??", consider the fact that everyone starts somewhere and this personís pockets may be lined with more greenbacks than your own.

Hey, He Started It!
While some customers are just downright rude, some also may be testing your patience. My advice is to respond nicely anyway, even if itís delivering news they donít want to hear. Word of mouth can both make and lose you money, and there are hundreds of sites out there hosting thousands of peopleís ďhorrorĒ stories, truth or not.

Itís All on Paper
Email has become so impersonal and such a quick way to shoot out a one-liner, many forget the fact that the message they send is electronically stamped with code that reveals the origin of the content. In short, if you send it, it can be archived, headers can be studied and verification of the sender can be revealed. So whatever you type in a message to an irate customer can haunt you down the line. It can be quoted, used in future correspondence and passed along to others who may be listening.

Someone is Grading You
Iím going to bet that if our former English teachers read half the emails we type every day theyíd cringe at our poor grammar and punctuation. Laziness makes us not care, but for educated customers, broken sentences, ALL CAPS and lots of !!! say a lot about who they are dealing with.

Last year major corporations realized many top-paid execs lacked proper business writing skillsónot because they were never instilled in them, but because the Internet has repeatedly told us taking the time to write properly is a waste of our time. Corporate America is spending millions of dollars retraining people whose hiring was based on many skills, a prominent one being their ability to write proper correspondence.

So, whatís this all have to do with ecommerce? While the smaller stores struggle to make their mark with appealing product lines and prices, acceptable exchange and return policies, and functional features of their online store, the basic personal service skills are lacking. Seeing that email and web forums are the primary form of correspondence, well, you get the point.

My bet is if you walked into a department store and was approached by a sales representative who couldnít speak complete sentences, shouted at you when you disagreed with a store policy, and pointed to the opposite side of the store for something you needed, then walked away, youíd think about leaving and hitting another localeó one where the employees saw you for what you are: someone helping them pay their bills.

When responding to potential or existing customers via email, be sure to be concise, and use simple terms, without talking down to the recipient. If thereís a specific product that fits the bill, provide a direct link to it (put it on its own line to lessen the chance of email wrapping breaking the link on the recipientís end). Open with a "Hi, Hello or Good Morning," and sign off with your name and any other way you can be reached.

And all the while, speak, err, write clearly and concise. You want to give answers without drawing out the conversation. And if you need to hone those writing skills once again? A quick trip to the library will do the trick.

Your customers may not pay much notice to finely tuned email correspondence, but itís what isnít so apparent that pays off.


About the Author
Pamela Hazelton is an ecommerce consultant, author and speaker. She's the author of E-Commerce Made Easy: The Official Guide to Miva Merchant, and can be reached at sales@designextend.com, online at DesignExtend.com.

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