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Priority Mail

Don't underestimate the value of a quick response.

If you think it's OK to wait a few days before returning e-mail inquiries, you could be committing customer service suicide. John Tschohl, president and founder of Service Quality Institute, a customer service training firm in Minneapolis, says responding to e-mail inquiries should receive the same priority as returning phone calls.

But this rarely happens, says Tschohl, noting that employees often wait as long as four or five days to respond to e-mail messages. This, he says, either diminishes the possibility that prospects will remember their initial inquiry or encourages them to move on to another provider who responds more quickly.

"If new prospects are inquiring, you want to make it easy for them to communicate with you. And if you think you're the only one they're talking to, you're nuts," says Tschohl.

Tschohl suggests these tips to increase your e-mail effectiveness:

  • Train your employees in the art of customer service. If they don't understand that each inquiry should be treated as a potential new customer, they may be less apt to respond promptly.
  • Institute a policy that requires all e-mails to be answered within one business day. If an employee is going away on vacation or will be out of the office for an extended period of time, set up an automated response to let inquirers know.
  • If your general-inquiry e-mail volume is heavy, assign an employee to handle the responses. Be sure the person is a proficient writer, since his or her responses will represent your company.

Tschohl says, companies must remember that customers using the Internet do so because they want information immediately. E-customers can quickly surf to a competitor's site, so don't miss the chance to meet their needs--fast.


Gwen Moran is president of Moran Marketing Associates, a public relations and marketing communications agency in Ocean, New Jersey. She is currently completing a marketing workbook titled Promote Your Business. E-mail her at moranmarketing@erols.com

Contact SourceService Quality Institute, (800) 548-0538, http://www.customer-service.com

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Priority Mail.

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