A recent article in Business Week, Respond to All (Relevant) Email Yourself (April 13, 2010), started me thinking about the nature of building client relationships and the use of email. As business owners, we are acutely aware of the marketplace becoming more competitive everyday. Whether our business is acupuncture or general contracting, we will need to find ways to differentiate our business from competitors. One way to do this is to build strong relationships with our clients through email. While oftentimes email can be very impersonal, it doesn’t have to be.
Through the process of making many mistakes, I have learned some valuable lessons on how to use email effectively in regards to maintaining relationships with my clients. I want to share the 5 email rules that I believe have directly contributed to building stronger relationships. Some of these may seem so obvious that we tend to neglect them in our day-to-day correspondences.
1. I respond to every email that a client sends! Even if I do not think it requires a response, I guarantee that the client does.
2. I respond to emails ASAP! I always respond the same day I receive the email and try to do so within 4 hours. I am mindful however, that my timeliness will set a precedent. If I respond to a client within 1 hour, then he/she will come to expect that in the future.
3. I send emails- not text messages or tweets! I am a professional, so my emails should be too. I always begin an email with “Hi (client’s name)” and sign off with “Thanks”.
4. I never attempt to resolve a conflict through email! This deserves repeating. I never attempt to resolve a conflict through email. I learned this the hard way, so now I always pick up the phone for this purpose. Email has its limitations and this is just one example.
5. I do not delete client emails! It never fails; whatever it is that I delete ends up containing a piece of information that I need at some point in the future. Whenever I feel the urge to delete something, I create a folder and label it with the client’s name or business and keep it there until that project is completed. I have 7GB of space in my Gmail account; that is a lot of emails, so I don’t worry about using up precious inbox space.
As my client list grows, I’m sure this list will as well. I have found that the quality of my relationships with clients has improved since I made a conscious decision to follow these rules. What are some of the lessons you have learned about email and client relationships? Feel free to share by adding a comment.