How to Kill Your Business with Email

“… thank you for calling Responsive R Us. We can’t take your call right now because we’re too busy doing something else to bother with you. Please sit on hold and enjoy our crummy music until we decide to get back to you. Alternatively, hang up and wait patiently until we feel ready to answer your questions. You can even spend your waiting time contemplating whether we’ll ever call you back. Have a nice day!”

If you heard this message when you tried to call a business for some answers, what would you do?

You’d probably hang up. You’d most likely stare at the phone and say, “Are they kidding me?!” You’d go elsewhere to buy what you need.

Who wants to wait for service? Not me. Most consumers these days don’t want to wait for service either. They’re tired of being put off by big corporations or large companies. They want someone to pay attention to them. Being set aside is frustrating, and being put on hold even worse.

But virtual businesses stick customers on hold all the time. Worse, these web workers think it’s a smart thing to do.

The Plague of Email

Launch a business on the Internet, and watch the emails pour in. It doesn’t take long to clog up an email inbox – and those emails just keep coming.

People complain they have to struggle to read, respond and clean up hundreds of emails a day. What do they end up doing? Either they put off their work to manage their email or they simply ignore the emails so they can get work done.

Neither solution is smart. Both end up in a backlog that just keeps getting worse. The situation soon becomes overwhelming. Something needs to be done.

So people head out for a solution and tips on email management, and they get a fantastic answer from productivity experts: timed email management.

Bad Timing

It’s said that if you set aside a specific time of day to read and respond to emails, you’ll increase your productivity. This is true. You don’t worry about distracting emails breaking your concentration. When the time comes to sift through your inbox, you burn through plenty of emails and then get back to work quickly.

It’s a great productivity tip. It works. Timed email management lets you get more out of your day. It also hurts your business in a big way.

Why Timed Email Management Doesn’t Work

When potential customers and existing clients contact you, they want answers – now.

They don’t want to wait. They don’t want to spend hours wondering whether you received their email. They don’t want to worry about what time you’ll reply, or whether you’re even going to bother replying at all.

But they have no choice. Their email is sitting in your inbox, unacknowledged. You’re busy working. You don’t have time for these people. Not now.

So the poor consumer starts to worry. Frustration increases. Patience wears thin, and in a virtual world, patience is already nearly nonexistent. Grumbles and mutters occur, and then the potential customer starts thinking. There are hundreds of businesses out there doing exactly what you do…

“Screw this,” the customer snorts. “If I’m not important enough to deserve an answer, I’ll go elsewhere.”

So he does, and you just lost a client – because you were too busy being productive.

Customer Service Counts

It’s crucial to have a proactive, responsive business these days. Competition is stiff and consumers are skeptical. Surveys on customer loyalty and customer service prove that good service matters more to them than anything else. Period.

Ipsos Reid polled Canadians on customer loyalty for TD Canada Trust. Three quarters of Canadians said it all: “Just show me good service.”

Americans feel the same way. Harris Interactive polled U.S. consumers on customer service for Verint Systems. 88% said they want good customer service more than the most innovative products.

Ask yourself these questions: Do you want happy, satisfied customers that keep coming back? Or do you just want to get your work done and just clear your plate? And when you do clear your plate, who will be your next customer?

Maybe no one, if you weren’t fast enough with your customer service.

Finding the Solution

“Both,” you’re probably thinking. “I want both. I want to get work done and be responsive to gain more customers.” That’s a reasonable goal, certainly. So find a solution to your email management that works.

Being responsive with your customers is pretty easy: Set up a better email system that lets you answer them more rapidly. If you have an efficient inbox, then you have more time to respond to the emails that need attention and more time to work on client projects.

It’s win-win all around.

The solution isn’t ignoring your email, though. It isn’t two email inbox check-ins per day, either. We get hundreds of emails in a day, and we answer almost all our emails within minutes – and we can do this because we have a good system in place.

Our secret? The Gmail Notifier, a tiny little application that sits discreetly in our desktop tray. When an email arrives, the Notifier shows us a snippet of the contents – just enough so that we can glance and decide immediately whether we should shift gears for a few seconds to respond or keep on working.

It pays off, too. Customers appreciate the fast replies, and commend us on our top-notch customer service. Many times, our responsiveness is the deciding factor in customers hiring us or going elsewhere. Be there or be square, as they say.

Notifiers don’t create devastating loss of focus, either. There’s no uber-break in concentration that train wrecks our whole day.

Come on, people, we’re talking about a ONE SECOND glance here. The Apocalyptic bullshit over losing PRECIOUS TIME is a big scare tactic, hot air and hype. Those GTD gurus know it, and they play it up big time.

More Solutions

Not everyone wants Gmail. Not everyone wants a little slip of an exerpt sliding up an inch on their screen. Okay, that’s fine. There are other solutions to making sure your customers don’t feel set aside or abandoned:

Email auto-responders are one alternative – use them, for god’s sake. They’re easy to set up, and you can put a nice reply note that makes your customer feel better about waiting for a personal response.

If you love the timed email check-in system, just schedule more of them. It’s a smart idea, if you really can’t afford the millisecond of attention deficiency. Schedule frequent breaks to check your email, like once every hour instead of just twice a day.

And if you really can’t manage your email and just want to work? Hire a VA. A virtual assistant can draft some great replies for you, field your emails and organize your inbox better than you ever could.

Just do what it takes to offer the best, most responsive customer service. Because customers are what keep your business alive, and neglecting them is just plain stupid.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.