Good customer service is about getting the basics right. If you answer inquiries quickly and sincerely, you'll build a reputation of being responsive and your customers will feel that they can reach out to you when there's an issue. Excellent customer service, however, goes beyond the basics and can greatly differentiate you from your competition. One simple way to do this is to perfect "the follow-up."
By follow-up, I mean the email you, or your customer-service team, send to a customer after a transaction takes place. That transaction may be a customer support solution, a product or services inquiry, feedback, or any other type of communication. Not every type of follow-up is right for every situation or for every business. Here are six follow-up emails you should familiarize yourself with and implement into your customer-service strategy.
The “Insight and Understanding” Email
If you can't deliver, your customers interpret the failure based on their outsider’s knowledge of your industry. If a package isn't delivered on time, the customer imagines a dismissive guy who was too lazy to make it to the post office. The reality may be an unavoidable logistical problem, and there are benefits to explaining that.
Once the issue is resolved, it's worth following up to explain to your customer the steps you've taken. Describe not only what happened and how you rectified the issue, but also how you’ll avoid it in the future. This gives the customer some insight into your business and the challenges you’ve overcome.
The “Turn Feedback Into Fandom” Email
Consider the customer who sends an email with some feedback about your business. Maybe your website has a typo or needs a user-experience improvement. It's likely that you'll take action, because you care. When you do—even if you make the changes three months later—let that customer know. You'll demonstrate that you appreciate and value the feedback, and it gives the customer recognition for helping you improve. That, in turn, confers an emotional ownership to the customer and builds real loyalty.
The “Building Genuine Relationships” Email
This is probably the most effective, yet difficult, style of follow-up emails you can send, and requires you to be organized, use a CRM effectively and have an elephantine memory.
Let's look at a real world example: Let's say customer Alex has some support issues. While resolving them, you learn a little about him. Perhaps Alex runs an e-commerce site specializing in tech products and, on the side, he's an avid blogger about the latest gadgets.
Six months down the line, your business releases a product or service that would be of interest to Alex as a blogger. By writing to him personally, in advance of a general newsletter, you open the door to a business-oriented friendship.
And yet it needn’t be strictly promotional. One of my customers, Tim, had sent out a newsletter detailing his around-the-world trip. When I learned he was heading to New York City, I reached out to him to tell him about some sights he shouldn’t miss. That simple act led to him encouraging other businesses to join us—and he even crashed on my couch.
By initiating genuine interaction based on your knowledge of your customers, you will unavoidably build positive relationships.
The “Turn Your Team Into Their Team” Email
Not everything can be solved by the customer support folks on your team. Sometimes, they will need to pass the issue on to an engineer, developer, salesperson or CEO. In these instances, there's a two-part follow-up.
In this case, don't pass the customer off to someone else. Bring the customer along.
First, before sharing the issue with a colleague, let the customer know you're doing so and introduce the customer to the next team member they'll be interacting with. Explain who the new person is, what they do, and how you think they can help. This shows genuine concern for the customer and a humble commitment to making sure the right person does the job.
After the issue is resolved, a note to check in is a great way to show the customer that you didn't pass the buck, but rather handled the issue in an inclusive way. This makes your customer think, "Wow, they have a few people working on solving this for me." This is infinitely better than a buck-passing, and turns your team into your customer’s team.
The “Very Long Solutions” Email
When a customer service issue is clearly going to take more than a week to resolve, customers can begin to get frustrated. Your team is working behind the scenes to help, but the customer doesn't see this and might feel neglected.
A short email follow-up after one day, letting the customer know that it's going to take more time, but that you're actively on the case, goes a long way. A second follow-up email two or three days later reiterates that you haven't forgotten about them. This lets the customer know that they're valued. It's an opportunity to update the customer on where you are with the solution, what work you've currently done on their behalf and helps the customer see the hard work you're doing for them.
In some cases, though, it's better to stop following up after the initial one or two updates unless there’s some important progress. Use your judgement, and if you're not sure, remember less is usually more.
The “Just Checking In” Email
This is a really easy way to show you care. A one- or two-sentence note to a customer is a brilliant way to show you value them:
"Hey, I was thinking of you. Even though your concerns were addressed a couple weeks ago, I wanted to just check in. I'm standing by if you have any questions or thoughts."
Can you beat it? Nope! This is the mark of a customer support team that excels. With these follow-up ideas, you will incrementally improve your interactions with your customers. Remember, it’s not an all-or-nothing approach. Just do what you can, when you can, and soon following up will become a valuable habit.
Read more articles on customer service.
Dean Levitt is Chief of Culture at Mad Mimi Email Marketing. Based in Honolulu, Dean spends altogether too much time thinking about email, people, music and customer support.
A version of this article was originally published on May 15, 2013.