Build Your Boat Before It Starts Raining

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the single most useful thing you can do to help your company take advantage of the Internet, is . . . Aggressively collect the email addresses of your customers!

Consider these two examples of recent company-to-customer communications, both of which were forwarded to me in the last month by newsletter readers:

Bruce from Waltham MA, forwarded a message from the CEO of (an online wine retailer) to its customers. Apparently, an article in the previous day’s Wall Street Journal had incorrectly implied that evineyard was in financial trouble. I’ll spare you the details, but the crux of the email was, “we’re doing fine, don’t believe everything you read, and thank you for your business.”

Rick from Cambridge MA, forwarded a message that the president of Frontier Airlines sent to its customers. This email was intended to reassure customers in the wake of Sept 11th, that the airline would work to return air travel to normal, as well as to announce plans for increased electronic communication (specifically email) with travelers.

Here’s what I’d like you to notice:

• The Timeframe. The evineyard message was sent out the day after the WSJ article; the Frontier Airlines message was sent within three weeks of September 11th. Email communication with your customers gives you immediate access to them. There’s no formatting requirement (both were sent as text emails), no printing turnaround time, and no postal delivery delay. As quickly as you can react, you can reach out.

• Who Controls The Message. Why let the Wall Street Journal tell your customers about you? Why let Dan Rather paint whatever picture CBS news decides it wants to paint about airline safety?Instead, evineyard and Frontier decided to go directly to its customers, and both are delivering their own carefully crafted messages. In the pre-Internet world, the best a company could do was hope and pray that, “the reporter gets the story right.” Today, these companies have seized the opportunity to go around the media and direct to their customers.

• No Email Addresses, No Options. The only reason evineyard and Frontier Airlines had an option to communicate their points of view, was because they had already collected customer email addresses. Obvious. What isn’t so obvious however, is that if your company starts TODAY to collect email addresses, it will take you about a year to reach critical mass. It’s a slow, slow, manual process, and one that requires the cooperation of your customers.

Bottom Line. Even if you have absolutely no idea what you will do with them, start collecting customer email addresses today. This means reviewing your procedures, revising your web site, rewriting your data collection forms and training your front line staff to ask for addresses at every point of customer contact.

The Internet is the machine for communicating with your customers; email addresses are the fuel!

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