The Favour of a Reply is Requested: Why We Should Start Loving Email Again

Do you remember when email was invented? I don’t have any specific memory of the day it turned up, like magic, on my computer at work, but I am fairly certain it was a matter of minutes before I joined every other marketer on the planet getting very excited about the possibilities of the medium.

I probably spent hours constructing presentations about the new age of customer conversations, the inevitability of one-to-one marketing and, naturally, the immense efficiencies of this incredible new relationship tool.

Well now that the enthusiasm has been replaced by spam filters (that’s our fault, I think) and legislation and more legislation (I’ll blame bored lawyers there), marketers are walking away from email in favour of brighter, less regulated ways to interrupt and yell at people.

But is it quite time to pasture this old plough horse? I don’t think so. It’s probably time to go back to what it was always pretty good at and use it that way. If you’re having trouble remembering why it was such a great idea, recall that email is a two-way medium.

Take this a little further and consider that, for most business people, it’s the communication platform of choice. This is how most professionals ask for and receive information from other professionals. And sometimes it’s not about the holiday party or the fantasy football league. Sometimes, professional people want to buy stuff, ask a question, get help or, heaven help us, have a conversation with another professional person at a company, like, say, yours.

So let’s suppose I would like to buy a thing from your company, and let’s suppose I make my way to your website to ask about it. What would my experience be? Will I go to the Contact Us page and get a list of telephone numbers to call? Will I click on “Contact Sales” and get a lead form that requires (yes, requires) that I spit out my company’s revenue, employee count and IT budget before anyone will call me back? . When I click submit will the message go to Doris who left three years ago to start a mung bean business?

Please, please, please don’t make me have a Live Chat with some perky Millennial in New Brunswick.The Favour of a Reply is Requested: Why We Should Start Loving Email Again image dont put the scotch in the fridgeThe Favour of a Reply is Requested: Why We Should Start Loving Email Again

Let’s pretend I do actually find a mailto link for your Sales or your Customer Abuse Department. What happens then? Does it go to a dedicated person with the mandate and training to reply or assign it to someone who can reply? Or does it swirl endlessly in the bowl of unqualified leads until it finally drops out the bottom because I didn’t follow up with a phone call? If you aren’t sure, try sending an email to your sales and support addresses (do it from home or get a buddy at an outside company to do it) and see what happens.

Can I share with you a nasty thing I do when I want to have an email conversation with a company? If I can’t find a general email address, I go to the Investor Relations page. It seems that for public companies, the only place that really, really wants to hear from the outside world is the IR department. It takes a very small amount of time to find a real person and a real email in there.

If I still can’t find a way in, or if the company is private, then I go one better and I look for a press release. Guess what you put at the bottom your press releases? Someone’s name, phone number and email address. Sometimes the someone is at your PR agency and sometimes the someone is you or your PR person. I’m not picky. Because I know that once real names and not department names are involved, there is an implied accountability that comes into play and more or less guarantees I’ll get a response.

This is good news for me but a fairly tragic waste of resources at your end. Which brings me to the real reason I think most of us don’t do anything about email as an effective two-way channel. It’s our back-ends.

You remember your back-end, don’t you? Once upon a time when email was new and marvelous, you had a lovely, tight back-end that got plenty of exercise and stayed in perfect form. Perhaps it was nice enough that other companies came over to gaze upon it with wonder. But time is cruel, especially to back-ends, and yours is probably looking pretty flabby these days, what with the Productivity Prevention Department shutting down your email accounts due to lack of use (don’t blame them, it probably took you months to notice).

Hours of yoga and power-walking await the marketer who truly wants this channel back on track. It means figuring out where the email addresses actually go and getting them rerouted to people who are still with the company (can I suggest it not be a summer student?). It means writing protocols and processes and reply scripts and internal SLAs and escalation paths (admit it, you love writing escalation paths).

But at the end of the day, what it really means is that your business customers can do what you promised so many years ago and that’s have a conversation with you on the platform of their choice, not your choice.

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