Every company spends a lot of money to acquire new customers, so investing a bit more to keep them is well worth the price. It’s widely acknowledged that the cost of acquiring a new customer can be upwards of five times greater than the cost of retaining an existing one. That means marketing tactics aimed at customer retention should be a priority.
One smart, effective, and efficient customer retention tactic is an integrated e-mail communications program.

There are many opportunities to communicate with customers via e-mail, and e-mail fits well into the communications methods engineers and other technical professionals prefer.

To make e-mail work as a customer retention tool, you need to do two things:

  1. Get out of the promotional mindset and get into your customer’s mindset. Whether they are a loyal, long-term customer or have just purchased from you for the first time, your customers want to hear from you when you have something to say that’s relevant to them. They don’t want to be sold to again and again. They want useful information to help them do their jobs better. This will keep your company “top of mind” with them.
  2. Coordinate efforts among different departments who will use e-mail to communicate with customers. This is where the integrated part comes in. Anyone who might be sending a customer an e-mail — customer service, marketing, accounts receivable, sales — must be on the same page. Their communication efforts should be coordinated and spaced apart so that the e-mails customers receive from you are relevant and timely. There’s nothing like a barrage of similar or contradictory e-mails to turn an e-mail retention program into a mess of communications that backfires and turns your customers away.

Ideas for E-mail Communications
The key to using e-mail for customer retention is to think in terms of having conversations with your customers. Stay away from the hard selling and limited-time offers and try cultivating your relationship by providing relevant information.

Here are some examples of relevant information:

  • A simple thank you e-mail for purchasing a product with links to support information or other products that are related to the one they purchased
  • An e-mail with phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or links for support
  • E-mails containing technical articles or links to articles about their industry or job functions
  • E-mails announcing new versions of products they own
  • E-mails containing customer satisfaction surveys
  • An e-mail from the salesperson just “checking in” to see if the customer has any questions or needs additional help

While none of these examples are promotional in nature, several of them still perform important cross-selling and up-selling functions. E-mails on new product announcements or related products can lead to additional sales for your company. A survey conducted in September 2006 by Alterian, a marketing software company, revealed that 90% of clients of marketing services providers use e-mail for customer retention and cross-selling.

What Format to Use for Communications
Many of the communications outlined above can be fulfilled by a regular customer e-newsletter. Remember that relevance is the key to a good e-newsletter. Larger companies that have a wide variety of customer types will want to segment them into appropriate groups and send each group an e-newsletter that pertains to their area of interest. If you are unable to do this or have a small customer list, you might consider personalized one-to-one communication from a sales or customer service representative.

You can also make your customer retention communications look less like an e-newsletter and more like a personalized letter. This will enhance the relationship aspect of the communications and might decrease the chance your customers will opt-out of your e-mails.

Speaking of opting out, although you have a business relationship with your customers and the right to send them e-mails to confirm orders and conduct business communications, you should adhere to all CAN-SPAM laws when working on your retention campaigns. A good summary of the spam law can be found here.

A Final Word on Integration
To get serious about using e-mail as a customer retention tool, representatives from every department that will send e-mails should form a team and plan out the e-mail strategy. It helps to have an executive sponsor. This way, communications will be properly spaced, relevant, and effective, which is exactly what you need to keep your customers in the fold.

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