This is a guest post from Replyco, an email management tool designed for multi-channel online sellers.
Your methods for replying to customer emails are always crucial to business success. Responding to a customer inquiry is your chance to boost your company’s reputation, display product knowledge, showcase a willingness to be helpful and ensure customer satisfaction.
But difficult times can make shoring up your communication efforts harder than ever, just when they’re needed the most. For instance, if a crisis necessitates having your staff work from home while at the same time causing major shipping delays, you will have more customers reaching out for assistance and seemingly less control of your employees’ response protocol.
That’s why it’s imperative to create a structured process for organising, prioritising, delegating and handling customer communications. Following the right checklist can be the difference between staring down a stressful jumble of angry emails and knowing you and your team are providing the best care possible to each and every customer.
1. Organise and label
Good communication protocol starts with organising incoming emails. Knowing what the email is about can help you to both prioritise messages and delegate tasks to different departments.
If you are an eCommerce seller who sells products through various stores or across multiple marketplaces, organisation and labelling can also help you sort emails by where they originated (eBay, Amazon, etc.).
By utilising software designed for customer email organisation, you can set your incoming inquiries to be sorted and labelled according to what they’re about and from where they were sent.
A few common types of labels and folders include:
- Customer complaints
- Shipping questions
- Product questions
- Returns and refunds
- Pricing inquiries
- From Amazon
- From Shopify
- From eBay
Whatever your specific organisational needs are, sort and label incoming emails so that they are easy to prioritise and delegate – helping you to streamline your activity.
Once your customer emails are properly organised and labelled, it’s time to prioritise them.
Which inquiries need to be addressed first and which ones can wait?
Generally speaking, customer complaints, questions about shipping delays and other inquiries that could have a potentially negative impact on your company reputation or sales need to be responded to first.
Thankfully, customer communication software can help here as well, offering the ability to immediately flag certain types of messages as high-priority. You can also manually flag specific emails or label types yourself (meaning, for instance, that you can dictate that any email labelled as a “customer complaint” or “shipping delay question” is top priority or urgent).
After your incoming customer inquiries have been prioritised, it will be much easier to address the most crucial and pressing matters first. This then allows you to more accurately delegate messages to the right departments.
Delegation is a critical step of the customer service process.
Escalating incoming emails to the person who can answer them the most efficiently, effectively and correctly goes a long way towards improving the customer experience.
When possible, set up your customer service team so that the financial department answers questions about billing, your Amazon experts answer inquiries from Amazon customers and the individuals who are best at defusing potentially volatile situations handle customer complaints.
Proper delegation of communications also ensures your staff aren’t duplicating efforts. This is where practices such as making internal notes can come in handy.
4. Make internal notes
Internal notes are a great way for team members to provide insight into what they’ve done to help a customer.
If a staff member has discussed shipping delays with a customer and explained to them that the item in question shipped this week, that staff member would make a note on the customer email or account explaining the details of the conversation. In turn, this helps all employees to know what a customer has been told and when a customer has been taken care of.
Internal notes can also be created to share information that may be used in a follow-up conversation with a customer. If a team member has told a customer that they will receive a 5% discount on their next order if the delayed items are not received by a certain date, then the whole staff needs to know about it in case the customer emails again.
5. Schedule reminders
When following up with customers, setting reminders is another effective method used to manage communications and service-level agreements (SLAs).
In cases where customers require a follow-up of some kind, reminders (along with internal notes) can help employees to know when and how to reach out.
In the previously mentioned scenario, in which a customer was promised a discount of 5% if the order was not received by a certain date, you could set a reminder to check the tracking number and ensure the order was delivered by the date in question.
If it was, then it might be a good idea to check in with the customer to inquire how he or she liked the item. If it wasn’t, you will still want to email them, so they know you are being proactive and keeping an eye on the situation.
6. Set autoresponders
For customer emails that relate to topics you answer frequently, autoresponders can help to cut down on manual response efforts. A good example of this is the situation with COVID-19. All orders tend to be delayed or face slowed shipping times during times of crisis.
For these types of inquiries, you can set up an autoresponder for shipping delay questions.
While circling back to personally touch base with the customer at a later time always a good idea, the autoresponder can ensure that the customer receives some sort of informative contact immediately following an inquiry.
If you know shipping is delayed, setting up an autoresponder that says something like:
Hello [Customer Name],
Thanks for your email. We want to assure you that we are doing everything possible to get your items to you as quickly and safely as possible. Due to current circumstances, postal services are experiencing dramatic delays in shipping capabilities and speeds, so all customers should expect prolonged delivery times.
We apologise for this inconvenience and thank you for shopping with us.
You can also use autoresponders for general inquiries.
A simple auto-generated message like the following can go a long way toward improving customer perception:
Hello [Customer Name],
This is just to let you know that your message has been received and a customer service agent will contact you as soon as possible to respond to your inquiry.
Thank you for getting in touch!”
While autoresponders are a great way to get out ahead of potential problems, they should never be used to replace an actual response. The goal is to ensure customers receive a quick acknowledgment of their email having been received and a bit of pre-emptive information until a staff member can provide a full assessment of their inquiry.
7. Focus on one at a time
Even if you have organised, prioritised, delegated, made internal notes and set reminders/autoresponders, you can still only personally answer one email at a time.
One of the most important factors to remember is that all customers require your full attention when you are communicating with them.
When you are responding to a specific inquiry, focus entirely on the conversation and question at-hand. Make sure you have provided the most accurate, helpful and informative information possible to each customer before moving on to the next.
This may seem time-consuming, but providing rushed answers to customer questions will only send a negative message and reduce the chance of them shopping with you again or recommending you to friends.
This is where good, old-fashioned customer service comes into play.
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and think about what you would be looking for if asking the same question. Make sure your response is correct and reflects empathy and a willingness assist the customer.
Email templates can be a great way to provide in-depth service to customers while also saving time on your end. You can create templates ahead of time that address a wide range of frequently asked questions that you then personalise when crafting individual responses.
8. Create best practice guidelines
Once you have an understanding of the checklist that needs to be followed in order to best organise and respond to customer inquiries, it’s time to put your plan into action.
By creating guidelines that detail each step of your communication process and lay out how to follow protocol.
Your communication protocol will be of no use if it isn’t followed by the entire team. Make sure everyone has their own unique logins to any messaging software you are using and access to your communication guidelines.
9. Train your staff
After creating communication guidelines, it’s time to train your staff on how to follow them.
In addition to sign-ins for software systems and company-specific email addresses, your team members should have adequate training on your entire company communication process.
It is also a good idea to hold regular meetings to go over updates, issues, common questions and any other similar areas. As your company grows and evolves, you will undoubtedly make changes to your communication processes. Frequent meetings and training sessions can help you make sure you and your entire team are always using best practices.
When we are facing times of crisis, customer communications are of paramount importance.
Following sound best practices can set your company apart while helping you to continue achieving business goals. Even if your staff is distributed remotely, you can still boost efficiency among your workforce while also making sure each customer receives the very best service.
About the author
Replyco is an email management tool designed specifically to help multi-platform eCommerce sellers improve response rates and boost customer service. It integrates directly with Linnworks for one-click access to order information and enables sellers to view and reply to all customer inquiries from one centralised location; new users can even try it free for a full seven days.