When it comes to maintaining contact with shoppers, being in touch without being a burden can be difficult—after all, nobody wants to be inundated with spam email, junk letters, or strangers hawking products at their front door.
Fortunately, as a small- to medium-sized business, you have many options for staying connected to your customers, and there’s no reason why you can't do it effectively. That means contacting customers without being ignored, or—even worse—relegated to the spam folder!
Email marketing is just one option for informing customers of sales, new inventory, or other business news likely to interest them. Other options include online chats and hangouts, a Facebook Page, and LinkedIn Showcase Pages. And, as we'll discuss soon, even in-person meetings are not outside the realm of possibility.
We know it sounds old school, but given the prevalence of email it's no wonder that some experts still recommend working with an Email Service Provider (ESP) to reach out to customers. Waldow and Falls, the authors of The Rebel's Guide to Email Marketing: Grow Your List, Break the Rules, and Win, like that these ESPs do so much of the behind-the-scenes work for you to create an email infrastructure: "This includes feedback loops, sending thresholds with the ISPs, and other 'technical' aspects of your program," they say.
Choosing an ESP comes down to what your needs, budget, and skill level are going in. Examples include Mailchimp (which Brooklyn Calloway, owner of Brookielynn's Bungalow, favors), Aweber, as well as Constant Contact, which seems to have been around practically forever. While these are simpler to use, they lack some of the more sophisticated features that mid- or high-level applications include. Again, according to "The Rebel's Guide," these next level "marketing automation platforms" include the sophisticated Infusionsoft and services such as ExactTarget, Silverpop, and Bronto. The authors suggest setting up some demos and test driving a few “to see what's best for your needs."
It's a given that you need a strong social media “presence” for your business, but it's important to create this presence carefully so that you don't waste valuable time and effort. Yes, you should be on Facebook, and depending on how visual your business is, Instagram and Pinterest as well. Add LinkedIn to the mix to help establish professional credibility, and don’t forget those fans who might want to engage with you on Twitter.
Use your seller name and the same graphics on, for instance, your eBay store and Etsy shop, as well as all social media. Using your name and uniform graphics everywhere makes you easy to find.
eCommerce expert and speaker Kathy Terrill offers the following tips on how to reach out to and connect with customers:
- Use your seller name and the same graphics on, for instance, your eBay store and Etsy shop, as well as all social media. Using your name and uniform graphics everywhere makes you easy to find. Buyers know it's you.
- Use Facebook pages. Given Facebook's hundreds of millions of users, "there's a very good chance that includes your customers, so set up a page," she advises. Terrill says she's actually had buyers message her questions and thank her for fast shipping right on her Facebook page. (She's also had similar posts in comments on Instagram posts.)
- Post engaging social content in addition to your products. Remember, it's social media, not selling media.
- Keep an eye on the messages sent to your Facebook page so that—when a customer messages you—you’re able to answer quickly.
How the "Big Boys" Do It
Actually, when it comes to these mid-sized companies, "big boys" might not be the right term—let's say “teenagers.” No matter how you phrase it, though, these companies have the resources to devote to communications options that go beyond what we've already discussed. Consider Vitacost, which sells protein bars, organic snacks, vitamins, teas, and other things that are "good for you." Jay Topper, their Customer Service Director, said that as an online company, they rarely actually see their customers, yet have direct relationships with all of them, and “their voice permeates throughout the business." But how so? Vitacost, of course, uses digital channels like email and social media to communicate with customers, but also have face-to-face opportunities many other online companies don’t. “We recently held our first customer day here in Boca Raton and spent an entire Saturday hearing from some of our most passionate local customers," Topper told us.
This isn't as far-fetched an idea as it may sound. Vitacost also has focus groups, panels (one of which was customer led), and presentations. "It was fantastic and uplifting for everyone involved — there was no monetary incentive and no one left early," Topper said.
No matter how you are communicating with your customers, every interaction is a chance to show how customer-centric you are. "As with all channels, including phones, email, and social media, we strive to ensure all communications are handled promptly and that we maximize the interaction opportunity with the customer. This is critical, as we don’t have the same benefits that a brick-and-mortar business might to make that connection,” Topper explained.
No matter how you are communicating with your customers, every interaction is a chance to show how customer-centric you are.
Minding Your Manners
As you know, not every communication you send a past customer will be a welcome one. That's why you have to craft those emails and postings with great care. Brooklyn Calloway suggests that when you're communicating with prior customers, "you want to be respectful through segmentation, content, and frequency/timing." We can define these concepts as:
- Segmentation: Group your customers into email lists and send them personalized messages based specifically on their particular interests within your company.
- Content: Don't send the same cookie-cutter messages to everyone and disregard people’s apparent interests based on their past purchases.
- Frequency/Timing: Know your audience. When are they online and how often should you send them informative emails? Send these informative emails once or twice a month, and educational emails once a week. Provide value in your emails that will make them want to open them time and time again.
Overall, when you’re knocking at your customers’ proverbial doors, try to be that communicator who everyone invites inside rather than chases away!