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Shooting Yourself In The Foot With Email 15 August 2000 Edition
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Of all the services that the Internet has brought us, email is widely acknowledged as the single most popular and valuable one.

After making the fax virtually redundant, email has gone on to make a big dent in the need to pick up a phone or send a printed memo throughout the day.

Email has significantly reduced the cost of communications for many businesses who have been able to slash their toll bill and improve efficiencies. When used properly, email is a simply a Godsend to supplier and customer alike.

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However -- far too many businesses are misusing email to an enormous extent.

I'm not talking about sending personal emails during work-hours or wasting bandwidth by circulating enormous AVIs or MPEG files around the office. I'm talking about the way far too many companies are using it as a shield between their customers and themselves.

Here's an example:

As regular readers will know, a week or two ago I had a TV and a couple of computers damaged as a result of ongoing power outages here. When I spoke to the power company (TransAlta -- who else?), they advised me to email their "Customer Care" address. As it turns out, "Customer Care" should be renamed "Couldn't Care Less About Customers."

I'm still waiting for even an acknowledgement of my email -- and I'm not holding my breath. And this isn't the first time I've found that the proudly displayed email addresses on a company's website turn out to be nothing but the path to a black hole.

I must wonder whether these same companies would have customer inquiry counters at their offices where the staff simply refused to take any notice of people who turned up to ask questions. By not answering email, these companies are thumbing their noses at their customers -- and that's very bad business.

Readers Say
I "recently" emailed them - Richard

I have had nothing but good responses - Toya

Looking around Auckland I see recruitment agencies are also the same - Glen

There have been a couple of occasions where - S.Johnsen

Have Your Say
One of the things I attribute the success of most of my Net ventures to is the fact that I work very hard to reply to all emails I receive -- even if it's just a simple, personal acknowledgement and thank you. This kind of thing makes customers feel important and lets them know that a business takes their input or queries seriously.

If you have a contact email address which is advertised on your website or which is fed by a form on that site then you absolutely must make sure that all queries and comments are acknowledged within 24 hours -- otherwise you're insulting your customers and driving them to your competitors. And -- don't just allocate one person to this job otherwise it's all too easy to overlook this critical task when that person is ill or on holiday.

Remember: email is a valuable business tool -- not a shield to be used against your customers!

Do you get annoyed when companies ignore your email? Have your say.

NZ's Most Expensive Website?
How much do you reckon 4 this website cost to develop?

Let's look at what it offers:

  • Regional weather forecasts updated once a day
  • News, syndicated from NewsRoom.co.nz
  • Some very primitive discussion forums
  • A list of stuff for sale
  • Some commodity price reports

A nice selection of stuff -- but pretty lightweight really.

So, how much do you think it cost to develop this site and the back-end that supports it?

How about ten million dollars?

Yes, that's right, it's not a typing error -- Kiwi Dairies claim they spent ten million dollars developing this "portal" which is designed to act as a "virtual rural community" for the 2,200 Net-connected dairy farmers in NZ.

Now I realise that the amount of back-end development for any site can significantly exceed the cost of the HTML -- but I really have to ask -- did these guys shop around and get competitive tenders before forking out $10m??

Register.com Replies
After reading yesterday's column, the folks at Register.com emailed me to advise that it is possible to upgrade one of the free domain name registrations to a geniune paid version for the normal Register.com fee.

Their comments can be found here.

As always, your feedback is welcomed.

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Copyright © 2000, Bruce Simpson, free republication rights available on request