When and how to call, text, or email your customers

About The Author

Ahmad Iqbal

Ahmad Iqbal

Co-founder and Product/Marketing at Shop Phone. Growth consultant. Every now and again I write about the small business advantage.

Why is this Topic Important?

Creating an effective communication mix with your customers is very important. I see too many business owners, and ecommerce businesses relying solely on email communication. I think relying only on email is taking the easy way out. The reality is there are so many ways to stay connected to your customers now, and with the rise of new apps, channels, and mediums, customers are becoming more and more varied in how they prefer to be contacted.

If I only had one sentence to make my case for SMS and Calling it would be this: The average email open rate for all emails is less than 20%! Here is an eye opening study from Campaign Monitor. Think about that for a minute. Less than 2 out of 10 emails you send will be opened. That doesn't even take into account how many will respond or actually even care, which will likely be way less. Also, email open rates are dropping each year. Did you know there are societies in developing countries that have completely leap-frogged the concept of Email? Just like many countries leap-frogged phone landlines and dial-up internet and moved right to cell phones and wifi, the same is true for email. It's a sign of times to come.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that marketing automation can be super useful and advantageous. But don't forget this is a result of lots of testing, experimenting, segmenting audiences, and building funnels for each segment. Not all businesses have the time, audience lists, know-how, or technology budgets to effectively apply this type of tooling. Especially not ecommerce businesses trying to get started. Heck, even if you are a big-time ecommerce operation, relying solely on emails isn't smart or reliable in the long-term.

Importance of Calling

Calling your customer is one of those hidden gems that when business owners understand, it unlocks a mountain of potential interactions. Phone calls can play a big role in each of the three phases of the customer relationship lifecycle, but it's most powerful position is to be used as a way to create a relationship. Here are some examples of why calling customers is important:

1. Two-way dialogue with your customer

Most importantly, it's a free form communication, so your conversations can go in any unlimited directions which will tell you what is important to that customer. This two-way dialogue is the best way to build trust. They throw you a ball, you catch it and throw it back; they throw you a bigger ball, you catch it and throw it back; etc. Here is an older Instagram post about "Building Trust."

2. Personalized attention

Personalization is the key differentiator of businesses moving forward. Several online publications indicated that personalization (of content, marketing, and user experience) will be a key trend in ecommerce in 2018 and beyond. The great thing about phone calls are, you don't need to implement an expensive and time-consuming marketing technology to personalize your website, emails and blog. Just pick up and phone, provide immense value, and ask good questions.

3. Real-time feedback

With email and SMS, you cannot close the communication loops in real-time. If you ask me a question over the phone, you will get an answer immediately because I will answer you right away. Even if I don't know the answer, at least I can tell you, "I will get back to you," which tells you something, when to expect an answer, or simply that I don't know. If you asked over email or SMS, you won't get any information from me until I choose to reply. Apply this to ecommerce experience so your customers can get answers to their questions immediately, and you can get answers about your customers' expectations and needs.

4. Personifies your brand

When you are physically on the phone with your customer (or if one of your call center agents are), they are the personification of your brand. If you sell education material, knowledge, approachability, and friendliness being key brand pillars, the phone call is an opportunity to exude those attributes. Branding is just a sum of all interactions between your brand and your audience. If the most impressionable and intimate interaction (phone call) shows you being friendly, helpful and extremely knowledgable, then that is the lasting impression your customer will remember you by. So if you think you have a great brand positioning, and you personify your brand really well, calling your customer is a way you can leverage yourself.

5. Opportunity to learn about your customer's pains and passions

People are on your site for a reason. They added to their cart, entered their personal and credit card info for a reason. Find out what that reason is. There are two major reasons why people buy products online. To solve a pain, or serve a purpose. Find out why your customers by from you so you can better optimize the copy on your website, and so that you can keep that customer in mind if you get a new product in you think they might like.

6. Everyone loves a free concierge service

Here is a novel idea (especially if you're a new store with very few customers): be a concierge for your customer's online shopping needs, or for solving their pain or serving their passion. Tell your customer that you would like to find the products they want, at the best price available on the internet. This is definitely not sustainable for larger stores, but it builds trust when you're starting out. Zappos instituted this policy when selling shoes online. If a customer wanted a pair that was out of stock, or unavailable within the timeframe they needed it, a Zappos customer service rep would go on competitor's websites and find the best option for the customer and send them the link. This bold move was incredibly impressive in the eyes of the customer and Zappos become the go-to spot the next time the customer needed to buy shoes. You can apply this tactic even if you're selling surfboards. Start off by asking questions and become their personal surfing concierge. Find new spots where they can surf, new products for surfers, and for people trying to learn, find classes close by, and take care of the details for them. You have no idea what a mind-blowing experience this will be for your (now loyal) customer. Far out, dude!

When and How you should Call

Now I'm going to dive into some details about calling customers. When and how you should be doing it, with some examples. FYI - the Bonus point is my favorite.

1. Large Order Values

This is simply to say "thank you." Apart from just showing appreciation to your top customers, there are four other benefits of showing gratitude that we listed in a previous post. Keep in mind you can always call all your customers, as long as you're calling just to say thank you, but if you're getting lots of orders, maybe stick with the top 25% of order values your store receives so you aren't going crazy. Another thing you can do if you have severely limited time, just call the best customer from each day the next morning. I can even automate the alert and reminder to call if you install our app in your Shopify store.

2. Repurchases

This is very similar to the above point. You want to show loyal and returning customers that you appreciate them. Just call to say thank you and ask if you can help them with anything else they might need. Keep in mind that retaining an existing customer is 7x cheaper than acquiring a new one, so keep touch points like this open with returning customers because a two-time buyer is way more likely to buy a third time than a new customer who hasn't even bought even once yet. if you're interested in customer retention, I'm working on another blog which I'll link here when it's done.

3. Abandoned Checkouts

I've beaten this over the head so many time I almost don't even want to talk about this anymore ?. Basically, people who have left their personal details attached to their abandoned cart are interested. They are your warmest leads, period. You should call them to get feedback, ask about why they didn't purchase, learn what their concerns and issues were so you won't lose the next one. There is a balance here because I wouldn't recommend calling an abandoned checkout if you're selling a highly commoditized and low-price item like pens, or mugs, or inspirational posters. But definitely call if you're selling niche products, or big heavy items, or expensive goods.

4. Speciality Services

For example, when you know a product has been delivered, call your customer to ask if they received it in good condition. I love this trick because it shows your customer that you know about them and their order and are watching out for them. You have their back. This builds trust. It's hard to do because there is no automated alert for when a product gets shipped, but I'm working on this for my skills in my Shopify and BigCommerce app. When a product of a certain price point has been delivered, I'll alert you so you can call the customer and ask if everything is good.

+1 Bonus: Concierge Services

I introduced this in the earlier section, but I'll repeat it again because I think it's a great idea for the majority of Oberlo/AliExpress dropship stores. The majority of Shopify stores make very few sales, not because there is a problem with Shopify, but because entrepreneurship (especially ecommerce) is hard and extremely competitive. This is why you need to stand out, and providing a concierge service is the best way you can stand out. I used the example of surfing gear earlier, so here now I'll use an example of gamer equipment (glasses, keyboards, headsets). If you're dropshipping these products, first of all to address the elephant in the room, your customer experience is going to suck. Get ahead of it! Call your customer and remind them it will take a while to ship, but offer a concierge service while they wait (and beyond until you have too many customers to do it for). Ask them if they want you to keep an eye out on new game releases so you can add them to the pre-sale list. Send them links to tournaments happening close to where they live. You can even send them links to livestreams you think they'll enjoy (in a more intimate mobile communication channel like Facebook Messenger). These little things will provide such an amazing experience, the next time your customer needs gaming gear, you're the first person they will contact.

Importance of SMS

The second point of the customer relationship lifecycle is the actually building and growing of the relationship. You can't do this with Email because again, only 20% get's opened, so you're not really growing anything if customers aren't even reading your messages. Hence why we rely on SMS for this. SMS has a 95% open rate, which means your customers will see the message you send them, and greatly increases the chance of them internalizing what you're saying and the service quality you provide and want to be known for. More specially here are five reasons for why SMSing is valuable:

1. 95% Open Rate

Case closed. Do I even need to go on? I probably get 50+ emails for every one SMS I receive. Of course I'm going to be more responsive to an SMS over an email.

2. Short Form Content

It's quick. It's a short message and customers can read within 10 seconds. These days our attention spans are so short, you don't want to lose your customer in the middle of the content (hopefully that didn't happen with you and you'll keep reading this post, hint: there is more good stuff below). Keeping it short just have better chance that the message will not only be read but most importantly understood.

3. Easy to Reply to

It's easy to reply to an SMS. Just a tap of a button. So if you customers have a question or a concern, they can just reply and you can get back to them when you have a chance (ideally as soon as possible).

4. Non-Interruptive

Unlike phone calls, you aren't creating an obligation of your customer to respond or reciprocate attention. Your customer can reply when they have a chance to. If they're in the middle of something they don't want to get a phone call, but an SMS would be good.

5. Easy to Automate

There are tools out there, including my free do-it-your-self service (automated paid plan coming soon to an ecommerce app store near you) where you can automate SMS campaigns to your customers. Before automating, I would highly recommend doing it yourself so you get a feel for the channel and see how customer respond and react to it. Once you learn, you can make tweaks to your approach before rolling it out for everyone.

When and How you should SMS

Now let's go into some details about SMS. We will investigate the five opportunities to grow a relationship / occasions I feel are appropriate to reach out via SMS:

1. Abandoned Checkout

If you've made phone numbers required (or optional) on your checkout form you will have phone numbers of customers who abandoned checkouts. Use these phone numbers to message them via SMS and remind them of their pending cart. I always say, abandoned checkout customers are your hottest leads, so if you're not going to call them (if the product is low priced and commoditized) then definitely send an SMS. SMS has an open rate of 95%, whereas emails have 20%, so you're almost quadrupling the potential recovery through that fact alone because you've widened that part of your sales funnel.

2. Order Confirmation

Not just order confirmation, but if you can send SMS messages on delivery status updates, it goes a long way in building a better customer relationship. You're alerting the customer in a quick and easy way updating them on the status of their order, and they can follow along the journey of their product from order confirmation, to "your order has shipped," to "your order has been delivered." This signals to your customer that you're aware of their anticipation, and also provides a nice dose of dopamine as they visualize receiving their package in the mail.

3. Check in on Delivery

I feel brands don't do this enough. We as merchants have access to package tracking numbers. It's easy for us to find out when a product has been delivered or not. When you know a product has been delivered, send your customer a message asking them if they received their package alright. This tells your customer that you were aware of their order and were looking out for them, it signals that you care. Also, if a customer lives in an apartment building, or a neighbourhood where they use community mailboxes, they might not even know it's been delivered. They might wait an extra couple days that they didn't need to. By sending this SMS you remind them it's been delivered and you're building trust.

4. Check in after 30 Days

Just like the above occasion, this tactic is rarely used by creates a great customer relationship opportunity. 30 days after the product has been delivered, SMS your customer to see if they have used/installed/worn/whatever what they bought. You're not messaging to sell anything, you're just messaging a question about if they've had a chance to use it, and if they need anything else from you. This keeps you top of mind and, again, signals that you're watching out for your customer and truly care about their satisfaction.

5. Special Deals

Any other time you send an SMS you will notice that we aren't trying to sell anything. You're treating the customer like an asset, not a transaction. This fifth point is the only time I give permission to advertise a deal or sale. By sending the previous relationship building messages, you're slowly earning the right to spam them with this once per year SMS! You can do this during BFCM (Black Friday / Cyber Monday), Boxing Day, Singles Day, or whatever shopping holiday your community celebrates. Send one message 2 weeks before reminding them of the upcoming massive sale, and then once again the day of the sale. A very important note: do not abuse this opportunity by promoting weak sales for 10% or 25% off, if you're going to spam their SMS inbox, then do it boldly with sales of at least 50% off.

Importance of Email

Stats like the abysmal 20% open rates for emails make it sound like this is not important at all. However there is one (or two) major reasons why it's important. The way I see it, an email is a paper-trail. My receipt, order confirmation, shipping updates are a paper-trail that I can refer to at a later date if I need it. Email is kind of becoming like a filing cabinet of old documents you want to keep around because maybe one day you'll refer back to it.

Additionally, the email is also a reminder that you're still around if you go several months without any reason for a customer contact over the phone or SMS.

When and How you should Email

I believe you can email on all of the above occasions, plus more. I won't go into the full details like I did earlier, but here is a sample of that list:

  1. Abandoned Checkout
  2. Order Confirmation
  3. Shipping Confirmation
  4. Sale Announcements
  5. New Inventory/Product Updates
  6. Asking for Feedback/Reviews
  7. Repurchasing Customers
  8. High Order Values
  9. New Blog Post

Don't forget that email is a rich medium. You can embed images, GIFs, colors, unlimited text, hyperlinks, etc. It's a more heavy form of communication, so leverage and embrace it. If you're sending an auto-email, don't send a single sentence email because you can use SMS for that. Instead using images, links to videos, nice fonts. Make it enjoyable to look at.

"The Medium is the Message"

Finally, let's consider this quote made famous by the godfather of media, Marshall McLuhan.

the medium is the message

"The Medium is the Message" reminds us it's not about the content, but rather the medium that content lives in that is more interesting to study. So as you think about applying these learnings to your relationship building strategies, think about the three mediums and make sure to also think about the channel itself and how you can use it in uniquely interesting ways. Calls allow you to leverage tones of voice; with SMS think short and witty text; with email you can use rich media like GIFs and images to get your brand across. Again, each channel is so different and used differently by your audience, so leverage each in a way to use it to it's full potential.

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