The Top Five E-mail Mistakes to Avoid

No one wants to lose business, especially in this economy, but careless e-mail processes practically guarantee lost revenue. Helen Bradley shows you how to avoid the five most common e-mail mistakes.

A lousy e-mail system isn’t just inconvenient, it will cost you business. It is not enough to spend money on a great-looking Web site and achieving a good rank on search engines if your e-mail system works against you. Just as your Web site carries the banner for your business, so too does your e-mail service. A shoddy system will cost you customers, and you probably won't even know that it’s happening.

In this article I'll show you five typical e-mail mistakes that businesses make that are guaranteed to lose you business. And, in case you’re making any of them now, I’ll show you how to fix the problem.

Free E-mail Providers

Not only do free e-mail providers suggest that you’re operating on the cheap by not paying for a “proper” e-mail service, but they’re also a poor choice for your business. I’m not just talking about Hotmail and Gmail, but also about the e-mail service that you get when you sign up for an ISP service for your business.

Generic e-mail address
At Blooming Direct, questions go to a customer services e-mail account, which allows anyone to handle replies.
(Click for larger image)
.

If you’re using an e-mail address that’s linked to your internet service provider and you change providers, then you will lose your e-mail address. You would have to tell all your customers that your e-mail address has changed, which is not only a waste of time but the likelihood of you remembering everyone who needs your new address is slim — and you’ll lose contact with those customers.

Worse still, by using a free e-mail provider, you miss out on a valuable way to advertise your business. My e-mail address, helen@helenbradley.com tells you that I have a Web site (www.helenbradley.com), and you can immediately go and learn more about me or my business. If I used an @hotmail.com address, you couldn’t find my Web site from simply having my e-mail address, and my e-mail address wouldn’t be contributing anything toward publicizing my business.

The simple solution, if your business has a domain name, is to have e-mail addresses which are someone @yourdomainname,com. With a little tinkering you can even set up your system to make use of the services provided by companies such as Gmail while still using @yourdomainname addresses. Then your customers simply e-mail and get replies from you using your domain-name linked e-mail address, and they don't need to know anything of how you manage these behind the scenes.

If you change ISPs or move to another hosting service, nobody needs to know. You don’t need to tell anybody and everything works as transparently as if the change didn't even happen.

Names in E-mail Addresses

This problem is a subtle one, but it is a big issue. If you create e-mail addresses that are in the form janesmith@yourdomainname.com, then you need to consider what happens should Jane leave your business. Any e-mails that Jane receives after she leaves your business have to be handled properly or you will lose customers.

Instead of having personalized e-mail addresses it is better to use specialties. For example, if Jane is a sales person, use sales@yourdomainname.com. Not only does your business look more professional but this flexible solution lets anyone handle Jane's email because they’re addressed to the sales department.

As long as you reply to your e-mails in a timely manner, your customers won’t notice the difference between sales@ or jane@ e-mail addresses. Also, you can still use individual signatures for these emails to personalize the replies. Good service is less about personal e-mail addresses than it is about actually answering e-mails quickly and professionally.

Redirecting E-mail

When someone is on vacation or away for more than a day, it’s vital that you redirect their e-mail to someone who can deal with them in their absence. This applies to jane@ type e-mail addresses or sales@ type ones. It’s almost impossible to redirect if someone uses personal e-mail addresses for business use which, as you'll see shortly, is a big NO.

At the very least, you need to send an out-of-office e-mail to the sender indicating that the person is away, telling them when the person will return and giving details as to what the sender should do in the meantime. Ideally though, the e-mail will just be redirected to someone who can reply to it.

Automatic out-of-office reply
At Blooming Direct, questions go to a customer services e-mail account, which allows anyone to handle replies.
(Click for larger image)
.

E-mail is as important to an e-tailer as the phone is to a bricks-and-mortar business. The phone still gets answered when a receptionist is on vacation — don’t let e-mail sit unanswered just because someone is on vacation.

You should also ensure that out-of-office replies are removed immediately when the person returns from vacation. Customers won't be impressed if they e-mail and receive a reply saying the recipient will return on a date that has already passed.

Managing Former Employees

If someone a jane@ type e-mail leaves your business, do not cancel their account. Instead keep the account, change the account password and redirect incoming e-mail messages to someone else who can manage them.

If you cancel the account, the e-mail sent to that account will bounce back to the sender. You probably won't even know this is happening, and you won't know what business you are losing. Bouncing incoming e-mail due to canceled accounts tells your customers that you really don't care about their business.

On the other hand, if you redirect the e-mail to someone who can handle the replies and explain that the person has left the business, you have a chance at maintaining a good relationship with your customers.

Of course, you've probably already deduced that if your emails are the sales@ type addresses then this won't be an issue for you.

Mixing Business and Personal

One major mistake that people make is receiving personal and business e-mail at one e-mail address — it’s even worse if it’s a private e-mail address.

If you ever sell your business, you will need to decide whether the e-mail address goes with the business or not. A purchaser will see the contacts you have and the e-mail you receive as an integral part of your business and will want the address. You may not want to relinquish it if it give them access to all your personal e-mail as well.

If your employees get business e-mail sent to a personal address such as a Gmail or Hotmail address, then it will be impossible for you to get access to that e-mail if they leave. For this reason, don’t let anyone conduct business using accounts that you don’t control.


You'll find lots more software tips and tutorials from Helen Bradley in our Small Business Essential series, How-To With Helen Bradley.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

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