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do-not-replyEver try replying to an email newsletter or customer service email from a big company?

If you have, you probably received one of those annoying, frustrating or infuriating (depending on your situation) automated responses telling you that you can’t reply directly to the email.

Or worse, maybe you didn’t receive any response at all.

Evidently that big company can occupy your time by sending you massive amounts of email, but you can’t get a response via email the one time you have a question. How’s that for customer care?

Unfortunately big companies can get away with the “do-not-reply” attitude, at least for the time being. In the future hopefully they’ll learn that connecting with your customers is a growth strategy, not a burden. For now, consumers have gotten used to the one-way “push” form of marketing from big companies.

For small businesses it’s a different story.

If you have a small business or are thinking of starting one, you should think hard about your attitude towards customers. Do you consider interactions with customers a burden, to be avoided or limited whenever possible (much like the way big businesses treat customers)?

Or, do you look at each interaction with a customer (paying or not) as an opportunity to show how much you care and how helpful your company is, with the potential to turn that customer into a lifelong fan and extension of your marketing team?

There’s a self-destructive attitude among some small businesses (both online and offline). They almost expect you to shop with them, just because they’re small or local. You know, so you can “do your part” and support local businesses.

Supporting local businesses is great, and I always try to support small businesses over large ones, but there are places where I draw the line. If your service sucks, I’ll go elsewhere. If your prices are way higher for the same thing and you don’t offer anything to make up for those higher prices (like caring about me as a customer, educating me or providing a better physical environment), I’ll go elsewhere.

Average consumers actually prefer the familiarity and comfort of the big brands they already know, so your job as an unknown little guy is even harder.

As a small business, you can’t afford to adopt the “do-not-reply” attitude. It might be tempting to act like the big guys, but remember that no one owes you a sale just because you’re small, and if you don’t show your customers a little love, there will be plenty of other small businesses waiting to show your lost customers that respect they were looking for.

Big business might be able to get away with not caring about customers in a one-on-one way, but as a small business, you have to care about every individual customer if you want to thrive.

I’ve seen the individual customer appreciation strategy work wonders in person recently on two occasions. I attended book signings for both Chris Guillebeau and Gary Vaynerchuk in San Francisco within the past six months. Both guys had nearly 200 people show up to the respective events.

At Chris’s event, he asked me to speak briefly to the group. During my talk I asked the crowd how many people had written Chris via email, Twitter or Facebook and had received a personal reply from him. Four out of five hands went up.

At Gary’s event, he asked a similar question. Gary asked the group in San Francisco how many people were there because he had created a personal one-on-one connection with them, again either over email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. or in-person. Nine out of ten hands went up.

Gary and Chris are walking examples of the massive impact you can have by personally caring about every single person you interact with, regardless of the number of Twitter followers someone has or whether or not someone has bought something from you.

Gary wrote an entire book about applying this old school strategy to the web called The Thank You Economy. Gary practices what he preaches in a big way. He recently hired someone to proactively reach out to his readers and customers to do nice appreciative and unexpected things for them, because he likes to “play offense” when it comes to caring about his customers.

How do you show your customers that you care?

Plenty of businesses just don’t get this yet, and their ignorance is your opportunity. Connect with people and care for them more than your competitors and you win. The rules for small businesses couldn’t be simpler.

Instead of “do-not-reply,” try a “please-reply” address.

I love every interaction I have with customers, because I know that every interaction is an opportunity to win someone over. Some people scoff at the idea of spending hours every day replying to email and tweets, but I know how critical that effort has been to any success I’ve already had and will be to anything I do in the future.

Don’t believe me? If you’re reading this via email, just hit “reply” and you’ll get to me directly. Send me an email, tweet me up or leave a comment below. No matter how you get in touch, I’ll get back to you with a real thoughtful reply, not some automated response, and not some virtual assistant in my place.

Will someone respond if I reply to your company’s email?

Thanks to Erica Douglass for sparking the idea for this post in a tweet last week.



The Top 10 Mistakes in Online Business

Every week we talk with entrepreneurs. We talk about what’s working and what isn’t. We talk about successes and failures. We spend time with complete newbies, seasoned veterans, and everything in between.

One topic that comes up over and over again with both groups is mistakes made in starting businesses. Newbies love to learn about mistakes so they can avoid them. Veterans love to talk about what they wish they had known when starting out.

These conversations have been fascinating, so we compiled a list of the 10 mistakes we hear most often into a nifty lil' guide.

Download the guide

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