If your consulting firm is like most, it lists an e-mail address on the company Web site for general queries and promises a fast, accurate response. But large or small, most firms fail miserably when it comes to making use of this incredible resource to make contact with potential new customers.

If I could give just one piece of advice to any business of any size, it would be this: Answer your e-mail. Do it fast and do it with some comprehension of what the sender was actually asking. Simply answering e-mail in a timely manner can create a lasting positive impression that your firm is responsive, concerned, and most of all—available to your clients.

Make it easy for customers to ask a question
You send internal memos via e-mail and probably have a special address for regular customers to use, but just how long does it take your people to respond to a general query via e-mail? Have you ever checked?

In my experience, the average company will take days to respond to a general query, which is plenty of time for me to find some other company more ready to do business. Even when a response comes, it’s not necessarily satisfying because the sender either doesn’t actually understand what I’m asking or isn’t qualified to answer the question in the first place.

Make it quick and easy for site visitors to submit a query—don’t make them fill out a long, overly complicated form. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dumped out of a Web site because there was no simple way to send a basic query about a company’s business or product. Sure, you’d like to know everything about a potential customer, from ZIP code to phone number to shoe size, but a lot of people won’t take the time to give out this information just to find out if your latest whiz-bang product runs under Linux or Windows. Get a basic information e-mail address and leave it at that.

If you truly want to grow your business, have someone on staff who can respond to questions in French, Spanish, and German. Global companies aren’t expected to do business in every language, but some of their top IT personnel and managers should know at least one of those three languages to smooth the way for successful customer contact.

Put someone in charge of answering e-mail
For companies that cannot appoint a full-time staff member to this task, I suggest this setup: Assign one person, not an intern who doesn’t know your business but perhaps a telecommuter on maternity leave or someone who is semiretired, to spend a few seconds on each incoming e-mail and then either send a canned response or forward it to the correct person for immediate response.

Need some reasons to have one or more people dedicated to answering e-mail as their primary job? Here’s what happens if you don’t have someone responsible for this task:

  • It makes your firm look incompetent. You’re in a high-tech business; how bad does it make you look if you can’t even deal with e-mail?
  • It costs customers. If they can’t get any response from you via e-mail and don’t want to play phone tag with your voice mail, they’ll find a company that’s more responsive—possibly by tomorrow, probably by this afternoon.
  • It costs money. Answering e-mail sitting in a queue is a lot cheaper than having enough staff on hand to answer toll-free calls before people get tired of being kept on hold.

Is it necessary to hire an individual to answer e-mail queries, or should all staff members share this duty? Post a comment below or send us a note.