Understanding the Newsletter Concept
From a customer service standpoint, some companies do not understand what a quality customer newsletter should contain. These are the businesses that try a newsletter briefly and then give up, having come to the conclusion that the newsletter is a waste of time. The reality is that the structure and content of your newsletter is essential to its success. A really good newsletter can bring you increased sales, impress your customers so that they become repeat customers, and enhance your image as an expert in your industry.
According to Dartnell Co., newsletters have four times the readership of a traditional ad. This is largely because the readers find quality information, not just fluff or advertising. Remember to view your newsletter from your customers' perspective. It should not be solely about "tooting your own horn." It is fine to mention an upcoming event or a milestone your company has achieved, but if it is all about you or all about the company, readers will quickly lose interest. If you give them valuable, timely information and advice, they will read every issue.
Timing Is Everything
Most newsletters these days are electronic. That is, they are sent via e-mail to subscribers, or visitors to your site read them on your newsletter page. For these electronic newsletters, monthly issues are the industry norm. This is often enough to keep customer interest without being intrusive or repetitive. It also gives you ample time, providing you work ahead, to get a solid, informative newsletter together on a regular basis.
If you are sending out a print newsletter, once a month is an option, but because of the high cost of printing and mailing, many businesses offer a quarterly print version of their newsletter. Usually these are mailed to interested customers who do not have Internet access or simply prefer the print medium. If you decide to send out a quarterly version, consider picking and choosing only the best articles and advice from your monthly electronic issues and combine them into one terrific version that is sort of a Reader's Digest version of the previous three months' issues.
Content Is King
Generally, you should keep a newsletter relatively short, but pack it with information in short sets. This is not the place for 2,000-word articles or in-depth coverage. In the Information Age, readers get bored more quickly than they did a generation ago, so articles of no more than about 500 words are ideal for newsletters.
Intersperse these with shorter tidbits (anywhere from 25 to 250 words) that offer interesting statistics or little-known facts that are related to your customers' needs and concerns. The shorter pieces help break up the page visually, much like illustrations. They keep the readers' eyes from getting bored. They also are good for readers who are just browsing. If there are a few short pieces, they are apt to read these and come back later to read the longer articles. If all of the writing is long and runs together, the reader may get bored and toss it aside without ever reading anything.
The only exception is if you run a series on a particular topic. These are nice because they keep readers coming back each issue to read the next installment, so if you have a topic that is particularly complex, considering breaking it up into units over a few issues.
- Regular columns written by an officer of the company. A "President's Corner" can cover anything from his or her thoughts about the industry to insights into new trends customers should watch for.
- An editor's section for letters you receive. Any time a customer writes and expresses thanks or praise, publish these (with the writer's permission) in your "editor's notebook" or "mailbag" section. Testimonials from real customers are valued much more than ads by consumers. They are seen as trustworthy and reliable, so use them!
- An advice column that focuses on your industry. For instance, a furniture store could answer questions about how to care for wood furniture, the proper way to remove spots on upholstery, coordinating furniture purchases, etc. This is the kind of information that your customers will see as real value. Be sure you put an e-mail address in this section where readers can send their own questions for you to answer in upcoming issues.
- Product or service-related stories. Furniture or paint stores could carry articles on home decorating, a pool supply store could have articles on winter-proofing your pool and pool safety tips, a law office could have tips on preparing wills or how to prepare for an initial consultation, etc. The nice thing about these kinds of articles is that you are giving your customers valuable information while being able to tie the information into your own product or service.
- Interviews are always interesting reads. Consider interviewing industry experts or employees that spotlight ways they have given exceptional service to their customers.
- A "quick tips" column can provide little tidbits that relate to the daily lives of your customers in some way, whether it be places to look for pool-friendly kids' toys or a list of "five questions to ask when choosing a lawyer."
- Do not forget to include information on upcoming promotions or customer coupons that can be printed out and applied to future products or services. Remember, it is fine to promote your business, as long as this is not the primary focus of your newsletter!
Avoid putting in fluff content that is simply there to take up space. This filler material can discourage readers, who do not have time to wade through the useless stuff to get to the meatier content. Puzzles, games, and horoscopes are popular fillers that can backfire on you when putting together newsletters. Most people today have little time to waste, and unless your Web site is actually about astrology, horoscopes are not a good idea.
Getting the Content
A great deal of your customer newsletter can probably be written in-house by some of your employees. Talk to them and see if any are interested in writing a regular feature column or if they have a particular area of interest that would appeal to customers. If they cannot do a monthly column, they may be willing to write an occasional feature piece.
Rich Site Summary (RSS) feeds are also a great source of information. These come from subscription-based syndication providers and can be tailored to a variety of interests and industries. Many use the more descriptive term "Really Simple Syndication" to define this resource.
Sign up for a few industry-specific RSS feeds. You will receive regular updates of press releases, news features, and other information from a variety of sources so that you do not have to surf the Internet and find the stories yourself. Included in your subscription will be the ability to run these stories in your newsletter with the proper citations. Because there are now so many industry specific RSS services, you can easily have access to information your customers will value. If you are not familiar with RSS feeds or need some help in finding relevant RSS feed providers, consider visiting www.syndic8.com or www.2rss.com.
Your own network of business associates also can be a valuable source of content. Suppliers, experts in complementary industries, and even knowledgeable customers can all provide you with interesting information for stories. Most of them will be glad to provide information or even write an article in exchange for credit in your newsletter and a link to their own site.
Design and Setup
Many companies know that an informative newsletter can be a valuable customer service tool but are not sure how to set one up and make it both easy to read and attractive. If you are in this category, and many people are, there are great resources for you. You do not have to hire a professional designer or spend hours or weeks trying to put together an appealing layout. In fact, you do not have to know much about professional layout at all because there are several companies on the Internet that now offer excellent templates that are easy to use and able to be customized for any kind of newsletter you can imagine.
Look for a company that can provide a wide range of templates that will have the appropriate look for your company and can be customized for your needs. In most cases, you will be able to easily upload your content, including your own company logo, photos, and graphics to produce an electronic newsletter that will look great and reflect your own company image. A few good sources of electronic newsletter templates include www.constantcontact.com, www.contactology.com and www.icontact.com.
Linking: Once you have chosen a template, designed an eye-catching newsletter, and filled it with great content, you are almost finished with your customer service newsletter. The final ingredient you must not forget to include is easy access to your company! This should include three key elements:
- At least one link to your Web site in every issue. Whenever you can, include additional links in the context of stories or articles that will go straight to particular pages of your site that pertain to the article. Vary the pages you link to; it should not always be just your home page.
- Always have your full name, address, and phone number toward the bottom of the final page or just beneath the header so that anyone reading the newsletter can easily find who sent it and where you are located. This increases customer trust.
- Always have an e-mail address for any employee or expert who is quoted or is featured in an article. One of the most valuable services you can provide for your customers is easy access to additional information whenever they want it.
- An e-mail contact for questions about newsletter subscriptions, including unsubscribing information. Remember, you do not want to force someone to receive your e-mail. That would be spamming!
Proper Newsletter Distribution
- Periodically send your newsletter to former customers. Sometimes this will spark renewed interest in your company's product or service. Some will immediately unsubscribe, but others will decide that your newsletter is valuable and continue to read it and some will send it on to others who may contact you for their own subscription.
- Offer a free sign-up to your newsletter with all purchases.
- Consider printing out your electronic newsletter on high-quality paper and putting it near the front door of your office. You may also give it to salespeople so they can distribute it to potential customers.
- Put back issues of your newsletter on your company Web site and remember to include information on how readers can sign up to have it sent directly to their inbox.
- Sign up new subscribers at trade shows and association meetings. Offering to send them "a free newsletter full of great money-saving tips" or "our exclusive newsletter about healthful living" will generate real interest.
- Do not neglect untapped markets. If you have an important new client, such as a local grocery store, that now carries your produce exclusively, consider writing a newsletter article titled, "Local Grocer Trades Up to Local Organics," and send copies of the newsletter to all other grocery stores in your area.