When most companies think of email, they see it only as a marketing channel-- an effective and low-cost way to keep customers in the loop with corporate and product news and sales promotions. While email does play a critical role in helping companies achieve their marketing objectives, email has evolved to the point where it is ready to break out of the marketing department and support additional areas and organizational messages.

Email can also serve as a major tool to support and enhance customer satisfaction and increase overall loyalty. Companies should look to develop new email communication opportunities that are rooted firmly in deep customer knowledge. The result? Relevant, useful communications that go beyond the marketing message.

When done right, email can also build customer relationships. Take the example of a lawn care company that gradually collected information on its customers' interests and preferences. The company began sending each customer personalized "special alerts"-- email messages that provided important -- and highly relevant -- tips on planting and gardening, reminders on lawn care, and information about local conditions, such as a harmful insect outbreak.

New communications also create new sales opportunities. Service messaging can be combined with marketing to promote, up-sell, and cross-sell. For example, one rental company sends an electronic receipt to customers shortly after a rental transaction. In addition to serving as a reminder of the rental period expiration date, the emails also provide up-sell opportunities to several loyalty programs based on the customer's purchase history.

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