Checkfree corp. trains its customer-service reps in both phone and electronic-mail etiquette, and with good reason. Two-thirds of the department's calls come by E-mail.
The Columbus, Ohio, company provides an electronic-bill-payment service. That so many people prefer E-mail speaks to the changing face of customer service.
The electronic suggestion box. Checkfree's customers asked for and got a direct E-mail connection to the company. Without having to log on to a commercial service, customers can ask why a check was posted a day early -- and receive a reply within 24 hours.
Special requests. A Cincinnati package-design firm was nudged into the digital age by a major client. "Procter & Gamble stressed the advantages of E-mail," says Nancy Goodfellow, an account executive at Libby Perszyk Kathman. Her Microsoft Mail address list includes a score of managers at P&G's Oil of Olay and Folgers brands. "I send E-mail to my clients at least 30 times a day," she says.
That E-mail connection was crucial when the Folgers staff recently requested a quick turnaround on uncontracted work. "There was no funding for it," she explains. The account exec quickly E-mailed her proposed budget to P&G, and within 24 hours the client had approved it.
Job quotes. A commercial printer in Spokane, Wash., receives some customers' instructions by E-mail. The company can return accurate job quotes in rapid response. Chris Snider, sales manager at United Lithographers, explains, "We insert the price and the purchase-order number and send it back with the customer's instructions" as confirmation. The printer also leases a high-speed line over the Internet for such customers as Hewlett-Packard, who "want things faster and faster."
Consumer outreach. A company that exhorts its customers to "stay tuned, and don't forget to change your underwear!" would disturb Miss Manners. But irreverent exchanges are what spark Joe Boxer's Internet following. The San Francisco clothing company deals with retail buyers and has no consumer catalog. The Internet is the way to reach its younger fans. The E-mail address -- email@example.com -- is on the clothing hangtag and on billboards.
"Yo dude, love your underwear," messaged one hipster. An optimistic young man asked what briefs he should wear on a first date. Because so many have requested a catalog, at some point, says marketing chief Denise Slattery, "I will go back to management and say, 'OK, it's time."