Selling things for money is a simple business model, but not necessarily an easy one. In many niches and markets, retail is a cutthroat business with rampant competition and thin margins. Acquiring customers is often a very expensive proposition, to the point where the first sale is very often break-even or even money-losing, because the retailer had to spend so much on marketing and promotion to get that customer in the door. As a result, building relationships with customers to get repeat and referral business is often the difference between thriving and just scraping by (or disappearing altogether). This laser focus on customer service to encourage referrals and repeat business is largely what made Zappos so successful.
With that in mind, it completely baffles me that many online retailers go out of their way to appear as if they don’t care at all about their customers or what they have to say. Millions of order confirmations, shipping notifications, and other ordinary notices are sent out every day to customers from email addresses that start with “noreply”. And when customers hit the reply button in their email client and ask the retailer a question, they either get nothing back, a bounced error message, or a message telling them to contact the retailer through some other method. That last one is the best option, but they’re all terrible. The customer has taken the time to engage with your company and you’re going to discourage that? It makes zero sense, and it’s really confusing for most people.
I know what you’re thinking: how is it possibly confusing? Well, if you’re reading this right now, you’re probably not the type of person I’m talking about. Think about your grandparents, or a stay-at-home mom in Kansas who orders something online once a year. These people don’t know what a “noreply” email address is. But they know that when they hit reply and ask a question, they expect to get an answer. When they don’t, they get frustrated, and that reduces their loyalty to the company in question.
Again, this is partly what Zappos did right. One of my wife’s clients recently expressed her surprised delight at responding to an order confirmation from Zappos and immediately getting a response “from an actual human being” (her words). The fact that she was so surprised at this just demonstrates how prevalent the issue is.
Also, this doesn’t extend just to online retailers. If you’re a business of almost any kind, why would you have a noreply@ email address? Unless you’re Google or Paypal, whose business models seem built around the idea of hating customer service, you’re missing a big opportunity every time your customers gets a bounced reply to their message. You might as well be slamming the door in their face.