Customer e-mail. What's the best thing a company can do to build grass roots support for its product or service? Answer customer e-mails. When I was at my last company (an online research company with a focus on financial services), I must have answered 30,000 e-mails sent to us by consumers, business people, and professionals. I answered them all by hand with specific personalized responses. It worked. Our consumer research site grew in popularity until we reached our apex of 30 k unique visitors a day. That initial active support by e-mail helped us build a business unit around the site that generated $500 k a quarter in profit (which was rare on the Web, particularly at that traffic level and the focus of our content).
Many of the e-mails were off topic and not something we could make money from. No problem, if I could provide an answer I did. If not, I pointed to resources that could provide the answer. Regardless, this extra effort helped build trust with the person on the other side of the SMTP connection and more often than not generated a relationship that led that person to use our services when they did need something we provided.
So, why do so many popular sites refuse to answer e-mails? The portals are the best example of this practice. Try to find an e-mail address on Yahoo, Excite, or Lycos where you can connect to a live employee. [John Robb's Radio Weblog]