[caption id="attachment_3424" align="aligncenter" width="414"]Your employees are already interacting with your customers. A few quick tips will have them gathering email addresses, too. Your employees are already interacting with your customers. A few quick tips will have them gathering email addresses, too.[/caption]

There are more than four billion email addresses world wide, and chances are your customers own some of them.

That’s just one reason to build and maintain a quality email marketing list. Remember, it is also the most effective form of marketing and, at a time with unpredictable Facebook algorithm changes and tweaks to the Search Engine Optimization strategies, it’s also the only market that you truly own and can control.

Obviously, it’s important, but is it difficult? Creating and building a quality email customer list can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. The best way to build one up is to use one of your best resources: your staff.

Train your staff to ask customers to join your mailing list while they are making a purchase, picking up their car, or asking a question. They are already talking to customers over the counter, so it’s a natural fit—as long as are properly trained to ask in the right way.

Be up front. Remember, you are asking your customers for personal details. The question might make some of them a bit surly, so it’s important to make them feel comfortable giving them away.

Tell them why you want it. Tell them you appreciate their business and you want to keep track of them. Let them know that they will receive email updates on new stock and promotions, maintenance tips and other benefits. According to a study by the Nielsen Normal Group, 90 percent of consumers prefer email updates, over social media announcements.

Make sure your staff knows what you won’t use the email address for, and make that part of the solicitation. Tell them to inform the customers that you wouldn’t sell the information and that they are purely for your own use.

Use their first name. It’s tempting to use the more formal ‘Mr. or Mrs.’ And that might work for older customers, but younger folks will feel more connected if you use their first name.

Make it fast and easy for your staff. When some people are done shopping or ready to pick up their vehicle if you own an auto repair shop, others just want to get the business over and go on their way. Develop a quick question that your staff will find easy to remember. “Would you like to sign up for our newsletter? It has discounts, advice, specials and only comes out twice a month.”

Come up with a name for it. Don’t call it an email marketing list, call it a rewards program, or a customer newsletter. As in other steps, let them know what they’ll get in exchange for providing their email address. Remind your staff to reinforce the benefits of receiving the newsletter.

Have an internal contest. Keep a running tally of the number of email signatures gathered during each shift and reward the employee who gathers the most. It doesn’t have to be much—a prime parking spot, a $10 gift card to a nearby restaurant, an extra day off—whatever you decide to give, you’ll earn back in spades.

Remind your staff to read back what customers write down. There’s no sense in gathering the info if it isn’t accurate.

Put a fishbowl near the register with a special offer and use it to collect business cards. You can also put a small pad of paper nearby to have customers fill out. Sometimes, the promise of a free oil change, tire rotation or some other type of gift will do all the asking for you.

If you sense a common theme here, you’re right. Rewards go a long way. Just as you’d reward customers for signing up, you should reward staff for making the effort to collect the signatures. The little bit you give away will be the best investment you ever made.