Companies are undervaluing the channel and its potential savings as more customers seek support.
Posted Mar 23, 2006
Many organizations are failing to capitalize on email and are allowing sluggish response times on customer inquiries, according to a new study by Jupiter Research. These companies are running the risk of damaging customer loyalty and retention, according to the report "U.S. Customer Service and Support Metrics, December 2005."
In a study of 255 U.S. small, medium, and large companies, Jupiter Research found that of the 92 percent of Web sites offering email as a customer support option, only 41 percent acknowledge receipt of customers' messages with automated email responses. The research also found that the number of sites meeting the 24-hour threshold for email response continues to decrease: Only 45 percent of sites resolved email inquiries within 24 hours, compared to 50 percent in 2000.
The most significant trend is that 39 percent of sites took three days or longer to reply or did not respond at all, according to Zachary McGeary, associate analyst at Jupiter Research and author of the report. The number of these sites has grown 7 percent annually from 2000 to 2005. "The research highlights a continued struggle among companies to master the email touch point," McGeary says.
In terms of vertical breakouts, retail companies have remained the most consistent with results of previous years, as opposed to finance and travel sites, which have showed significant declines in response time.
McGeary pinpoints two main problems associated with email handling. The first is the failure among contact centers to invest in appropriate email handling technology given the continued rise in email volume. "Year over year more consumers come online and establish relationships with companies, increasing the possibility of the need for customer service," he says. "Companies are becoming increasingly challenged." The second pertains to a consumer's propensity to contact the call center when emails go unanswered. "Failure to resolve requests via email is driving the continued use of cost-intensive telephone work, negating any potential cost savings from handling inquiries via email," McGeary says. "This continued rise of unresponsiveness doesn't bode well for customer satisfaction, which is ironically a top driver of investment in most customer service-related technology."
While it's acceptable not to make email a preferred touch point, McGeary says companies need to make up their minds. "These companies must either invest in the appropriate technology or deprioritize email as a service touch point," he says.
According to Jupiter Research's "Email Automation Best Practices," offering automated response can cut the amount of email handled by CSRs by up to 15 percent. "Email is as viable as the telephone," McGeary says. "To simply stonewall customers or prospective customers is pretty risky business."
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