Major North American companies don't answer more than 40 percent of their emails from customers wanting to buy their products, according to a study just released by BenchmarkPortal and eGain Communications. The results of being nonresponsive include higher contact center costs and lower customer retention and loyalty.
The survey examined the email practices of 300 U.S. and Canadian companies with more than $250 million in annual revenue. Although 40 percent responded to customer emails in 24 hours, which is acceptable for most customers, according to Jon Anton, Ph.D., director of research BenchmarkPortal, 41 percent did not respond at all. Another 6 percent didn't have email capability. Anton says, in a statement about the study's findings, that the "fact that 41 percent of large North American companies are simply ignoring emails from high-value buyers is shocking," and suggests that the results serve "as a wakeup call to a majority of U.S. businesses...."
And mail capability is more important than ever: Customers are doing more research before buying products and services, according to Anton. Some questions aren't answered on the company's Web site, which invites email and phone inquiries. Email inquiries should help a company reduce calls to the contact center, but if the emails aren't answered or are answered incorrectly, calls to the contact center increase, which means higher costs, according to Anand Subramaniam, eGain vice president of marketing.
There's a high correlation between poorly delivered email support and [poor] customer loyalty, according to Anton. A customer who is satisfied with a company's product has a 70 percent chance of buying from the company again. If the same customer has a problem with the product, communicates with the contact center (via phone or email) and receives poor service, the probability of buying from the company again drops more than half to 32 percent.
However, if he has a problem with the product, communicates with the contact center and receives excellent customer service, the propensity to buy from the company then rises to 89 percent--higher than it would have been if he never communicated with the contact center, according to Anton.
Companies can enhance their customer service and retention via email if they respond in a timely matter to customer emails. Customers tend to be satisfied with a 24-hour response, but Anton suggests that a company may want to answer emails by the most valuable customers--based on purchase history, longevity, or some other metric--more promptly.
Only 15 percent of companies surveyed sent a simple automated response acknowledging the customer's email. The automated acknowledgement (e.g., "We have received your email and will respond within 24 hours") helps set customer expectations and maintain interest.
Although in some cases email can be more time-intensive to answer than a phone call, companies can solve this dilemma by using automated email answering programs that search for key words and phrases, and provide potential answers, according to Anton. Automated response can't handle all customer questions, but they can answer 80 percent of the most frequent queries, enabling contact center agents to concentrate their time on the other 20 percent.
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