• September 1, 2005
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Email Response Times Lag Still

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Many organizations are failing to capitalize on email, allowing sluggish response times to customer inquiries. This runs the risk of tarnishing customer relationships. Companies are nowhere near responding to the channel like they should. For instance, two studies, conducted by BenchmarkPortal and sponsored by eGain Communications, unveil disappointing response rates. Announced in June 2005, the second study in the "State-of-eService Benchmarking Series" focused on SMBs; the first studyevaluated enterprises. According to the second study, SMBs delivered poorer online service than larger businesses. Among North American SMBs with revenues of $10 million and $250 million, 51 percent failed to respond to emails at all and 70 percent did not respond within 24 hours, compared to 41 percent of enterprises not responding at all and 61 percent not responding within 24 hours. Anand Subramaniam, vice president of marketing for eGain, contends that SMBs' weaker showing can be blamed partly on their higher propensity to process emails using applications such as Microsoft Outlook. "That's not going to have the same functionality as a robust email response management system." According to Jon Anton, Ph.D., director of research at BenchmarkPortal, companies undervalue the channel, and are not sure how to handle their email operations. "Responsiveness is absolute godliness when it comes to customer service, and if you send an email to a company and they don't respond, there's a message there that's probably not a good one." Zachary McGeary, research associate at Jupiter Research, attributes the challenges of handling emails to large inbound inquiry 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." Email responses must also provide efficient answers: According to the BenchmarkPortal study, 79 percent of SMBs responded with an inaccurate and/or incomplete answer, compared to 83 percent of enterprises. The damage associated with poor response times also can damage potential customer relationships. About 59 percent of consumers would tell a friend, family member, or coworker about poor customer service. For organizations unable to effectively handle email inquiries, Ian Jacobs, principal analyst of CRM at Current Analysis, suggests only providing a phone number. "They may not like being on hold in a queue, but it's better than not getting an answer at all," he says. "The problem is you don't want to promise more than you're going to deliver, and setting expectations is a problem." Vendors offering email management solutions include InQuira, iPhrase Technologies, eGain, KANA, Knova Software, RightNow Technologies, and Talisma. Salesforce.com, SAP, Siebel, and Oracle also offer email management tools. According to Jupiter Research's "E-mail Automation Best Practices," offering auto response can cut the amount of emails handled by CSRs by up to 15 percent. "[Email is] as viable as the telephone," Anton says. "To simply stonewall customers or prospective customers is pretty risky business."
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