Customer service isn't what it used to be, according to a new survey from Hornstein Associates. The consultancy conducted its annual customer support email survey and found service standards to have hit an all-time low in 2007. Timely email response to customer queries to have declined by nearly 50 percent since 2002. The report argues that a heavy reliance on technology with little attention paid to best practices is responsible for companies' poor performance.
Each year, Hornstein Associates sends an email to 49 large B2C companies like Wal-Mart, P&G, Starbucks, Microsoft, and Southwest Airlines that reads, "What is your corporate policy regarding the turnaround time for emails addressed to customer service?" The consultancy then waits for a response. This year, Hornstein found itself waiting longer than ever before. One third of companies responded to the inquiry within 24 hours, a fraction which has declined at a consistent rate since 2002. The percentages have dropped yearly with 63 percent in 2002, 59 percent in 2003, 37 percent in 2004, and 42 percent in both 2005 and 2006.
"Common sense says that everybody sends an email to a company at one time or another and that everyone would like a response within 24 hours," says Scott Hornstein, founder of Hornstein Associates and author of the survey. Hornstein argues that because customer service is such a driver of customer retention today, a response delayed more than a day could spell attrition. However, a late response is course better than no response at all. This year, the survey found that 51 percent of companies responded to the query in any time period, corresponding to 86 percent in 2002. In 2006 two companies responded to the survey's email with the statement, "I can't tell you our policy, because it is proprietary." This year, they did not respond at all.
Hornstein says the slump in customer service is not particular to email, but can be found across organizations' service strategies. "I think what's really going on here is too much reliance on technology and not enough reliance on strategy," he says. Although service email responsiveness seems to be on a steady track to zero percent, Hornstein says he expects companies to soon pay more attention to customer queries. "As companies look to say, 'What will differentiate us? What will make us superb?' that will be customer service. Once we measure and correlate customer satisfaction to sales and profit, people's eyes will open."
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