Online Customer Service Needs a Boost

The unofficial industry standard 24-hour waiting period to get a customer service email answered is a real satisfaction issue. Worse, according to Jupiter Research, is that barely half of the companies offering email service in the United States are even meeting that standard. David Daniels, senior analyst at Jupiter, says that too many companies are simply unprepared to handle email interactions, with approximately 40 percent employing email management software. "There's definitely a double standard. No company would think of opening a call center without an ACD [automatic call distributor]," he says, but most think nothing of trying to manage customer emails with methods as crude as a shared inbox for a part-time agent staff. With Jupiter projecting one billion customer service emails to be sent this year, that represents enormous potential for disappointment. Daniels feels that email can be saved, but only when companies get serious about staffing it full-time, rather than rotating agents off and on call-taking duties. Eliminating the pick-and-choose inbox in favor of good, old-fashioned urgency will help as well. "In the call center you have a number of rings or you have to escalate it, you don't have this pot where you can pick what you want to deal with first," he says. The problem is so dire that Jupiter believes that online-oriented CRM software will account for fully one quarter of all spending by 2008, even when the share of customer inquiries will be far lower through that channel. Sheryl Kingstone, program manager at Yankee Group, predicts that things won't get better until companies stop looking to online service options as cost-killers and start thinking of ways to make the question-and-answer process more interactive and responsive. Kingstone notes that too often, email management systems that try to guess at the meaning of a request and automatically return a single document are wrong, which simply creates another question, another inquiry, and another annoying wait for the customer. "You're better off putting in a knowledge base people can look through, and if they don't find the answer, then they can send an email," Kingstone says.
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