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Customer Service Via Email

Studies consistently show low levels of customer satisfaction with the ways in which businesses use emails. Too often, companies seem to be using email as a means of avoiding other forms of contact with their customers and their customers aren’t pleased. Their most common complaints include:

– No confirmation that their email had been received,
– No reply received from businesses,
– Late replies received from businesses,
– Inappropriate replies received from businesses, and
– Replies received that they can’t understand.

Email-based customer service has to date been a let-down for most customers. They expect their communications to be given the same attention as a letter or telephone call and instead feel that their emails have largely been ignored.

The Customer Respect Group Inc. say that only 69% of the 100 largest companies in the U.S. respond to online enquiries; the situation appears to be even worse for smaller firms.

BenchmarkPortal, a leading source of CRM best practices for contact centers, conducted a study that found that online customer service provided by SMEs is even worse than the service levels offered by large enterprises.

Conducted in early 2005 the study, sponsored by eGain Communications Corp, evaluated 147 SMEs across five sectors: retail, travel and hospitality, financial services, e-business, and hi-tech manufacturing. Some of their key findings were:

– 51% of the companies did not respond at all,
– 70% of the companies failed to respond within 24 hours,
– 79% of the companies responded with an inaccurate and/or incomplete answer.

Astonishingly, 40% of online-only businesses – a category that includes online recruiters and shopping comparison sites, failed to reply to customer e-mail inquiries!

And what do customers do when this happens? The answer is simple – they go away. Forrester Research studied customer behavior and found that 70% of online customers will go to a competitor if they don’t receive a timely response from a company. Only 22% of online customers return to a website after a negative experience.

There are thankfully some solutions that even smaller firms can implement to capitalize on the cost-savings and timeliness of emails without turning customers away.

1. Automatically respond to all emails received

People will be more willing to wait for a reply if their initial communication has been acknowledged. This email acknowledgement should include a statement that their email has been received, a commitment that it will be acted upon, and a maximum time by which a response will be sent.

2. Monitor email communications

A monitoring system should be set up that tracks progress of incoming emails and their responses. It should initiate an alarm for any message that hasn’t been responded to by the stated maximum time.

3. Have a suitable response structure

Emails are perceived by customers as being just as important as a letter or a telephone call. They should be answered in the same manner as any other form of communication – politely and with the intention of retaining the customer. Those persons responsible for preparing a response need both communications skills and the authority to resolve situations.

4. Consider webforms for use by customers

It’s simple enough to set up a series of webforms for customers to use, depending on whether their communication is a product enquiry, a complaint, a request for information about how to use a product, or for some other purpose. This make it easier for the customer and for the team members charged with responsibility for preparing a reply.

5. Make use of FAQs

It’s surprising just how many customer communications are for the same reasons; enquiries tend to repeat themselves. Create a database of your most common questions and answers that can be used to create an ‘FAQ’ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on your website. It can also be used as a source of content for those preparing responses to customer emails.

6. Analyze trends in customer communications

A sudden upsurge in complaints about a particular aspect of your company or a rise in enquiries about warranties can be pointers to important trends that are beginning to develop. Analyze all incoming customer communications to spot these trends and keep on top of them.

Email is one of our most valuable channels of modern business communications. It can bring real savings in time and money when applied in areas where customers and companies interact, but only if it’s used wisely.

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/features/news.asp?ID=4142

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