CEx 2012: Nail Email!

November 30, 2011

The biggest challenge for the customer experience in 2012 will be to make customer service emails work.  I am not talking about simply sending responses in a timely manner, although that’s a good start. Rather, it’s time for companies to step up and provide thoughtful answers to customers’ questions, answers that show the company and its representatives are listening and care what customers have to say.

Consider the advantages of email:

First, according to numerous studies, emails cost much less than phone calls. In some cases, email customer service costs half as much as the phone experience. Savings of this magnitude deserve to be front and center on any company’s radar.

Second, it’s the customer-centric thing to do.  The customer gets an answer on their time. They don’t have to wait in your call queue and they don’t need to plan around your company’s hours. Instead, customers state complaints or pose questions when it’s convenient for them.

Third, companies can provide information that’s difficult to provide over the phone. For instance, contextual information such as how to avoid problems in the future and extra resources that the customer can refer to at their leisure are better served through text than conversation. In the customer service monitoring business, we’ve heard far too many calls suffer when CSRs tell customers to go to a long-link-web-address and the customer simply gives up trying to write the whole thing down. Links in customer service email solve this problem.

But in spite of these advantages, the state of customer service email is bleak. Often, customers don’t really get answers and when they do, those replies can be a robotic string of FAQs that do little to forge a bond between company and customer.  And customers have been burned by email. They have learned that the only way to get a meaningful answer is to call a company and when that doesn’t’ work to ask for the supervisor. If that’s a dead end, customers often air their complaints on social media sites or in letters to the legal team or the company president.

Why is email customer service such a sorry state of affairs? Here are two reasons:

  • Call centers are exactly that: they specialize in calls. While nearly every call center offers email customer service, the fact is email and chat are just add-on services, not their specialty.
  • And then, there is the Peter Drucker quote that we return to again and again because it offers a reasonable explanation for all kinds of execution failures: “you manage what you measure” or, as other quality gurus have said “you can expect what you inspect”. The majority of customer service email is an improvised mess because companies lack the right guidelines, procedures and metrics.

All companies that have nailed customer service email have done so because they track critical factors like customer effort, answer completeness and overall empathy.

If you are a company with great customer service email, tout it! Tell your customers that you are different and that while their calls are welcome, that’s not the only way to get a straight answer. Promise replies within the day written by associates who take the time to read—not just gloss over—questions.  Even better: if you can verify it, state up front that your customers report that 95% of your email responses are smart, easy-to-understand and friendly.  By communicating these facts from the start, you’ll get the transition from call to email customer service underway.

2012? Let it be the year of excellent customer service email. Mastery on this front means you’ll have more satisfied customers, better interactions and a more profitable customer experience. Email on!


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