Expectations were different in the early days of email support.
Customers typically accessed personal email from a dial up account. If you don't remember this, here's the tedious process:
- You'd unplug your phone line and plug in your modem.
- The modem would make a series of awful noises while it connected.
- Several minutes later, You've Got Mail!
This meant that customers often checked email once a day.
The standard response time of one business day worked well back then. When I first supported email as a call center manager, customers would typically email in the evening. My team would get the message, respond during the day, and the customer would receive our reply when they checked their email again that night.
Our biggest challenge? Anticipating our customers' next question so we could answer that one as well to prevent another email exchange.
Today, many businesses haven't noticed that email no longer works that way. They're still offering dial-up quality support in an age of instant connections.
Here's how you can avoid that.
The easiest solution is to respond faster.
The old one business day response time is no longer adequate. My research shows companies need to respond to emails within one hour.
We now have access to our personal email 24/7. Our email is on our phones, tablets, and computers. Work time and personal time are more likely than ever to blend when it comes to personal communication.
Want to test this out?
Look at your customer satisfaction ratings for email support and segment those ratings by first response time. For example, contact center leaders at Palo Alto Software discovered customer dissatisfaction spiked when the company took more than eight hours to reply to an email.
Even worse than a slow response is a half response.
I recently emailed a company for support. It took over 24 hours to get a response. The response I did receive simply acknowledged my email and asked for more information.
The infuriating part?
That additional information wasn't required. It turned out I was complaining about a known issue that affected other customers, too. Unfortunately, it took the company two full days to communicate this to me.
Then, there's this example where a customer service rep was clearly in a hurry to just make the emails go away.
Want to test this out?
Look at the average number of emails it takes to resolve an issue. If your customer service software won't easily calculate this, try sampling a set of emails. Look for exchanges containing multiple messages and see how many could have been handled with fewer replies.
Those unnecessary emails are wasting your time and your customers'.
You and your customers both gain if you can respond faster and better to email.
Customers will use email if you can make it convenient for them. For low-urgency issues, it's easier to fire off a quick message than to spend 5-10 minutes on the phone or chatting with a support agent.
The advantage to you is less traffic via live channels, which means less pressure to handle contacts in real-time.
Responding faster requires some logistics. You'll need adequate staffing and solid email routing.
You'll also get better results if you have separate teams responding to email and handling calls. Many contact centers move people back and forth between these teams, but asking people to handle email and phone simultaneously typically slows down response times and increases errors.
Faster responses aren't always possible.
If that's the case, make sure you set up an automated email response that tells customers three things:
- You received their message
- When you'll respond
- How they can contact you if they have a more urgent need
In addition to the automated response, post your response time along with alternative channels wherever you display your email address or have a web-based email form.
Customer service writing expert Leslie O'Flahavan offered several other outstanding suggestions in this interview. She also has a wonderful course on Lynda called Writing Customer Service Emails. The skills taught in O'Flahavan's course can help your team write faster, more thorough emails to customers.