A new report from CRM software provider SuperOffice revealed some dismal trends for email customer service.
The company sent an email to 1,000 companies. The email asked two questions:
- Do you have a phone number I can call you on?
- Where can I find pricing information on your website?
The results were not good. Response times were too long, if companies responded at all. Replies felt canned and the substance of the answers often left these two simple questions unanswered.
This post highlights five email best practices and compares them to the results in the SuperOffice report. You can download the entire report here.
Best Practice #1: Respond
OK, stop laughing because this is a real challenge. The SuperOffice study found 62 percent of companies did not respond to an email.
This is almost always a systematic issue. Common causes include:
- Unmonitored email boxes
- Emails that go to an individual (who may no longer work there)
- Insufficient standards or processes for handling email
Best Practice #2: Acknowledge Emails
An automated message should be triggered by every customer email. That message should do three things:
- Acknowledge the email was received
- Set expectations for a response time
- Provide alternative ways to solve the issue (i.e. phone, FAQs, etc.)
Only 10 percent of the companies SuperOffice tested acknowledged an email.
Best Practice #3: Respond Within One Hour
My own research from 2015 revealed that companies should set an email response time standard of one hour or less.
The average response time in the SuperOffice study was 12 hours. That's too long, and may cause customers to contact your company multiple times which increases their frustration and wastes your resources.
Best Practice #4: Answer the Question
This one shocked me. SuperOffice reported that only 20 percent of companies answered both questions (phone number and pricing) in the first email.
I double-checked the math and realized the report was counting the companies that did not respond at all in the group of companies that did not answer both questions in the first email. When you adjust for companies that did respond, that number rises to 56 percent. Still not good.
Support agents typically fail to answer customers' questions for two reasons:
- They are working too fast in an effort to handle a large queue
- They rely too much on pre-written templates to respond quickly
The fix here is simple:
- Train your agents to slow down, fully understand the customer's request, and answer it
- Monitor emails for quality, just as you would phone calls
When I started monitor email as a customer service manager, I was surprised to find an issue with more than 50 percent of the emails my team sent! Some training and improved coaching helped the team quickly improve, but it was a lesson that stuck with me.
Best Practice #5: Convey Some Personality
The SuperOffice report discovered that just 39 percent of companies responded with an email signed by a person. The rest used generic identifiers such as "Customer Service" or even "Secretary."
Yes, templates are an essential part of email support. That doesn't mean your support agents need to sound like anonymous robots.
Let your people add just a little flair to each email so they can make a more positive connection with the customers they serve. Some companies even encourage agents to put a micro-bio in the signature line of their emails, which creates an even stronger connection.
These basic best practices are table stakes for an effective email support operation. Your company will struggle to serve customers if you can't do these things well.
I recommend auditing your own company. Navigate to your website just as a prospective customer would and send off a simple email inquiry. Start a timer and evaluate how quickly you receive a response, whether that response answers your question, and whether that response conveys warmth and personality.