Report: E-tail Flails at Customer Service E-Mail

Fewer than 40 percent of companies respond to customer service e-mails within six hours and nearly one-fourth never reply at all, according to a report released Monday by Jupiter Media Metrix (Nasdaq: JMXI).

The bottom line, Jupiter said, is that customers who make inquiries by e-mail often tire of waiting for a reply and pick up the phone, forcing companies to attack customer service on two fronts instead of one.

“The increase in sites not responding to customer inquiries is a signal that many companies still have not mastered e-mail customer service management,” Jupiter analyst David Daniels said.

The survey found that retailers with an online presence provide the fastest e-mail customer service, with 53 percent responding in six hours or less. Online travel sites lag well behind, with just 12 percent of replies coming in that time.

Catch You in Six

Overall, 38 percent of all companies meet the six-hour response time, while a third take three days or longer.

The six-hour threshold is important, Jupiter said, because more than half of consumers expect a response within that time. Customers who do not get a quick response are likely to call the company, doubling the amount of effort required to answer the question.

“Poor e-mail customer service is driving up the costs of customer service for companies and alienating customers,” said Daniels.

No Reply at All

Jupiter found that the number of companies not responding at all to customer inquiries made through e-mail actually increased during the last quarter, from 19 to 24 percent.

While retailers topped the list of efficient responders, financial services were second, with 46 percent making the six-hour window. Travel sites were the least likely to respond to e-mails at all.

Automation Irritation

Daniels said part of the blame lies with automated e-mail response programs that are not performing up to expectations. The right programs, especially those that use natural language processing, can cut staffing needs by 40 percent at companies with large volumes of electronic mail, Jupiter said.

Retailers stand to gain the most, with some automated e-mail programs able to answer up to half of all inquiries, which usually focus on order status and related matters.

Expecting More

Meanwhile, customer expectations are rising. While as recently as two years ago, most considered a 24-hour response time sufficient, the same number now believe that six hours is appropriate.

“Businesses must act quickly to catch up to customer demands, before expectations increase to more challenging levels,” Daniels said.

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