The Death of Email Support?
I’m endlessly fascinated by support volumes by channel, seeing which support channels customers prefer. You’ve probably all seen the figures from the consumer survey I did with Lithium last year (white paper available here) on generational differences in attitudes towards support, showing that different age groups have different channel preferences. But when you ask support managers about which channels they prefer to use when servicing customers, one thing is clear: everybody hates email. The numbers show why:
- First contact resolution. The industry average for phone is 45%; email 27%.
- Resolved within 24 hours. The industry average for phone is 59%; email 44%.
- Time to resolve. The industry average for phone is 1 hour 29 minutes; email 4 hours and 3 minutes.
Why is email support so hard? There are lots of reasons. Inbound customer emails rarely have all the details necessary to troubleshoot the problem, leading to lots of back and forth emails asking for additional information. Web forms help, but don’t solve the problem. And free-form emails are the worst, often providing no clues to the problem or even which product has issues. Entitlement is messy too–we all have mulitple email addresses and unless the company has recorded yours previously, they don’t even know who you are.
Technology isn’t the solution this time. While email auto-response and auto-suggest can be accurate in non-tech consumer support, for technical support, eliminating agents from the equation has proven impossible, and the back and forth emails mean email incidents cost more than phone calls due to the number of touches and agent time involved. And, customer sat is usually lower for email than phone.
So if email is not an efficient way to support customers, why don’t we eliminate email support? Heresy you say? Guess again! In a soon to be published research report I’ll give the case study of a large SSPA member that just stopped supporting customers via email. Cold turkey. And though marketing and sales threw a fit, saying customers would be enraged, there hasn’t been a single customer complaint.
The most interesting thing was what happened to the email incident volume. Self-service volume went up a bit, but the majority of the email volume transferred to the customer discussion forum–there was zero increase to phone volumes. Talk about moving from assisted to unassisted!
We have all been clinging to the idea that customers love email and you have to support them using that channel. But survey data indicates that email is the preferred channel for a fairly small slice of consumers. In the Lithium/SSPA survey, only 10% of Gen X respondents said they preferred email, 7% of Baby Boomers, 8% of Gen Y.
As I start writing up the case study, I’d love to include examples from other companies. If you are struggling with email support, let me know why. If you are on the road to stopping email support, I’d love to hear about it. What works and doesn’t work with your current email support operation? Please shoot me an email or add a comment to this post–I will respond to all. Thanks for reading!