Email is officially the UK's worst channel for customer service, according to recent research from e-service provider Transversal.
In its third annual Multi-channel Customer Service Study, which evaluated 100 leading UK companies across a variety of sectors for their ability to answer simple routine questions, via email, website and by phone, Transversal reckons that there is a growing crisis in email response.
This means that currently emailing customer service staff is markedly less effective at yielding a satisfactory answer than using an automated online system or phoning a contact centre.
In fact, less than half (46 per cent) of the routine customer service questions emailed were answered adequately.
Furthermore, the average time to respond to email was nearly two days (46 hours), with 28 per cent of organisations not even replying at all. However, it was not all doom and gloom as some companies managed to respond with useful answers within 10 minutes.
Worryingly, these figures show a major deterioration since 2006, when email successfully answered 60 per cent of queries and kept customers waiting on average 33 hours for a reply.
While websites averaged five out of 10 correct responses and 55 per cent of phone calls were answered within two minutes, email responses continue to deteriorate year on year.
"Our research has uncovered shocking failings in the customer service email channel," said Dee Roche, director of marketing at Transversal.
"Companies are playing ping pong with email enquiries, pushing them back to the web or forcing consumers to call contact centres."
"What is the point in paying staff to respond to customers' questions badly? " questioned Roche.
"With consumers increasingly demanding personalised service, email should be at the forefront of delivering tailored responses that help convert browsers into customers. Some organisations are doing this extremely well but the general picture is of lazy, generic replies, if companies eventually respond."
Transversal's analysis of the responses found that the majority (63 per cent) of inadequate replies directed customers to call a contact centre, while nearly half (48 per cent) pushed customers back to the website, where they started, normally to generic web pages that didn't answer the question.
The report reveals that, although many companies have improved response times, the usefulness of email replies has deteriorated year on year in 80 per cent of sectors.
Insurance companies fared the worst in the survey, with only a single email reply successfully answering the question and 50 per cent of companies not responding at all.
In contrast, 80 per cent of CD/DVD retailers provided correct answers, with the quickest received within one hour, while the fastest successful response was from a consumer electronics company which answered the question within 10 minutes.
"Our analysis demonstrates the scale of this problem and how dramatically the usefulness of email replies has deteriorated over the last three years. There seems to be a lack of monitoring of the quality of responses, with a narrow focus on agents answering questions to hit service level targets rather than spending the time to properly resolve customer queries," said Roche.
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