The latest research reveals the average customer expects companies to respond to their emails within just four hours.
That’s scary fast for many contact centers. One manager exclaimed, “There’s no way we can do that!”
Like it or not, email isn’t going away. A 2014 study from Parature indicated that email is still the second most preferred customer service channel (after phone).
The trouble is it’s an analog channel is an era of instant service. Gone are the days when customers would connect their dial-up modem to check email once a day.
Today, customers check their emails constantly.
The Four Hour Email Challenge
I’m throwing down the gauntlet and challenging contact centers everywhere to meet the new four hour standard.
This post can help you get there if four hours is already within reach. If it isn’t, this post can still help you improve responsiveness. Progress is good!
Let’s start with a little benchmarking. (Click here if you can’t see the poll.)
Five Practical Solutions
Here are five specific steps you can take to improve your contact center’s email response time.
#1 Audit Your System
Inventory every active customer service email address your company uses. Identify where each one goes and look for holes in the system.
Here are a few things to look for:
- Unmonitored email boxes
- Bottlenecks, such as emails routed to one person
- Website contact forms that point to the wrong address
#2 Staff to Demand
It’s hard to respond to email quickly if you don’t have enough staff.
Like all channels, emails come in peaks and valleys. Over time, these patterns can become more predictable. Smart contact centers identify these trends and adjust their staffing levels to meet their needs.
Reggie Savage, Customer Service Supervisor for the City of Mesa in Arizona, recently reviewed his contact center staffing levels. He discovered that email volume can spike as much as 150% on Mondays. Savage is adding more staff to meet peak demand and expects to shorten response times from two business days down to one.
#3 Route Smartly
Writing expert Leslie O’Flahavan at E-WRITE recommends routing emails to the agent who is best able to handle a particular question.
You might send emails on a specific topic to someone with deep expertise in that area. Or, you might assign emails to individual agents based on how many they already have in their queue.
Large contact centers often use sophisticated software. Others do it manually.
Lupe Zepeda, Customer Service Manager at CSA Travel Protection, found a receptionist who could help route emails to the right customer service agent. CSA Travel Protection currently responds to customer emails within one business day, but is rapidly closing in on meeting the four hour challenge.
#4 Develop Expertise
Agents can answer email much faster when they can easily find information.
Jesse Hertzberg, Chief Operating Officer at Squarespace, emphasizes the importance of building scalable tools that can grow with the company. They use an extensive internal wiki and a customer-facing knowledge base to house a wealth of product information. Hertzberg also notes that “everyone who works here is a customer, so they all know the product really well.”
Squarespace currently has a fantastic average response time of just 45 minutes.
#5 Avoid Repeat Contacts
Contact centers can unnecessarily add to their email volume if they don’t fully resolve the customer’s issue on the first try.
Common problems include incomplete answers, confusing responses, or answers that are completely off because the agent misread the request.
O’Flahavan recommends several solutions to increase the odds of one and done email contacts.
Start with strong web-based content. This allows reps to write simpler messages while sharing links to more in-depth information. (Having great online content can also help prevent email messages in the first place by giving customers self-serve options.)
Another solution is to reinforce critical reading skills with agents. Many agents misread customer emails in their haste to respond quickly. It’s important for agents to take an extra moment to make sure they get it right the first time.
The four hour email challenge may be more realistic than you think.
These tips can help you get started. If you need more help, I suggest contacting Leslie O’Flahavan at E-WRITE. I’ve seen her in action and she’s great at what she does.
So, do you accept the challenge?