Online customer care: Is retailer responsiveness going in opposite directions at once?

waiting for a responseAn interesting shift is happening in online customer care:  Response times are improving on social media while they’re getting worse in e-mail communications.

That’s what a new analysis by customer interactive software provider Eptica, as outlined in its 2015 Multichannel Customer Experience Study, is showing.

What Eptica has found is that retailers’ response times to answer customer queries posted on Twitter have improved dramatically in the past year.

Today, a customer query is being answered in an average time of a little over 4 hours.

That’s more than twice fast as in Eptica’s 2014 study, when the average response time clocked in at just over 13 hours.

In addition, the number of tweets successfully handled by retailers stands at around 43%, which is a full ten percentage points higher than what Eptica found in its 2014 study.

While more improvement is needed, the trend line is looking pretty good.  And it makes sense, since the “immediacy” of social media platforms is where many people believe a quick response should be forthcoming.

Crossing Lines

lines crossingBut while customer care response times via social media are improving, the opposite appears to be the case in e-mail customer service – and startlingly so.

Eptica’s evaluation shows that the average time it takes to respond to customer service queries submitted via e-mail is significantly longer than just a year ago.

Then, the average response time was ~36 hours.  Now, it’s nearly 44 hours – or nearly two days.

And while more e-mail customer service queries are successfully handled via e-mail when compared to tweets (~58% versus ~43%), that figure is worsening as well.  Last year, the percentage of e-queries successfully handled was ~63%.

More broadly, there continues to be a pretty significant disconnect between the “ideal” and the “reality” when it comes to online customer care and service.

Nearly all retailers provide an e-mail channel through which consumers may contact them.  But … less than three-fourths of them actually answer the e-mail messages they receive.  Moreover, the responses they provide – often automatically generated – don’t answer the customer’s question.

For a consumer with an issue or a concern, there’s little difference between getting no answer at all and receiving one that’s a “non-response response” in answer to a specific query.  Both seem to convey this message, “We don’t much care, because your issue just isn’t that important to us.”

Turning to social media, nearly 90% of major retailers have a presence on Twitter.  There, the “ignore” factor is even bigger than with e-mail:  ~45% don’t respond to their customers’ queries.

So while the social media figures certainly look better now than they did a year ago, it turns out there’s still a good ways needed to go.

Burgeoning social activity is no reason for retailers to take their foot off the gas pedal when it comes to supporting their customers via e-mail.  E-mail may not be the most exciting channel, but it’s the way millions of consumers prefer to communicate with retailers, companies and brands.  It’s counterproductive and foolish to diss them or treat them like second-class citizens.

In my own personal experience I’ve experienced the exact dynamics as described by Eptica at work – and I’m not afraid to name names.  TruGreen® Lawn Care did a stellar job of avoiding responding to my e-mail and phone queries … but it took less than two hours to get a response from someone at the firm after I posted a not-so-happy tweet about the company’s (lack of) responsiveness.

For me, the “public shaming” aspects of Twitter turned out to be far more of a squeaky wheel than the “private pleading” of an e-mail or phone message.

Do you have personal anecdotes of your own about the dynamics of online customer care?  Please share your thoughts and experiences with other readers here.

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