Email Customer Support is Failing. Here’s Why Retailers Need to Pay Attention.
Customer service has become a competitive differentiator for retailers — on par with quality and price. When a person reaches out to a company with a question or issue, the experience has an immediate and direct impact on whether they will do business with a company again — now or in the future.
Retailers like Amazon.com and Zappos aren't the only companies setting the expectation of care. Any company that a customer interacts with — regardless of industry — is influencing how they expect any interaction with a brand to be. Trailblazers in customer experience have created an expectation for immediate, personal and effortless support across channels. And while live chat and social media have emerged as support channels over the last few years, email is the most popular, with 54 percent of customers having used email for customer service last year, according to Forrester. This isn’t surprising as email offers a lot of benefits: it’s asynchronous (i.e., a customer doesn’t have to engage in real-time conversation but can come back when it’s convenient for them); it's a part of everyday habits and readily available across all of our devices; and a record of the interaction is saved and easily accessible.
In our latest Customer Service Benchmark Report, we analyzed how 2,000 of the largest e-commerce companies are delivering support via email. Our study revealed that only 59 percent of e-commerce companies have an email address, and of those, a staggering 30 percent ignore customer emails. Valuing a person’s time is the most important thing when it comes to customer service, but the average response time is 17.3 hours.
The Quality of Email Responses Leaves a Lot to Be Desired
It’s not enough for retailers to respond to a customer email. The response needs to be complete. We found that two in five answers didn't provide all of the meaningful information. This would require a customer to have to reach out again for a complete response, which increases customer frustration as well as support costs.
Empathy is Rare
When given a chance, we wanted to see which companies would go above and beyond to help a customer in need. We asked companies if there was a discount code or free shipping for a customer struggling financially and looking to buy a gift. Only 8 percent of e-commerce companies would waive a shipping fee, only 16 percent provided a discount code, and only 2 percent did both. These little gestures go a long way towards building long-term relationships with customers, who, on average, will tell 11 people about a good experience.
Consumer Electronics Retailers Provide the Worst Support
When looking at the quality of support across industries, consumer electronics scored the worst, with an average of 50.1 (out of 100) on the Support Performance Index (SPI), Netomi’s proprietary index that looks holistically at the customer experience and company response. Luxury goods and jewelry companies scored highest on the SPI (62.3), followed by apparel and fashion (58.8), sporting goods (58.7), and health, beauty and wellness (53.7).
How Retailers Can Leverage AI to Meet Customer Expectations on Email
To effectively compete and create a loyal customer base, e-commerce companies need to prioritize customer support. Relying solely on human agent teams, however, is expensive to staff and impossible to rapidly scale during spikes in traffic. Leveraging modern conversational artificial intelligence (AI) agents to automatically resolve the repeatable, everyday tickets allows human agents to focus on complex and unique customer needs. This helps to decrease response time and increase customer satisfaction. Up until recently, conversational AI chatbots were restricted to short messages or keywords on live chat. AI technology is now advanced enough to parse through multiple sentence customer emails and accurately understand a person’s intent. By adopting AI, retailers can compete on customer service by meeting customer expectations for immediate and convenient support.
Can Ozdoruk is vice president, marketing, at Netomi, an artificial intelligence platform for customer service.