Abandon email as a customer service channel at your peril

Abandon Email As A Customer Service Channel At Your Peril

When it comes to customer service and the channels that businesses use to serve their customers, most of the talk in the marketplace is about self-service, smartphone apps, social media etc etc.

All of which, I think, are really exciting and useful and these new channels are pushing the boundaries of how customers can get and receive better customer service.

However, when you fight your way through all of the “talk” and look at the data about how customers are interacting and want to interact with firms, the data tells a different story.

For instance, Dimension Data’s 2013/14 global contact centre benchmarking summary report (You can see a summary here), is based on a survey of 817 contact centres, across 11 sectors and 79 countries. Of the respondents:

  • Just over 80% of them are from in-house contact centres, whilst the remainder are from outsourced operations;
  • Over half of the respondents are from contact centres with more than 100 employees; and
  • B2C businesses represent around 63% of the respondents, whilst B2B and IT help desks represent around 22% and 16% of the remainder respectively.

So, a pretty good sample.

When you dig into the report, Dimension Data found that electronic messaging (e.g. email, SMS but not including social media) is the second most popular channel for Baby boomers, those born between 1945 – 1960, and Generation X-er’s, those born between 1961 – 1989. The telephone is still their favourite customer service channel.

Meanwhile, electronic messaging (email) is the most popular channel for Generation Y-er’s, those born after 1990.

Do these findings not run counter to some of the “talk” in the market-place about the channels different people prefer?

What’s clear is that email is still a really important channel for many customer groups.

However, Eptica found in another study (2012 Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study) that up to 25% of firms are turning off or not offering email as a customer service channel. Worryingly, I’ve also heard rumours that this number is growing.

In light of Dimension Data’s findings, why are firms turning off their email customer service support? Higher cost to serve? Not fashionable? Lack of skills? Harder to manage? Their particular customers are not interested in email as a channel?

Who knows?

But, what we do know is that email is still important for a number of different age groups and shouldn’t be written off. Email, like the phone, may not be sexy, it may be labour intensive, and, therefore, expensive. But, it’s what many customers want.

Therefore, why not give it to them?

Despite the explosions of channels on offer to customers, email is still an important and in-demand channel for them, particularly for dealing with more complex issues and queries.

Further, according to the Radicati Group, the number of email accounts in use is forecast to rise from just less than four billion globally in 2013 to around five billion accounts by the end of 2017, fueled by the growth in smartphones and tablets around the world.

That doesn’t mean to say that firms should not be developing the new channels (self-service, smartphone apps, social media etc) as, I believe, these channels will become increasingly important over time. Moreover, with some smart thinking and data analysis you could probably work out an email customer service strategy that works with, and compliments, your strategy for self-service and other channels.

Firms that are turning off their email customer service or not investing in it, should listen less to the “talk,” think again, listen more to their customers and, then, give them what they want.


This post originally appeared on my Forbes column here.

Photo Credit: Biscarotte via Compfight cc

7 comments On Abandon email as a customer service channel at your peril

  • Adrian,

    Sounds like a case of inside-out thinking rather than outside-in. Let’s do what’s best for the company rather than for the customer. 🙁 When will companies learn?

    Annette 🙂

  • Adrian,

    If a customer talked to me in French I’d do my best (poorly I admit) to reply in French. If they asked me in German I’d find somebody who could speak German. If nothing else it would be polite.

    So if they sent me an e-mail…

    Am I missing something?


    • Hi James,
      I’m not sure I understand your point. What I was trying to point out was the idea that many firms are not responding to or turning off email as a support channel despite the fact that the data shows that customers want to communicate via email.

      By the way, I’d always count on you being polite 😉


  • Hello Adrian,
    The people who count, who find themselves in the fraternity of Tops, do not think customer-centric. These folks think revenues, costs, margins, market share, earnings per share, EBITDA. From this perspective, email is costly and it is dangerous. Written media leave an audit trail and as such require more rigour/policing.

    Along come technology vendors and consultants promising nirvana in the form of self-service and customer communities (where customers do the work of helping other customers). That nirvana is lower costs, happier customers. So the Tops and/or Middles buy.

    The biggest stupidity of all is customer service through Twitter. If I start, I won’t finish so I won’t start. Nothing significant can be conveyed in 140 characters. And most social customer service teams sit in marketing/PR and have no clout when it comes to effecting customer service.


    • Maz,
      You point to a serious issue and a central one…..too many firms still make judgements about customer support and service based on cost and that says a lot about how they are oriented.

      I think we could agree that, in large part, you get what you pay for.


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