August 7, 2003, 12:00 AM

Poor customer service via e-mail is worse than no e-mail customer service

46% of companies sampled didn’t reply to customer queries in 24 hours. Without improvements, Jupiter says they might as well send site visitors with service queries right to a call center.


E-mail is an attempt to resolve customer service questions less expensively that at the call center, but companies executing the service only poorly might be better off directing site visitors with service queries to a phone call center, says Jupiter Research.

Consumers’ satisfaction with customer service via e-mail is declining. 69% of consumers polled by Jupiter said they were satisfied with e-mail in 2001, but that dropped to 64% last year. In large measure, the drop in customer satisfaction reflects e-mail response times that continue to lag.

Of the retail and other sites recently sampled by Jupiter, only 54% responded to e-mail messages within 24 hours. Yet 88% of online consumers expect a response to customer service queries via e-mail within 24 hours. Higher-income consumers-–$100,000 or greater-–have even higher expectations, with 38% looking for e-mail responses within six hours.

“Poor online service does little to deflect calls from contact centers,” says Jupiter. In fact, 58% of online buyers with incomes of $100,000 or more said they’d make a phone call if an e-mail query went unanswered, while 52% of consumers with incomes of $35,000 or less said they’d turn to the phone. With poor e-mail performance driving consumers in large numbers to use the phone, inadequate e-mail customer service may be worse than no e-mail customer service at all, Jupiter says.

Noting that the 46% of companies failing to respond to e-mail within 24 hours do harm to both customer relationships and their brand, Jupiter says, “In the absence of improved e-mail operations, these companies are better off simply directing site visitors to their phone support center immediately.”


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