Declining E-mail Responsiveness
Creates Enormous Opportunity
Ihave this simple notion that customer care is one of the most powerful competitive differentiators in this flat world. If we create happier customers, they will stay longer and buy more. These patterns
of preferential repurchase — and referral — increase the
profitability and longevity of our businesses. One might
call this a customer relationship, and it is not what I
generally experience as a customer of many companies.
This longer-term relationship is the rubric of customer relationship management (CRM), but when we
put it through the meat grinder of short-term mandates,
we create turnstile relationships. Our investment is in
the immediate sale. Our attention to the individual customer is the blink of an eye, and then, whoops, the doors
spin faster and here’s the next.
The longer-term revolves out of sight.
For example, every year, my organization conducts an
E-mail responsiveness survey, based on the observation
that every one of us sends an E-mail to a corporation
with a customer service question — and every one of us
would like an answer, preferably within 24 hours..
The survey is simple: an E-mail is sent, using my
name and E-mail address, to a list of the Financial Times’
Most Respected Companies and Fortune’s Most Admired
Companies. The list includes Apple, Amazon, Barnes
& Noble, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Microsoft, Berkshire
Hathaway, Nordstrom and Google. This year, we added
The Reputation Institute’s Most Respected Companies
list, which includes BMW, Cisco, General Mills, Walt
Disney and Xerox. The subject line reads “Customer
Service,” and the body copy reads: “What is your corporate policy regarding the turnaround time for E-mails
addressed to customer service?”
The criterion is, simply, an answer to the question.
That’s the only thing that counts. Non-answers, such as
Travelers Insurance’s request that I send in my resume,
or Xerox’s request for the serial
number of our machine, do not.
Here are the results:
In 2002 (the high-water
mark), 86 percent of companies
answered our question regardless of time frame. In 2008, this
Interestingly, four companies sent an immediate
auto-response that said my inquiry was important and
would be routed to the appropriate person. I never received their final answers. Intel sent an auto response
that had a box entitled “Related Resources” positioned
over the body copy, so I have no idea what they said.
In 2002, 63 percent answered our question within 24
hours. In 2008, that number was down to 31 percent. By
our 2009 survey, it was 29 percent.
Fourteen percent of companies stated a policy that
targets a 24-hour response. Standouts are RedEnvelope,
which got back to us within nine minutes and whose
policy is ASAP. LL Bean responded within 16 minutes,
with a policy of 20 minutes. Costco’s policy is an 8-12
hour response. And 3M got back to us in 81 minutes
with a policy of 24 hours.
Other companies offered more interesting answers:
To send an E-mail to P&G or Coke, you must use
their Web forms; a required field is “age”
US Airways’ required field is “travel date”
The AMA responded within nine minutes to tell us
that its policy is 24-78 business hours
The IRS’ response ( 23 hours, 57 minutes): “After
clicking on this link, please scroll down to the bottom of the page. The answer to your question is in
the sixth paragraph from the bottom.” Wouldn’t it
have been easier to just say 48 hours?
Home Depot can’t tell us because the information is
Target invited me to call in to discuss my question
Is all this intentional? Absolutely not. These are sins
of omission. There’s no one saying Scott is not important. Similarly, there’s no one saying an investment in
the differentiating care of our customers is a strategic
product, and success is measured by the interaction.
Within a short-term focus, customer service is a cost,
and costs should be controlled and minimized. Our
friends in the financial community have shown us all
what a short-term focus can wreak over the long-term.
Stated differently, you may be innovative and have
great quality, but if you view customers as commodities,
they will return the favor. ;