Your Business Online | Professional Jeweler

May 16, 2001
E-Mail Reponses
More and more online customers are turning to e-mail to resolve shopping problems

As a company's online sales increase, the amount of e-mail the company receives from customers jumps as well. Many e-tailers aren't prepared to respond in a timely manner to the growing number of customer e-mail inquiries. According to Jupiter Media Metrix, an online market research company, most online shoppers expect to get a response to their e-mails within six hours, but only 53% of all online retailers respond in that time frame.

Retailers respond to customer inquiries quicker than most companies, though. Only 38% of all online companies respond to customers within six hours. Responding quickly is important – it leaves a good impression on the customer, just like courteous in-store service does. When online stores leave customers waiting for too long – more than 24 hours in the online world – those customers take their money somewhere else, just like they would if they received poor in-store service. Remember, there's always another store online only a few clicks away.

Poor e-mail customer service is driving up the costs for customer service and is alienating customers, says David Daniels, an analyst at Jupiter. He suggests using Natural Language Processing technology to automate responses to customer e-mail. NLP systems are great for large companies – a company that receives 20,000 e-mails a month can save about $90,000 a year by using NLP instead of hiring extra customer service representatives, Jupiter found. It's not for all online companies though. Companies that handle smaller volumes of customer e-mail can improve their response systems in other ways. Here are some suggestions:

  • Set up an automated customer service e-mail response system if you haven't already. Go one step further and send personalized auto-responses that include the customers' names. Jupiter found only 4% of auto-response e-mail was personalized even though it's more effective.
  • If your automatic e-mail response or Web site promises a customer service representative will respond to the inquiry in 24 hours, make sure it happens. Only 34% of online companies respond to customers in the time frame they specified.
  • Make customer service e-mail more of a priority. Monitor how long it takes to reply to customers and how long it takes to resolve problems. If responses take more than a day and resolutions take more than two days, it's time to improve your system.
  • If you aren't using form letters, start. Make form letters that address the most common customer inquiries.
  • Consider adding online chat with customer service to your site. It will help you engage those customers who are in a hurry.
Keeping customers happy is an important part of running a business, and responding to them quickly and accurately is one way to do that. As customers turn more toward e-mail for resolving online shopping problems, the e-tailers who respond the best will be the ones who prosper.

- by Julia M. Duncan