Is It Too Early to Write Email's Obituary as a Service Channel?

I am sure that we all know organisations that really hate email as a service channel and would love to kill it dead.  Last week Sitel, the global outsourcing company, came out and said that email has passed it's pinnacle as customers have higher expectations for fast resolution.  There are now faster, more interactive routes to resolution that customers are choosing - according to Aberdeen, the research business, email remains the biggest inbound contact type at 18% while e-service (webchat, forums, social etc) represents only 13% but is expected to grow by half again in the next year.

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So, in a tough economy with investment and resource spread thinly is this the ideal opportunity for cash-strapped companies to kill off email as a support channel?  Absolutely not!  And let's be clear - your customers will tell you when they are done with email and, right up until then, you need to give them a great service experience or watch someone else do it. 

And here is why.....

WHAT DOES EMAIL OFFER THAT OTHER CHANNELS DON'T YET?

  1. if you offer alternative channels and if your customers are choosing not to use them ask yourself why, and then make them better, rather than coerce the customer to dump email before they are ready.  Arrogance is not an attractive characteristic for a company.
  2. social media and webchat support is near real time - wow fantastic news, that is just what customers are wanting!  But are you ready to handle the e-service contacts at scale and with a 20 minute response time?  We wrote before that social media is great if you have a clear strategy in place and great execution - if not, you might be better off not offering it!
  3. customers can be more expressive in an email than webchat or a call - they can literally shift the problem to you.  Sometimes that is all they need to do to remove the heat from their issue.  The benefit for you is that it also allows your agent to be pre-briefed, prepared and perhaps even to resolve the issue before they contact the customer back.
  4. are your operations 24 x 7?  No?  Well your customers are!  If a customer has a support problem out of your core hours (or if you have a longer queue than they are prepared to wait for) they can literally pass the problem of re-contact to you which will make them feel better; leaving them without a contact option will only antagonise them.

Companies often make handling email really difficult for themselves through an unhealthy preoccupation with productivity, poor blending technology, inappropriate auto-responses and concerns about data protection.  But, quite frankly, your customers don't care about your problems - they only care about their own problem that they now want you to resolve.  You have already taken their money, their product or service is not meeting their expectations - removing one of their contact channels is only going to cheese them off further.

Until a time when you have made your webchat and social service channels absolutely bulletproof you still need to invest in email.  Maybe, you should always maintain email to give customers a choice.  Once the customer has decided to spend their money with someone else they may never come back.  The bitter taste of their cash dropping into another company's coffers will last long after the sweetness of a cost saving or process simplification in your business.

A twin strategy of investing in your preferred contact channels for a great user experience while ensuring that you offer timely, warm, and personal email support will keep your customers happy.

Is it too early to write email's obituary as a service channel?  We think so, how about you?