Leading businesses fail on email service

A report claims that email is the UK's worst channel for customer service, with telecom, insurance and utility companies coming under particular criticism.

Research found that out of 100 leading businesses, 28 per cent failed to respond at all to emailed questions. Even companies that did answer emails did so slowly: the average response time for customer queries was two days.

In less than half of emailed questions (46 per cent) were answered properly. And questions asked through websites were answered satisfactorily only half the time.

"Our research has uncovered shocking failings in the customer service email channel," said Dee Roche, director of marketing at e-services software company Transversal, which did the research.

"Companies are playing ping pong with email enquiries, pushing them back to the web and forcing consumers to call contact centres. What is the point in paying staff to respond to customers' questions badly?," asked Roche.

Transversal found that in eight out of 10 industries, service standards had deteriorated since last year.

Insurance companies ranked lowest, with only one email reply successfully answering a question and 50 per cent failing to respond at all.

Telecom companies also faired badly. Although from 2005 to 2007 the average reply time fell from 32 to 26 hours, successful answers also fell: from 70 per cent to 20 per cent.

Utility companies followed a similar pattern, with email response times getting better but successful replies falling, in this case from 70 per cent to a mere 15 per cent.

"Our analysis demonstrates the scale of the problem and how dramatically the usefulness of email replies has deteriorated over the last three years," said Roche.

One factor, Roche said, was the outsourcing of many contact centres.

"Companies that are paid a set amount for every email answered have no incentive to ensure agents are providing detailed, useful responses," she said.