Five Errors That Cost You Customers

Friday, September 19, 2008

Yesterday, while lurking around the web, I happened across this article written by Leslie O'Flahavan and Marilynne Rudick of E-WRITE. I have to admit that I am thrilled to see a piece of narrative work that almost perfectly illustrates the problems entities face managing and responding to their incoming customer service email. These 5 issues (and more) are exactly the reason that VisNetic MailFlow exists, and the problem it was designed to solve. Thank you ladies for so eloquently stating the problem to our readers. Editors Note - reprinted from the E-WRITE website:

What's the state-of-the-art of customer service e-mail? To find out, we sent out hundreds of customer service questions and requests via e-mail. We've e-mailed everyone–from Fortune 500s to ma-and-pa companies, from public corporations to nonprofits and government agencies. What we've learned:

* Lots of customer service representatives lack the basic writing skills they need to communicate with customers

* Lots of companies are sending out embarrassing, inaccurate, business-damaging e-mail disguised as "help."

As we analyze the e-mail responses, five common e-mail errors emerged.

1. Don't Write Us We Won't Write You

The Mayor's website urged citizens to send e-mail and promised a timely response. We sent an e-mail complaining about a garbage pickup. We got no response, untimely by any measure.

2. Give Customers The No-Answer Run-Around

A surprisingly high number of our e-mails got no response. We were annoyed and puzzled. Didn't this company want our business, the politician our vote? The no-responders lost our business and, if we had been their customers in the past, our loyalty. We'll be doing business with the competition from now on.

3. Send The Wrong Canned Response

Sometimes we got a one-size-fits-all response that probably fits no one. For example, we sent the following question to a financial aid information service: "I have a daughter, age 8. I would like information about saving for her college costs." We received a 1200-word answer that told us everything we DIDN'T want to know about the necessary forms and the filing deadlines for scholarships. The e-mail said nothing about SAVING for college.

We understand that auto responders and “canned” responses are practical. We appreciate a machine-generated response that acknowledges our e-mail and gives a timeframe for a "human" response. However, we were quite irked when the response didn't meet the promised timeframe, didn't answer our question or failed to answer all our questions.

In another query, we asked a senior citizen's organization "Do you have a list of summer camps that grandchildren and grandparents can attend together?" We were sent back to the website for a keyword search. The customer service representative wrote: "With our enhanced online services, you can now search our catalogs by topic or other keyword via our web site." Is it too much to expect customer service to do the search to find the information or know their products well enough to answer the question?

4. Give The Customer No Satisfaction

Sometimes the company did an adequate job of answering our question, but the response did not acknowledge our pain and suffering or our value as a customer. For example, we sent this e-mail about a bill we'd received for a magazine subscription: "You have sent me three bills for your magazine since I made my payment. Would you please make sure that I don't receive another bill?"

The subscription company finally solved the problem with the bill, but the e-mail response it sent us did not satisfy. The company wrote: "We have your payment." The company didn't acknowledge or apologize for our pain and inconvenience. Each customer service e-mail is an opportunity to build a relationship with a customer. Each response should make the customer feel valued.

5. Send A Sloppy Response

Some companies that sent us e-mail had clearly adopted the "it's only e-mail" attitude. They decided somewhere along the line that e-mail was so casual that spelling and grammar don't matter. Here's the e-mail response we received to our question about a product guarantee. "Our product quarantee is Gauranteed Period." This response made us wonder. Is the company as sloppy about shipping as it is about spelling? Would the package arrive by Christmas, as promised?

What do these five e-mail errors tell us? Many companies need an attitude adjustment when it comes to customer service e-mail. Perhaps the benchmark of a successful customer service e-mail effort should be the quality of the response, not how many e-mails are answered per hour. Did the e-mail response serve the customer? If not, companies risk alienating customers and hurting the bottom line.