It may surprise people that this year marks the 32nd birthday of email, with the original copyright on a program to send and receive emails granted in 1982. That is seven years before Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web while working at CERN.
Over the last 30+ years email has changed the way we communicate at work and play with 114.8 billion emails now sent on a daily basis. And this number continues to grow despite the advent of new channels such as social media and web chat.
However, whilst volumes increase, the way we send and receive emails is changing. According to SendGrid, one of the world’s largest email delivery companies, more emails are now opened on Apple platforms such as iPads, iPhones and Macs than on Microsoft Windows (which tends to be mostly desktop PC based) devices. In the UK these figures are even more marked with nearly half of all emails opened on an iPhone. Essentially mobile devices are driving greater use of email, rather than diminishing its reach. People can answer on the move, rather than just when they are at their desks or home PCs.
The importance of email to customer service
Email remains a central as well as an essential channel for customer service and engagement. There are number of reasons for this. Customers like its flexibility and the fact that they can choose when to send or reply, putting them in control. Indeed analyst firm Forrester tells us that 58 per cent of customers want to communicate with companies by email. Equally it can make life easier for businesses as it isn’t real-time, which gives agents time to think and craft a considered response. A written record of the conversation can also be valuable for analytics and help avoid re-work when picking up an open query with a customer, as well as for regulatory reporting.
However, many companies are neglecting email. The Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study evaluated 100 leading UK companies on their ability to provide answers to routine questions via email and a range of other channels. It found that just 60% of companies responded to a question emailed to them – and just 41% successfully answered it. This means an astonishing six out of ten customer questions are not being dealt with.
And on average it is taking up to 61 hours and 39 minutes (nearly three whole days) to provide a successful response back to the customer. This is wildly out of kilter with Forrester research which shows that 41 per cent of customers expect a response to their email within six hours. Just 18 per cent of companies are delivering on this.
Improving email performance
As the statistics show, the number of emails companies receive are continually increasing, meaning that any issues with email management are only going to become worse over time. So what can companies do to improve their response times, response rate and accuracy?
Some of the answers are obvious. There needs to be a culture that says leaving any customer communication sitting unanswered for three days isn’t acceptable in today’s world, backed by a corresponding investment in people, process and technology to bring down response times. Companies need to ensure they are meeting customer expectations when it comes to email.
Linguistics-based email management technology can also help deal with growing email volumes in four key ways:
1. Faster responses
By understanding incoming emails, linguistics can automatically suggest answer templates to agents that they can personalise to the individual customer’s query. This increases agent productivity, while delivering consistency, speeding up response times, removing backlogs and improving customer happiness
2. Improve understanding
Linguistics allows firms to analyse the tone of an interaction quickly and easily. This can then be used to both prioritise and route the message, and for longer term analytics.
3. Deliver joined-up service
Linguistics can take the hard work out of connecting multichannel conversations. For instance it lets you extract information freely provided by customers within incoming emails (such as in the signature) and cross-reference/update the master customer record (i.e. in a CRM system). This gives a more cohesive view of the customer, refining the multichannel service you can provide.
4. Greater efficiency
Linguistics can route emails to the right department or agent first time, reducing handling time and ensuring quicker, more informed answers.
In a world where it may seem that new customer service channels are invented every few weeks, there can be temptation to embrace the new. Yet email will be with us for a very long time. The same Forrester study that looked at email preferences found that nearly 70 per cent of those born after 1995 want to contact firms via email. This same ‘Generation Z’ is already on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Pinterest but they also want the flexibility of email too and this won’t change overnight. So make sure you have the technology infrastructure in place to deliver quickly and consistently on the email channel, now and in the future.
The explosive growth of smartphones and tablets has had an enormous impact on customer service and the customer experience. Mobile devices allow consumers to find information or interact with companies wherever they are. They make it simple to get in touch across multiple channels (from email and social media to voice and text), driving increased contact volumes. Always-on mobile consumers expect a seamless experience, across devices and channels, and if they don’t receive it will head to competitors with a tap of the screen.
And as mobile adoption increases so does the use of unstructured language, and new ways of interacting. For example, our own research tells us that a person will ask the same question in three different ways through three different devices. With mobile devices encouraging interactions on the move, people have less time to get their message across, which means an increase in unstructured language. Companies therefore need to look at technologies such as linguistics to understand the context and deeper meaning of questions.
Every year the telecoms industry gathers in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (MWC), the annual conference and trade show dedicated to mobile devices and the networks they run on. So what are the big trends from the event, and how are they likely to affect customer service teams in the near future? I’ve picked four areas to focus on:
1 Smartphone growth isn’t slowing down
Research shows that over 50% of the population in Western countries now have a smartphone. At MWC, many companies unveiled handsets to target the remainder of the market, with companies such as Nokia, Samsung and Mozilla launching cheaper models. This means two things for customer service. Firstly, even more people will be contacting them through mobile devices, so they need to ensure the mobile customer experience is as seamless as possible. Secondly, mobile phone operators will have to cater for a new demographic of smartphone owners, with different needs and (potentially) levels of technical knowledge. Both of these add up to a greater mobile focus in the future.
2 Smartphones are getting bigger
The latest generation of smartphones have screens that are 5 inches or larger, making them easier to use for more complex tasks. This is likely to drive an increase in mobile interactions as consumers find it simpler to use their phones to contact companies while they are on the move. Already the smartphone has replaced the laptop as the primary communication device for many people, and this trend will accelerate. For example, it is much easier to type on a larger screen than on smaller version, so expect a greater number of consumers to send emails via their mobile devices.
3 The future is wearable
As technology gets smaller and easier to package, it is being incorporated into devices consumers can wear and use to control their world. From watches to bracelets, major manufacturers launched new products, following in the footsteps of the previously announced Google Glass. This technology has benefits and drawbacks for customer service. It provides the ability to instantly access information and use it in real-time, for example to identify customers and greet them by name, but also raises potential privacy concerns.
4 Everything is connected
It isn’t just phones or clothing that is becoming smarter. The Internet of Things, which will embed communications and intelligence in previously dumb products will connect people, companies and everyday objects. There were lots of announcements about connected cars at MWC for example. This raises expectations and means companies need to deliver a seamless experience across every device that interacts with a customer. To do this customer service will need to be more joined up, linking to information from lots more systems in real-time – such as smart energy meters, or wearable health devices.
As the news from MWC shows, the future will be increasingly based on mobile devices. This means organisations need to ensure that they are providing the right mobile customer experience across every channel if they want to attract and retain consumer loyalty.