Managing customer service email

Last week I made a short post about customer service email response times and vowed to do a little (unscientific) research on the subject.

24 hours is a general rule of thumb.
Customers generally expect to receive a response to their emails within one business day. Many customers want faster response times, though a few are willing to wait 48 - 72 hours. Taking longer to respond to a customer email can make a customer feel unimportant. Worse, they may have used the delay as an opportunity to take their business elsewhere.

Three Simple Tips
Staffing cuts and rising email volumes can make it difficult to effectively manage customer email. Here are three simple techniques you can use to keep your customers happy.

  • Publish your typical response times. Let customers know up front how long it should take for them to receive a response. This sets a clear expectation and increases the likelihood your customer will be satisfied, so long as you respond within that time frame.
  • Use an auto response. If you get a high volume of email, you may want your customers to receive an automated email response to their emails. The auto response can acknowledge receipt of their message, remind them how long it should take to receive a reply, and offer additional ways to reach you (such as your phone number and web address).
  • Track your response time. It's much easier to manage it if you measure it! And, you can monitor spikes in email response times -- too high could signal a major problem or a need for more staff.

One last thought... 
I used to manage the contact center for a small catalog company. The president of our company insisted that I personally read every email our customer service reps wrote before it was sent to the customer. This was an annoying practice, but it did make me realize that many people need training to learn how to write a good customer service email.

My biggest discovery? You can make your customers much happier and reduce your overall email traffic if you anticipate the questions your email will generate and answer those questions too. For example, let's say a customer emails to ask about the available colors for a certain product. You can respond with the requested information, but you'll make the customer even happier if you provide additional information such as additional specifications, the availability of each color, and directions for placing an order.