Email customer support: Striking the right balance between personalization and automation
When someone reaches out to customer service, more often than not it’s because they have experienced some type of problem. Disappointed that the brand hasn’t lived up to their expectations and frustrated by a lack of control over the situation, emotions can be heightened and voices may be raised. Being on the receiving end of that interaction can be frustrating, making pleasant service delivery a serious challenge.
Fortunately, email can serve as an effective means of defusing emotionally tense situations. “With customers who are unhappy, if you make a phone call, it opens the floodgates for the customer to rant,” says Catherine McLynsky, CRM professional services manager at Sage Corporation. “By sending an email, you can sympathize with the customer, explain the facts, reassure them and take the emotion out of the scenario.”
Email provides the unique opportunity to take the time required to cool off before responding in a particularly heated encounter. In many circumstances, email can even be used proactively to take control of difficult situations in ways that other channels cannot.
Show your customers that you care
A study by Microsoft found that the vast majority of customers believe that bad service results primarily from the company simply not caring about providing a good service experience. Given this perception, there are a number of strategies that organizations can use when writing emails that give people the feeling that they do matter, even in a difficult situation.
Write in an empathetic tone that acknowledges any perceived lack of service. The first few sentences should be sympathetic and carry a message similar to: “We understand you’re upset. We apologize and we’re going to fix it.” Next, provide a list of potential solutions. This offers the customer time to read through the possibilities and make a rational decision, rather than getting into a heated discussion.
While it’s a best practice to encourage agents to interject some personality into emails, encourage them to tone it down during difficult situations. The response should be laser-focused on providing solutions, and positioned to convey a sense of urgency on the company’s behalf.
Time is of the essence
Defusing a difficult situation via email is not only a matter of having the right messaging, but also the right timing. Customers worldwide say that the two most important factors in a satisfying customer support experience is getting their issue resolved quickly, and on first contact.
Email, when used properly, can be a uniquely effective tool in achieving both. Optimizing the following customer service KPIs can help drive positive results with their focus on resolving customer issues swiftly and efficiently:
- Time to Respond – This is defined as the time from when a customer sends their inquiry to when they receive an initial response. It will vary depending upon industry, but according to experts, the minimum acceptable response time for email is between four and six hours. Anything over 24 simply isn’t acceptable for today’s customer.
- First Contact Resolution (FCR) – Service teams can fail in this area when they overlook issues in a customer’s initial inquiry. They then have to follow up with probing questions in subsequent emails.
- Agent Handle Time (AHT) – For email, this means the average time an agent spends working on the issue before escalating to another agent or closing out the ticket. Of course, more complex service issues will typically result in longer handle times. The key to keeping handle times to a minimum is having experienced agents that know the shortest route to resolution. Training is key!
- Next Issue Avoidance (NIA) – While solving the first issue is the initial goal, it’s also important to consider the entire customer journey and what service issues are likely to arise next. Improving NIA metrics via email may result in longer agent handle times (and potentially decrease FCR), but contact centers should keep their eyes on the prize in terms of overall customer satisfaction.
Emotionally charged situations can often be remedied with an effective email sent within the appropriate time frame. By keeping the email response professional and focused on potential solutions, contact center agents can improve customer satisfaction while avoiding lengthy phone calls or chat sessions.