How quickly should companies respond to customer email?
I am in the process of reading your book Growing Your Business with Google and was wondering what is an acceptable amount of time for a response to a customer's email request. I know it varies widely within the e-business world but what is acceptable?
This is a splendid question because it really gets to one of the greatest challenges of doing business online: all the time you spend answering email messages. If you have a product or service that requires customer support, and you have a Web site that channels people to a form or help address, it can be even worse.
There's nothing more discouraging than going into work on a Monday morning just to see a few hundred new messages from customers and potential customers. Do you ignore them? Do you respond to every single one? And if you do respond, how do you ever get your job done?
One solution is to hire someone to answer customer support email, because email is just as important an avenue for customer queries as telephones, yet many companies hire or outsource a bevvy of phone support people and leave email to an intern or as a side job. But it's quite common for companies to view customer support as a last priority cost center, and plenty of firms just don't have the resources.
But, as you suggest, customers are sending in queries, and I know that I have quite frequently sent in questions to companies and never heard back from them. That's bad business, in my book, and I tend to shy away from those products down the road because I know I can't get service if needed.
The solution? I believe that the key is to set realistic customer expectations. If you can't get to most messages, then say so, with a notice like "Please check through our FAQ and knowledge base: since we're a small firm, we cannot respond to all email queries we receive." You'll note that on this site, Ask Dave Taylor, I do exactly the same with the message on the Ask a Question page for just this reason.
If you can get to customer queries or have staffed the position, then you have latitude and can have a message like "you will receive a response to your query within 24 hours" or similar. But if you do that, make sure you really can answer queries within 24 hours.
Again, I've had more than one experience of submitting a query to a site that has this sort of message, never to hear from them again. That's far worse than if they just said it takes up to a week, or longer, to hear from them.
So it's not so much what's acceptable within the e-business world, but what you can realistically expect to consistently deliver to your customers and marketplace. Is 24 hours ideal? Well, 4 hours would be great, or even live chats, but it's a matter of fitting in your business too!
I hope that helps answer your question!
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