Customer Service Transformation
Customer Support Email Survey: Are You Responding to Customer Queries?
Are Your Customer Support Email or Web Form Queries Being Handled?
To answer this question we decided to run a customer support email survey, choosing 200 US-based insurance companies that employ over 1,000 employees as our target.
Our experiment was pretty simple but the results revealed that customer queries submitted via email or a contact form can get lost in the mix. Sometimes they aren’t answered at all, other times the time-lag in replying can vary from an acceptable 24-hour turnaround to a wait time of several weeks.
Want to get straight to the results?
Download our survey brief.
For our experiment, we decided to explore the use of contact forms and customer support emails that are widely used by insurance companies on their websites or mobile apps.
Since we weren’t true customers, we were not logging into customer portals so our results are not a reflection of the experience that a customer logged in to an online account would have with their provider. So as a caveat to those reading our findings, consider this as the experience a potential customer and not necessarily an existing customer may have.
Our Approach And Our Findings
We submitted a simple query via the contact form or email available on the contact us page of the 200 insurance companies we identified for this study.
There were four key data points we wanted to gather in this exercise:
- Was an automatic reply sent to the person’s email to acknowledge receipt of the request? [Yes or No]
- How long was it before the query was answered [we tracked this in # days]
- Was an email sent to follow up and get feedback? [Yes or No]
- Did the vendor offer a Chatbot on their support page? [Yes or No]
Without spoiling the anticipation of our results, it was very surprising to see that 49% of the companies we sent our query to didn’t respond at all.
For the other half of the sample set that responded to the submitted query, we saw that one in four took more than 2 days to reply, with one in eight taking over a week to respond. Since we did two rounds of our experiment we actually saw a wide variance in the response times of some of the individual companies. Although not as critical, our experiment also revealed very low use of auto-reply emails, minimal use of chatbots on customer support pages, and little use of follow-up surveys.
Overall, this quick survey made us think about the role that customer support email addresses and contact forms play for the insurance providers we selected. Being that these companies all have very large customer bases and are in a competitive industry, are these traditional channels holding them back? Could they try and deflect customers to digital channels where they can self-serve and handle the majority of routine queries in a more automated way, leveraging the likes of conversational platform technology.
For a full breakdown of the results of the survey and for a set of recommendations please download the report.
How Do Your Customers Contact You For Support?
You probably have a customer support or contact page on your website where your customers go to find a way to contact you and submit their inquiries. Typically, on these pages, you may offer a phone number, email address, social media links, and a contact form. You may even prompt customers with your live chat or bot for customer service. From your support page alone you may have six or more different channels for your customers to interact with you. It’s a lot to manage.
A Hubspot survey conducted two years ago revealed that the top channels of choice for customer service were email (62%), phone (48%), Live chat (42%), Contact Us Form (36%) with social media messaging channels coming in significantly behind these in popularity.
Email: Alive and Well
Although the demise of email has been often predicted, it is still a channel that many customers choose when they want an answer to their query, especially if there is no immediate urgency.
However, the drawbacks of email are that there can be long delays in receiving a response from a customer service agent, and if the reply doesn’t satisfy the customer’s need or if there isn’t enough information for the agent to resolve the issue, a lengthy to an fro of emails can happen. This increases friction, delays, and frustration for the customer.
From a business perspective, the downside of email is the manual effort involved in processing the email request (which could be very long but lack important details, like an order number, or an attachment) and responding to it in a way that meets the customer’s expectations. The other challenge with email is that it doesn’t lend itself to much automation so is highly reliant on human labor which is costly.
Phone Calls: Still Popular
Similar to email, customers still like to use the phone and speak with an agent to get their issue resolved. The beauty of the phone is that there isn’t the same delay as a customer service email response, so it is often preferred when a customer wants more immediate attention or is not sure how to respond to customer service emails, although when there are peaks in demand wait times can be long.
From a business perspective, handling phone calls is costly as it ties up agent time. And like email, it is a channel that isn’t easy to automate. This begs the question as to why many companies tend to put a phone number front and center of their support pages rather than drive people more towards a digital assistant or a digital channel that can be more easily automated, yet still offer an escalation path to a live agent.
Contact Forms: Help Triage Requests
Contact forms on the customer support page of a website operate in a similar way to email but they are a better way of capturing and categorizing customer information, e.g. via drop-down menus on fields or by asking for specific information such as an order number. Once the form is submitted it depends on the particular process the business has in place for triaging and handling it. Often, the customer will receive an immediate confirmation email, i.e. an auto-reply email that is configured in the system and will often include an expectation of when a reply will be sent.
Some businesses have turned to contact forms to provide more structure to inbound customer inquiries but they still generate queries that human agents have to prioritize and respond to. In this sense, they can still be cumbersome and labor-intensive to manage.
Live Chat: Immediate but Costly
Live chat as a customer support channel has grown in importance as it offers more immediate responses to customer queries. By hitting the live chat avatar or CTA button on the support page a customer can interact with a live agent via messages. This has made live chat very appealing and has fueled its growth in recent years as companies struggle to meet customer expectations for speed.
However, despite the popularity of live chat as a customer service channel, there is no mistaking the fact that it relies on the availability of trained live agents, incurring the labor costs, scheduling issues, and problems associated with scaling customer support needs in periods of high demand.
An Automation-First Approach Using A Digital Assistant in Front of Traditional Customer Service Channels
These traditional channels that are also the most popular are also the most expensive. In Gartner’s 2019 Customer Service and Support Leader poll they identified that live channels such as phone, live chat and email cost an average of $8.01 per contact. In the face of rising complexity in managing customers across multiple channels and lowering the cost to serve, today’s customer service center must evolve and look to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to support more automated digital engagement.
One such technology is Conversational AI, where natural language understanding has enabled more sophisticated digital assistants to engage with customers on digital channels and automate the responses to routine queries, alleviating the pressure on live agents that are answering calls, live chats, or responding to emails and contact form requests.
This doesn’t eliminate the need for live agents, rather it makes more productive use of their skills by having them handle the complex queries and any escalations from the bot. This is what we call an automation-first approach, powered by AI, where the digital worker collaborates with the live worker, taking the routine inquiries and automating them while handing over to live agents when it cannot respond or when a customer chooses to engage with a live person rather than a digital assistant.
We’d love to talk to you and discuss how your business could benefit from the application of AI bot technology to automate the majority of your customer service engagements.