E-Mail Survey Finds Decline in Customer Service

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An annual e-mail responsiveness survey released yesterday shows a decline in customer service response rates for the fourth consecutive year.

Thirty-eight companies, organizations and government entities -- including IBM, Dell, Apple, Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, American Airlines, L.L. Bean and the Direct Marketing Association -- have been asked during the past four years about their policy regarding turnaround time for e-mails addressed to customer service.

The survey found that in 2005 only 42 percent responded within 24 hours, down from a high of 63 percent in 2002. The survey is conducted by marketing consultancy Hornstein Associates, New York.

"Though the mechanics of customer relationship marketing may have increased penetration within corporations, the strategy of customer fulfillment has not," said Scott Hornstein, who is the principal of Hornstein Associates. "The benefits of CRM are largely internal to the corporation. The benefits of customer fulfillment are to the customer. It appears that corporations' willingness to respond to the individual customer is receding."

Hornstein has learned customers expect an e-mail reply within 24 hours. He said his research is corroborated by Jupiter Research's Customer Service Webtrack, which reports 88 percent of customers surveyed expect a response to e-mail inquiries within 24 hours.

"It's difficult, but not impossible," he said. "Respond within 24 hours, even if it's to say you're delayed."

The state of Connecticut had the fastest response rate at 3 minutes while the Internal Revenue Service's response time was 19 minutes, the survey found. Gateway and L.L. Bean were tied for third, each responding in about an hour.

Hornstein said the number of non-responders "is embarrassing. And there is very little consistency from year to year.

"It's crazy that 36 percent of companies simply did not respond at all," he said. "Short-term, customers without answers go away, as do their sales. Marketers are eroding trust and respect among customers, which translates into lost long-term revenue potential."

Meanwhile, in another survey released yesterday by The Pew Internet & American Life Project, e-mail users say they receive slightly more spam in their inboxes than before, but they mind it less. The survey, conducted Jan. 13 to Feb. 9, revealed:

· 28 percent of users with a personal e-mail account said they get more spam than a year ago, while 22 percent said they get less.

· 21 percent of users with a work e-mail account said they get more spam than a year ago, while 16 percent said they get less.

· 53 percent of e-mail users said spam has made them less trusting of e-mail compared with 62 percent a year ago.

· 22 percent of e-mail users said spam reduced their overall use of e-mail compared with 29 percent a year ago.

· 67 percent of e-mail users said spam has made being online unpleasant or annoying compared with 77 percent a year ago.

· 52 percent of all Internet users complain that spam is a significant problem.

Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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