SQM Group

5 Tips To Improve Your Email Channel Customer Service

September 15, 2021 | 5min read

Email Channel Customer Service

We live in a customer-driven economy. Customers expect more than high-quality products and services; they expect a great customer experience (CX) doing business with an organization. In many cases providing an outstanding CX is the only way an organization can differentiate themselves from their competition.

The email channel can play an essential role in delivering a great CX and retaining customers, especially when you consider the volume remains significant and most customer email interactions are complex (e.g., claims, technical issues, billing, and complaints) and are important.

Email Channel

In addition, many customers use the email channel because it is a channel that they can document their experiences doing business with an organization. The documentation benefits the customer and the organization in terms of a paper trail. Conversely, the call center channel recording of the call only benefits the organization, which is why many customers like the email channel better because it can be documented.

An Agent who handles email interactions plays a similar role to a helpdesk Agent because both these positions handle complex interactions. Furthermore, email Agents, in many cases, are the last line of defense from customers defecting. However, it is not uncommon for an Agent to handle 30 to 80 emails in a day. Therefore, it can be easy for Agents who handle emails to become complacent. Consequently, it is crucial to understand a single negative interaction can result in a customer defecting.

The email channel is the second oldest of all contact channels used by organizations, only the phone channel has been used longer. SQM Group's research shows the email channel has the fourth-highest contact volume of all the core contact channels (e.g., 1. website, 2. call center, 3. IVR, 4. email and chat) used by SQM's client base.

The below infographic shows that the email channel CX ratings for One Contact Resolution (OCR) are 44%, First Contact Resolution (FCR) is 64%, and Customer Satisfaction (Csat) top box response is 68%. The low OCR percentage means that customers needed to phone the call center to resolve their inquiry or problem because the email channel was unsuccessful.

These Email channel metrics CX ratings are by far the lowest-performing compared to all the core contact channels that customers use to resolve an inquiry or problem. Therefore, organizations should strive for 75% OCR,  80% FCR, and 85% Csat level targets on their email channel. Only 5% of SQM clients can achieve these world-class levels for the email channel CX ratings.

Email Channel - CX Rating is Poor

Email Channel Infographic

5 Tips To Improve Your Email Channel CX

Given that the email channel CX rating is poor compared to other contact channels and the importance that this channel can play for delivering a great CX and retaining customers, we have provided five tips to improve your email channel FCR and CX.  

  1. Measure Email First Contact Resolution Rate
  2. Email Response Time Standard
  3. Email Management System
  4. Escalation and Complaint Management
  5. Create a Positive Customer Experience Journey

Email Channel Measurement

As previously mentioned, the FCR rate for the Email Channel is the lowest of all contact channels used by customers for resolving an inquiry or problem. SQM's opinion is that if the email channel had a higher FCR rate and required less effort for resolution, it would have higher customer acceptance as a contact channel to resolve an inquiry or problem and, in turn, have substantially higher contact volume. Again, the key message is that for a contact channel to be successful in terms of usage, including the email channel, it must be measured from the customer's point of view and achieve at least 70% FCR performance level.


It has been SQM's experience that the Email channel is seldom measured for FCR and CX based on a Voice of the Customer (VoC) post-contact survey. As the old saying goes, "if you don't measure it, it is unlikely you will improve it." Therefore, the best practice to accurately determine FCR and Csat with the Email channel is to randomly survey the customers using a post-contact phone or email VoC survey. In addition, the Email channel should measure and track CX daily. The survey should ask the following questions:

  • Overall how satisfied were you with our email customer service?
  • Was your inquiry or problem resolved?
  • How many emails did it take to resolve your inquiry or problem?
  • Why did we not resolve your inquiry or problem?
  • How satisfied were you with our response time?
  • Did you have to use another channel to resolve your inquiry or problem?

Email Channel Response Time

The biggest dissatisfaction about the Email channel is the response time is too slow. It is difficult to define an email response time standard best practice. However, one thing is for sure the faster it is, the better and the more likely you will meet customer expectations. Therefore, for the Email Channel to improve FCR and CX, email response time must improve.

The most common service level target for the Email channel is 100% of emails are responded to within 24 hours of receipt. Some organizations have a higher service level target being 100% of emails are responded to within 4 hours. From the customer's perspective, they expect an email response within 24 hours or less. Furthermore, it is common for customers to expect an email response within one hour of sending an email to the organization.

A contact center needs to have a standard email response time policy. However, the email response policy does not need to be one-size-fits-all customer inquiries or problems. You can set different email response times based on customer types and importance and by inquiry or problem types. For example, a complaint has a quicker response time than a routine inquiry or problem. 

Email Channel Management System

Typically, organizations receiving 100 emails or more a day are likely to have problems resolving and tracking unresolved contacts if they do not have an effective email management system. In addition, customers dislike receiving an automated email reply that does not answer their questions or are vague and generic responses.

Although many organizations use an email management system to handle the high email volume more efficiently, these systems are often not helpful in assisting Agents in resolving inquiries, problems, or complaints. Put differently, there is little value in an email system responding to a customer in a timely manner but not helping an Agent resolve the customer's issue. This lack of help causes customers to send repeat emails or phone the call center because they did not resolve their issues.

An effective email management software should log all incoming emails. In addition, the email management software should use automated queuing to assign the emails to the appropriate Agent with the right skill set. The software can then monitor the speed and quality of the email responses. If needed, emails of concern can be flagged for follow-up action.

Email Channel Escalations

Organizations should have a three-tier, dedicated Agent email handling system for handling customer complaints for larger contact centers. The following outlines the parameters for each tier:

  • Tier 1 email Agents only support frontline customer service Agents and do not directly handle customer emails. The Agents within this tier should handle 80 or more emails per day as they have no direct involvement with customer inquiries or complaints. Success for Tier 1 email Agents is measured by the frontline customer service Agent satisfaction with the escalation email Agents support in helping them resolve customer issues.
     

  • Tier 2 email Agents should be more experienced than Tier 1 email Agents and directly handle customer emails. The Agents within this tier should handle up to 40 emails a day. Success for Tier 2 email Agents is measured by the email inquiry or problem is resolved, which is determined using a post-contact survey.
     

  • Tier 3 email Agents are the most experienced or best FCR performing email Agents. These email Agents handle escalated or complaint emails. Escalated emails may require support from other departments, such as claims, service repair, IT, or billing departments. Given the complexity of escalated and complaint issues, tier 3 email Agents should only handle up to 25 emails a day. Tier 3 email Agents' success is measured by escalated or complaint email resolution, which is also determined using a post-contact survey.

Email Channel Journey

Contact centers want to deliver a positive CX journey using the Email channel. Customers like to feel and think that their email inquiry or problem matters to the Agent who is responding to them. Below are tips for ensuring that a customer has a positive experience resolving their inquiry or problem on the Email channel efficiently and effectively by using an Email Resolution Delivery Model.   

Email Resolution Delivery Model

  1. Understand Me – Agent determines and confirms the reason(s) for the customer's email by actively reading, probing, and clarifying to ensure understanding and acknowledging email history and documenting the conversation. 
     
  2. ​Help Me – Agent expresses and demonstrates a willingness to help customers by letting them know they can help them, providing accurate and complete information, focusing on the inquiry, taking the necessary time to help the customer, and educating them with solution options.
     
  3. ​Care About Me – Agent uses friendly, enthusiastic, warm language, builds rapport, shows empathy for the customer's situation, is patient and honest, and expresses appreciation for the customer's business.
     
  4. ​Resolve Me – Agent resolves customer's inquiries or problems by answering questions, using authority and taking ownership, providing fair treatment, summarizing email, communicating next steps, and confirming that the inquiry or problem is resolved.

Email Channel

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