Waiting for a response to your emails

July 2 2008 by Ellen Roseman

Why, oh why, do companies encourage you to use email for inquiries –and then wait up to 10 days to send out their email responses? Sometimes, they never get around to replying at all.

I did a recent column about Canadian financial institutions and how most of them take way too long to respond to emails from customers. It was based on a mystery shopping survey by Surviscor, whose results are here. (Just use the toggle at the top to switch from online banking to online brokerage.)

If you check the results, you see something interesting. BMO leads in online brokerage, but scores poorly among online banks. CIBC has a high score among banks, but a much lower score among brokerages.

Why don’t these financial institutions get their acts together and provide consistent service throughout all their divisions?

Surviscor looks at the speed of response, plus the validity or correctness of the response, before giving out scores. That’s important because customers want not only fast answers, but reliable answers.

I’d love to see such a survey done for the big telecom firms, such as Rogers, Bell, Telus, Primus and others. Would they do any better than the financial institutions?

As for me, when I have a serious problem, I still pick up the phone and call. I only send emails to companies that are otherwise inaccessible. And if I do send an email, I expect a response within 24 hours, no matter whether I write on the weekend or during the week.

Don’t you think that’s reasonable?


  1. Will Ashworth

    Jul 2 2008

    Hi Ellen:

    Great piece about e-mail response rates.

    I personally believe that if you have an email address on your web site, you should respond to each and every e-mail you receive. I’m old school customer service. Always respond to an inquiry/comment/question. You never know who they know.

    I’d be hard pressed to find a firm worse than Rogers and they’re in the communications business.

    Customer service is rare in today’s me,me,me world.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Rob in Madrid

    Jul 3 2008

    Generally speaking, I always call and wait in the queue until it’s my turn. Speaker phone does wonders for that.

    To be fair to Ellen and others, it’s hard to imagine what’s it like to be on the receiving end of hundreds and hundreds of emails a week. You simply wouldn’t have time to do anything else.

    In the old days, you sent a letter off. Today, you can whip off an email in less time than it takes to print a letter!

  3. Charles in Vancouver

    Jul 4 2008

    This brings to mind a related pet peeve: Interactive voice systems often remind the customer (at length!) to check out their websites, sometimes several times, before the customer can even attempt to make a selection and talk to somebody.

    I think it’s pretty clear that, if I’m already savvy enough to access the Internet, I would have tried and found what I needed. If I am on the phone with your company, then either a) your website failed me, or b) I’m not going to check a website in the first place.

    So, nix the long “Did you know that you can find us on the Internet? Please remember to visit our convenient website at http://www.company.website – I repeat – http://www.company.website – for answers to your questions, promotions, and more!” spiel. A very brief mention of the URL is all we need.

  4. Craig Hubley

    Jul 4 2008

    Bad interactive voice systems abound. I’m astonished at the ones that don’t let you shift to short prompts, for instance, even after you’ve used the same system for five years. It’s as bad as those DVDs that don’t let you skip the previews they put up front.

    It’s a consequence of monopoly (slow email responses). Given how easy it is to automate email, there’s no excuse not to offer an instant response, indicating roughly how long it will take to get back to the sender and via what media. Yes, 24 hours is acceptable — but barely.

    There is no company still in business that is so disorganized that it does not have something to say to you that will help you at least feel you have reported something.

    As for the mention of URLs, companies first need to realize that there is no use for dubyas whatsoever, the “www.” is not and ever has been required on a properly run Internet host. We’ve also had “cbc.ca/…” and “ctv.ca/…” and “sony.com/…” URLs thrown at us for years. Anyone who knows how to use the net knows that a dot (and possibly a slash) in the name means you look it up online. Four year olds know it. Ninety year olds know it. So stop wasting our time with this 1994 prelude including the http:/www. and whatever else.

    Please do not baldly lie to us by telling us that “a voice mail box is full”. It is not a physical box and it cannot be “full”. What you mean is, “we are too cheap or too stupid to pay three cents a gigabyte for extra disk space and your message is not important to us, or we know our user interface is so bad no one would use it to sift through 100 new messages”. This is exactly and only what “voice mail box full” means. It means the corporation hosting it is stupid or incompetent.

  5. Riscario Insider

    Jul 7 2008

    Finding an email address can be a challenge. Sometimes you’re forced to type into an online form which has two problems
    1. you don’t get a copy of your message
    2. you can’t send relevant attachments

    A recent flight from Calgary to Toronto ended with four burly police officers escorting two passengers off the plane. I wanted to know why. I visited the airline’s website and could not find a suitable email address. So I picked an inappropriate one and got an email the next day sympathizing with my concerns and pledging a reply within five business days. Nothing happened.

    Companies want your email address but don’t want you to have theirs.

  6. Dale

    Jul 9 2008

    What kills me are companies that have spots on their websites to “fill this in and we’ll contact you to set up an appointment for a no obligation quote.” So you fill in the information and then never hear from them.

    If I’m looking to spend some $$, and have come to your website and taken the time to try contacting you, why wouldn’t you respond??

    Sent two messages to different UPS stores this week. One responded. Thank you UPS Store 0682!

    Sent three form mail requests through company websites to contact me about replacing windows – I’m willing to spend the money here! Twice to one company. No response from any of them.

    Yes, I’m talking to you Canak Windows!

  7. Norm Nicol

    Jul 9 2008

    Well, you have definitely hit a hot button with me on email response times.

    It concerns me about your response to your paper’s criticism, “So why do newspapers print the email addresses of columnists? Because we often get interesting tips or views by email. We respond to those we think can help us write the next column.”

    This illustrates a pick and choose attitude, much like that of banks and financial institutions. They may or may not decide to answer their email either, who is to say they don’t pay their employees extra to answer emails?

    The issue, I think, with a bank or financial information is the legal, sometimes personal, nature of emails. In a time that everyone wants everything yesterday and correct, I think a longer response time is warranted. Would you be satisfied with a response like, “I don’t know how to answer your email?”

    I have a rule to respond to all email before returning my first phone call. Why? Because the expectation of an email response is immediate. No one can wait a day once they send an email. They expect the answer to come right back to them. The million things that go through a person’s head after they send it is I have to check my email.

    My suggestion to your paper is this: Generate a reply message that says “Your email has been received. Unfortunately, we cannot respond to all the emails we receive. Please be patient with us while we try!”

  8. Dale

    Jul 11 2008

    I thought I’d follow up with my beef from the other day. About 10 minutes after I posted, I got a call from Canak. Probably a coincidence.

    Since then however, I called another company to follow up on the email sent through their website. Gave her all my contact info and was told “Someone will call you”. Still haven’t heard anything. Called again today to let them know that I still haven’t heard anything and if they don’t want my business – tell me and I’ll go elsewhere.

    Went to the Home Depot and the salesperson told me they could give me a free quote. Spoke to the estimator guy yesterday and set a time to meet today. He never showed up. Never called to say he wasn’t going to show or reschedule.

    Tried contacting yet another company online (if for no other reason at this point than to see if they are all just as bad at responding). Nothing.

    The experts all say that you should get three quotes before proceeding on a project. Hell, I’ve been working at this for a week and have only managed to get one, and that was over the phone!

    They say that the economy is tough out there. You’d never know it with the way these guys are blowing off customers.

  9. Robert

    Jul 15 2008

    Aeroplan Miles are real ripoff. I was planning to take a trip to Montreal a year ago. I saved over 50,000 Aeroplan miles and had been told that I could fly twice across Canada.

    However, booking a trip was a pain. The first day, I would fly from Vancouver to Calgary and stop over. The second day, I would continue to either Winnipeg or Toronto, and would arrive in Montreal on the third day.

    Spending six days to fly from Vancouver to Montreal and back? Not me. I was told that if I wanted to fly the same route in one day, I would need to book a flight at least six months ahead.

    This year, Aeroplan “stole” all of my 54,149 miles. Aeroplan will not reinstate miles. This is nothing short of criminal.