August 12 2007 by Ellen Roseman
Hurray for Amazon.ca. When I ordered a book that arrived with a torn cover, I sent an email complaint and got an answer back — from a real person — within an hour. I ended up settling for a 20 per cent credit, since I didn’t want to return the book. That’s the kind of service I’d expect to get from a customer-centric organization.
But in my column yesterday, I highlighted Capital One’s policy to respond within seven to 10 business days when customers send emails to its ombudsman’s office. Why should it take that long to hear back from a company when you have a problem urgent enough to go to the highest level of appeal?
A Connecticut-based marketing company, Hornstein Associates, has been doing a study each year since 2001 on companies’ response time to email. Only 33 per cent of the top firms replied within 24 hours in 2007, compared with a high of 63 per cent in 2002. Firms polled included Starbucks, Microsoft, GE, Toyota, Wal-Mart and Apple.
Hornstein did the survey by sending a one-sentence to each company, asking “What is your corporate policy regarding the turnaround time for emails addressed to customer servicel?” Nearly half didn’t respond at all in 2007.
Here’s what firm founder, Scott Hornstein, told CBC News Online about the slow turnaround time:
I think itâ€™s a lack of strategy. I think weâ€™ve got plenty of infrastructure, weâ€™ve got more technology than we know what to do with. The problem is there isnâ€™t a strategy in place that says itâ€™s important to treat the customer well. We keep recreating the wheel, bringing new customers in to take the place of those whoâ€™ve had bad experiences and leave.
Robin Ritchie, a business professor at the University of Western Ontario, had this to say:
E-mailing makes complaining very easy and I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s a bad thing. Feedback from customers, good or bad, is a real opportunity to learn what youâ€™re doing well and what youâ€™re doing badly. Good companies will encourage and solicit that feedback. But I do think that firms just donâ€™t put enough money into monitoring, handling and responding to customer feedback. Itâ€™s the practical reality of the short-term focus of business, which is driven in part by stock-market valuations and even performance evaluation measures used by firms that really reward performance in the last quarter or the last year, rather than long-term brand-building efforts.
So, tell me how long you’re waiting for an answer when you send a complaint to a company. Letters take weeks, maybe up to a month. But emails should be returned, in my view, within a couple of days. Is that the standard you expect and receive? How are companies doing?
Readers with Bell Blues and Seeing Red with Rogers, tell me about your email experiences. Is it better to write than call? Or do you find the emails vague and bland and generic?