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I Am Spam.
By Scott Hornstein
Sunday, 6th April 2008
 
At the beginning of each year we conduct our annual email responsiveness survey. 

Our survey is based in the notion that every customer, at one time, sends an email to a corporation with a customer service question. Theoretically, the corporation should get back to the customer with an answer within 24 hours.  Isn't this the way you'd like to be treated?

We conduct the survey because this is where the wheels of CRM hit the road.  Corporations can sing all day long about the tons of money spent and the  customer-centricity of their organization, but if they can't get it together to answer my one stupid question, it doesn't amount to (with a nod to Bogie) a hill of beans.

So we send out a one-sentence email.  The subject is Customer Service.

What is your corporate policy regarding the turnaround time for e-mails addressed to customer service?

We send it, one by one, to a database that consists of the Financial Times' World's Most Respected Companies and Fortune's Most Admired Companies.  This includes : Microsoft, GE, Toyota, Coca-Cola, IBM, Wal-Mart, P&G, Apple, Starbucks, Costco, FedEx, Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, Berkshire Hathaway and more.  The goal is not a response, it's an answer

This year, 31% of these companies answered us within 24 hours. (Full disclosure:  one of the emails wound up on the desk of a colleague).

It's down from a high of 63% in 2002 and the slide has been uninterrupted. 

51% of companies answered us regardless of timeframe.  It's the same as last year, but down from 2002's high of 86%.

Of the companies that answered, 42% said they either have a policy of a 24-hour turnaround, or they try their best.  Of these companies, 27% took longer than 24 hours to answer us.

Here are some other interesting observations from the answers:

  • 1 said they did not know.
  • 2 told us the information is proprietary and cannot be shared with the public (I love this). 
  • 3 asked if our query was prompted by a problem.  Good for them!
And from those that responded but did not answer the question:

  • 2 companies emailed us asking us to call to discuss the matter.
  • 1 asked what department we were looking for.
  • 2 told us to go to their website and find it ourselves.
  • 1 never answered the question, but sent an annual report.
While responsiveness and commitment are what we're measuring here, quality is also a concern.  Of the emails received, about 25% had a typo, grammatical error, misspelled my name or did not identify the corporation (I had to figure out who sent it by the return address).

This is no joke.  The outcome is abysmal by anyone's standards. Do the companies who answered the question deserve praise?  I don't think so.  Answering a customer's question only brings you up to zero.

These results, and the overall downward trend, are disturbing and confusing. No one can maintain a "customer relationship" if they can't muster up the courtesy to treat a customer with respect.  The stiff arm does not engender trust or loyalty.  What's the dealio?

Why would half of these companies not answer at all?  It wasn't a hard question.  There were no tricks.  Did our email get lost? 

Or, is it because I wasn't buying anything?  

Or, human failure – did the strategies, processes and quality control suddenly and cooperatively fail?

Or, perhaps, the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

I kicked this around with my wise friend, Dean, and he summed it up. He said, Scott, you're spam.

Scott Hornstein is the Chief Marketing Officer at Wired Assets Data Corporation. scott@wiredassets.com.

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