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Evaluating e-mail customer service

Do you have any data on agent performance measurements specific to agents who provide customer service via email? I'm looking for utility industry standards such as:
- Average Handle Time per email
- Daily volume per agent
- Service level

This is a great question. I'm afraid I don't have much information for you on your first two areas of concern: average handle time per e-mail and daily volume per agent. I just haven't seen any widely published benchmarks in those areas. Likely, there still aren't enough companies formalizing e-mail service to accurately develop benchmarks across various markets.

In general, you should probably expect average handle times for e-mail to be about the same as for voice calls ? though it is very contact center-specific.

You may want to contact the Email Management Benchmarking Association ( http://www.emmba.com). You may also try these organizations as well.
-- www.benchmarkportal.com
-- www.iccbc.org

I can speak more directly to your third area of concern: service level. The glaring issue with e-mail service levels is response time. Numerous studies by industry analysts indicate that customers expect acknowledgement of their message within one hour and an answer to their question within 24 hours. Best practices (those that yield positive customer feedback and buying behavior) answer e-mails in three hours or less. Yet, studies also show that the average response time for companies with Web sites is 33 hours.

Making matters worse is how customers respond to poor e-mail response times. Most customers follow up with a phone call or second e-mail, which only adds to the volume of customer contacts that the company must process. Or, worse, customers that do not receive a timely response head to a competitor. On the positive side, study after study indicates that when e-mail service is done well, customers respond with dramatically increased loyalty and repeat purchases. It is a powerful differentiator.

So with this in mind, the service level most top-achieving e-mail service efforts aim for is an instant automated response and an agent-generated response within two hours. While this unattainable without an e-mail management application (unless volume is extremely low), any quality system makes these performance targets reachable and also provides a bevy of real-time and historical reporting tools that help monitor and maintain service levels.


This was last published in April 2002

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