Is Email a Viable Customer Communication Channel Anymore?

“Is email a viable customer communication channel anymore?” I have been getting this question a lot lately. It is usually followed up with, “I talk to my customers on the phone, and I only use email from my personal box or a group proxy box to send documents back and forth with my customers.”

Is that you? I think we have all grappled with email as a possible channel to communicate with customers, and asked ourselves the same questions about it. How efficient is it? What are my customers’ expectations for email response times? How many email exchanges should I volley with the customer before I just pick up the phone?

Let’s review some steps to consider before implementing email as a communication channel:

1) Ask your customer for their preference –use a post call survey, email survey or customer focus group to find out what they want. Here are some key questions to ask:

  • Would you like to communicate with customer service via email?
  • If yes, how quickly would you expect a response with resolution – two hours, six hours, one business day?
  • If no, what channel is your preference? (web chat, SMS, phone)

In this survey, it is important that you inform your customers that you are looking into email service as an option and will decide to offer it if customers show a preference for email. That way you are not setting an expectation you may not fulfill.

2) If you have a majority of positive responses, set up an email pilot considering these steps:

  • Target a customer – you may have a customer (corporate or segment) who is willing to participate. That way you control your audience and potential staffing needs.
  • Ensure the customers you are targeting have valid email addresses.
  • Determine limited hours when offering email responses (e.g. 8am-5pm Monday through Friday).
  • Determine test period – 30 days is usually enough data points for a viable sample.
  • Set up queues – set up a dedicated group of agents to get a clear understanding of demand and productivity.
  • Identify potential agents for test period and provide appropriate response and template training to ensure consistency.
  • Identify success measures for the pilot – service levels, agent productivity, impact to other channels (did email replace any volume for other channels – calls, mail, chat, etc.), number of many email exchanges necessary to complete the transaction with an individual customer.

From your pilot you should be able to determine if email is a viable channel. If you have success, you might expand your email offering to a larger audience. If you don’t see success, you might pilot email with another customer.

Are you offering email as a channel to your customers? Please feel free to share your successes and challenges around email in the contact center with me!


Todd Marthaler

Todd Marthaler

I am a 20 year veteran of the contact center field and a Contact Center Strategic Consultant with Interactive Intelligence since April 2013. Before joining Interactive, I was a business analyst and client services manager for a top Interactive Intelligence partner. I’ve managed several multichannel and multi-site contact center operations with Fortune 500 Companies in the retail, hospitality, utility, and service verticals. I have a passion for positioning the companies I service to deliver the ultimate customer experience. I also have expertise in IVR and call flow design, workforce management Implementation, workflow optimization, operations management, quality assurance and voice of the customer programs. In addition to speaking and consulting engagements, I frequently write for Contact Center Pipeline, present at partner events and deliver educational webinars. I’ve been an active member of ICMI and SOCAP. I hold a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University in Journalism and a master’s certificate from St. Catherine’s University in Organizational Leadership.