Why it Doesn't Pay to Keep Your Customers Waiting

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The obvious and economical reasons to reduce your email turnaround time. By Laura Behrens Wu (Founder & CEO, Shippo)

This is part five of a series from one of our How To Conference speakers. Laura Behrens Wu spoke on our panel How to Create Value with the Right Business Model. Read part onepart twopart three and part four.

Waiting sucks. It always has. As kids, we had a hard time waiting for the afternoon school bell. As adults, we hate waiting for the weekend to start. Every day, almost universally, we hate waiting for replies to our emails.

Why is it, then, that so many companies keep their customers in email limbo?

It is safe to assume that a customer writing in with a problem feels a sense of urgency about getting that issue resolved. The troubles they’re facing are disrupting their workflow; perhaps their whole day.

For our e-commerce merchants, they often need to get a batch of shipments out before the Post Office closes. Any delay with Shippo delays their entire shipping process.

Routes Your Customers Follow

I can only speak for myself, but usually when I run into an issue that isn’t immediately pressing, I tend to browse FAQs and customer forums, searching for solutions online long before I even consider emailing customer support. By the time I’m typing a support email, I’m feeling frustrated and often lamenting a loss of productivity during my workday.

From the perspective of someone reading support emails, those issues may not sound very urgent, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t urgent. Support emails most often mean that the customer on the other end is not able to continue doing whatever he or she had planned to do. Understanding this feeling of helplessness – empathizing with the customer – is essential to swift responsiveness. 

Helping One, Helping Many

Often, if we don’t have a solution to direct a customer toward, it means we need to update our Help Center or documentation. In that case, responding to one customer’s email catalyzes a process of editing and updating on our end that saves us time on an untold number of future support requests.

Last November, our site was inaccessible for hundreds of customers on Cyber Monday because our DNS provider was hacked. All of their customers’ sites went down. This was an unacceptable failure on such a high-volume shipping day.

For hours, we were in the dark as to what was wrong and our engineers spent tireless hours creating a successful work-around solution for our impatient customers. Meanwhile, our customer success team communicated back and forth with customers both proactively and reactively.

Our outbound communication channels on this high-stress day ran the gamut from support request responses, mass and personalized emails, phone calls, TwitterFacebook, and updates to the Shippo status page. Every channel was used to keep customers updated and to field their questions and pleas for help.

Looking back, I’m grateful, because this was the most important test of our ability to mobilize the powers of communication and responsiveness to connect with our customers. We learned a LOT.

Why it Pays to Respond Quickly

The economic argument for communicating quickly and efficiently: responding to customers in a timely manner directly impacts customer conversion and retention. An expeditious response to a customer’s initial inquiry into Shippo, before their first transaction, captures them at the moment of their intent, before they can find something else to busy themselves with or, worse, a competing service to try out.

We’re happy to say that many converted customers have explicitly pointed to our responsiveness as a major reason for choosing Shippo.

Emotional Investment

In the spirit of empathy, we recently added a new element to our customer support process: we ask customers to identify their emotional state when they email our support team. We were inspired to try this out based on this insightful post on the UserVoice blog and our personal experiences using AirBnB.

Our key learning so far is that no matter how customers feel initially, they seem to relax a bit as they submit their message, mainly because being able to express how they’re feeling offers a certain amount of relief as they put their question into the hands of someone who understands.

For our customer support team, it’s incredibly helpful to have a more complete profile of the customer with this extra information. Not only can we better prioritize emails based on urgency, but we can also be more intentional and thoughtful about the tone, voice, and detail of our responses.

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It goes without saying that we can’t always solve customer issues quickly, especially if they require the attention of our engineers. Still, in my experience, customers tend to be understanding if you simply tell them the truth.

Telling the Truth

The truth can be, “I’m really sorry, but it will take up to 24 hours before we can solve this problem. But we’re working on it!” Any customer would rather hear this than simply be ignored for 24 hours, even if your team was working on the issue during that time.

So, moral of the story: don’t make your customers wait. Their problems and questions should be top of mind at all times, especially when you’re just starting out. Quick, open, deliberate communication should be a driving force to your business.

Image credit: Dooder via Shutterstock.


About the guest blogger: Laura Behrens Wu is the founder and CEO of Shippo. Shippo simplifies shipping for e-commerce companies by offering discounted shipping rates and a streamlined solution across all different shipping providers. It provides Amazon-level logistics for e-commerce stores, marketplaces, and platforms. Laura is proud to be a first-time founder, currently leading a team of 14 people at Shippo. Prior to founding Shippo, Laura worked at LendUp and was educated at the University of St. Gallen & Harvard College. Follow her on Twitter at @laurabehrenswu.