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And it’s not just the telephone response

Plenty of feedback to yesterday’s article about the reception you get when calling a company. One reader pointed out the hatefulness of robot messages (“press 1 for…”), which are finding their way down to ever-smaller organisations. Others emailed me to point out that a poor direct customer image can also be given out in other ways. For example, how many companies do you physically visit nowadays where there’s not a welcoming soul to be seen, just a telephone which says: “Visitors, ring here for attention”? Or worse still, I’ve even been to companies where you walk in to be confronted with such a telephone “reception”, while ten feet behind the unmanned counter is a whole office full of people who don’t even look up at you.

Then there’s the response to emails, which may already have grown to be the most important point of contact with customers. I’m not alone in hating contact forms on websites instead of email addresses, because I’ve no idea if sending the form genuinely has sent an email or not. At the very least, hitting “send” on such a contact form must be met with an on-screen statement that says the message has been sent, and a follow-up email to that effect, with full contact details. However, even so, I’m never certain that a real human has received the email. I much prefer a proper email address, although it’s equally disconcerting when I’m told to email “contact@…” and I get an automated thank-you back within 1 second. Hmm.

Email overload is a genuine problem. However, just as it’s an acknowledged fact in user interface design that the user will happily wait ten or twenty times as long for a system response if their input is met with a progress bar or egg timer, the same principle applies to email response. After a few hours with no acknowledgement, you start to wonder if your email has been received, and maybe consider other means of communication, or looking elsewhere. However, if you’ve had a personal reply within an hour just saying that someone’s on the case, you’ll be comfortable with waiting much longer, perhaps even days, for a reply.

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