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Articles: Why is answering emails so difficult?

I recently had an interaction with Toys R Us that reminded me why I always try and buy from companies like PowerMax. By that I mean not huge conglomerates, or big box, or companies who employ more people than there are lobbyists in Washington DC. I bought from them because I needed to buy a bunch of toys. Next time, I'll shop elsewhere. And all because of one teeny tiny little behavioral thing that is shared by so many big companies.

Anyway, here's the story: I ordered enough to receive free shipping. One part of the order came in via the post office, and lo and behold it had postage due on it for $6.55. Now, it’s only $6.55, so I whipped off a quick email to customer service, explaining that someone must have made a mistake, or maybe the postage label fell off. Regardless, it’s pretty obvious that they should credit me $6.55.

But you know what? They’ve never replied to my email. I don’t care if I was ranting about the shade of red on the Radio Flyer in their advertisements, when a customer emails a company, that customer is saying, “I want to talk with you! I have a concern! An issue! A problem! A request! Or maybe I just like you!”

When the company completely ignores said customer, well, that’s just plain rude.

So why has the predominant form of business communication in this country become one whereby ignoring it is acceptable? In the good ol’ days before email, when all we had were phones, the only reason you wouldn’t answer your phone is if you were closed or out of business. Today a lot of companies don’t have phones that even get to a human being without a ton of hoop-jumping, and/or don’t post easy-to-find phone numbers on their website, and then don’t even answer their emails. Makes you want to go hmmm.

The reason I’m ranting about this is because 1) It’s very common. I have emailed a lot of companies’ customer service emails over the last few years, both as a business customer and an end-user customer, and the percentage of time I’ve received a reply is very low. And that just strikes me as really odd. 2) It is a differentiator for PowerMax. Call us old-fashioned, but we believe in good customer service, one aspect of which is answering our emails... and our phones.

When we ship a package, an email goes out the first time, and the responses to that email go right to my inbox. Our customer service emails do as well. I’ll either make sure someone handles them, or respond myself. Because at PowerMax, we will never forget who the boss is. The customer is our boss, and just as any boss gets irritated if an employee ignores him or her, any customer should be irritated when a company ignores them.

Every company makes mistakes. But it’s more than a mistake when you don’t make it easy for your customers to tell you when it happens. It’s just bad business.

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