When emails started to be used as a customer service channel in the late 1990s, the expectation from businesses was that this would be a low-cost alternative to voice.
In fact, the reality for most businesses and customers was that it was a low-quality alternative to voice, and that it took just as much time and effort (and thus expense) to answer an email as it did a phone call.
Looking at statistics provided by hundreds of UK contact centres, it seems fair to say that there is still generally little cost differential between email, phone and webchat.
Figure: Cost per inbound interaction (phone, email & webchat)
One of the main reasons for this is that there is still a relatively low level of automation being used in many businesses. 95% of webchats are carried out entirely by agents, with as yet very little use of first-line virtual agents or chatbots to answer the simpler questions.
Even in the case of email, which has been around for a long time, more than half are answered manually by an agent starting with a blank email.
It’s worth noticing that in the 3rd cost quartile – i.e. those with the lowest costs – webchat is almost half the cost of a phone call, which suggests that webchat can offer a low-cost live channel.
Email costs are only a little lower than voice, but this may be explained not only by low levels of automation, but also because many email requests are of a complex nature, as in many cases a self-service attempt has been tried first, but unsuccessfully.