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How best to engage consumers: Facebook and the web or good old fashioned email?

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Consumers need to be engaged, but which channels should retailers be using? Well, the jury’s out as to whether social trumps email or vice versa, so here is what we know…

Research by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) suggests the reverse. It found that most consumers (59%) still prefer brands to communicate via email – with Amazon, eBay and M&S leading the way.

The ‘Consumer email tracker 2019’ research infographic, created by the DMA and supported by dotdigital, finds that, regardless of the context and purpose, email is the preferred form of contact – most consumers highlighted their preference for email when it comes to ‘Pre-purchase’ (57%), ‘Post-purchase’ (57%) and ‘Customer service’ (48%) messages. 

However, the differences of opinion appear when it comes to the second-most preferred option people selected. For ‘Pre-purchase’ brand contact, 15% of consumers’ highlighted online ads as the next best option. For ‘Post-purchase’ and ‘Customer service’, 27% and 25% respectively, people said their second preference was to have these via text messages.

In addition, consumers estimate they’re signed-up to receive email messages from around nine different brands, which has declined from 12 in 2017. The figures are a potential by-product of the GDPR and consumers’ belief that they now have more control over the marketing emails they receive.

Just over half of consumers (57%) read more than half of the emails they receive. There are a number of factors that influence a consumer’s decision to open and read an email, but nearly half (46%) say recognising the brand is key when deciding.

However, according to the 2019 Eptica Digital Trust Study, the web is considered the most accurate and comprehensive channel for customer experience, with brands answering an average of 75% of routine queries. It was followed by Facebook, where brands successfully responded to 57% of questions (nearly doubling from 30% in 2017). This was significantly ahead of Twitter (45%), despite the channel’s reputation for delivering customer service. 

Email brought up the rear. 37% of brands satisfactorily answered a basic question, with average speed ten times slower than social media. Chat continued to grow in importance, with 44% of brands claiming to offer it – yet just 26% had it operational when tested, a slight improvement on 2017’s 24%.

While brands answered 69% of all routine queries via the web, email, Facebook and Twitter, this masked wide gaps between different brands, sectors and channels. For example, a bank took 8 days to respond to an email. One fashion retailer answered a tweet about ethical sourcing policies in 17 minutes, yet another took 50 hours.

The Study found growing gaps between best and worst performers, between channels and within sectors. Fashion retailers successfully answered 60% of questions across all channels, while insurers only managed under half (46%), while in the travel sector, three brands scored 100% on the web – yet two rivals only answered 40% of questions. None of the banks surveyed successfully responded to an emailed question – yet 80% of them answered it on Twitter, and 45% on Facebook. 

At a time of greater pressure on resources, brands need to take a more holistic view across channels to drive a consistent, efficient customer experience that builds trust.

“Brands face multiple challenges when it comes to customer experience,” says Olivier Njamfa, CEO and Co-Founder, Eptica. “Consumer expectations are continually rising, while the volume and complexity of queries and interactions are growing. Trust is crucial to engagement and loyalty, but the 2019 Eptica Digital Trust Study shows that many brands are falling at the first hurdle, with their inability to get the basics right undermining reputation and revenues.”

However, Rachel Aldighieri, MD at the DMA, believes that: “This year’s report highlights the power of email to be at the heart of brands’ communication with customers, being the central channel that others can then be built around. It is essential that brands use it to contact consumers with the right opportunities at the right times to maximise their engagement.”

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