Although I may be young at heart,  physically I’m certainly not, and I grew up in a very much analogue world. The limits of my digital youth were an Atari games console, and later a computer that had a cassette player to load programmes and games.

It was only in the mid ’90s that I started using mobile phones, that good old StarTAC, and what we would today consider a PC was the late ’90s, During that time, email was becoming more common, with ISPs handing them out as an additional service to their customers. It was later still that companies starting using them as contact channels, with phone, letter or fax being more predominant.


Fast forward to 2016, and a conference I attended in Amsterdam. The topic was Customer Experience, and group of 50 experts and professionals met for 3 days to discuss trends, issues, and success stories, and to learn from each other. The group was shocked when a participant, who works for an international electronics company that will remain unnamed as I don’t know if their project is public knowledge, said they were shutting down email channels for customer service.

Sounds strange right? There are many reasons for such decisions, and they’ll start becoming more common. Let me point out some issues that emails have/cause:

  • Email doesn’t allow for a real conversation. We have been used to threads, however these are very binary – email, response, another response, etc.
  • Email can be “faked” and is easily used for spam. It is relatively easy to send an email that appears to be from someone else, and we have all received mails we don’t want. In 2015, an estimated 95 billion spam messages were sent daily.
  • In Customer Service organisations, emails often cause organisational challenges:
    1. Mails need to be triaged to the relevant people/teams, either manually or automatically
    2. Emails are patient – If your staff do emails and calls (or other live channels), then the email will have to wait if the phone rings
    3. If you get into a backlog situation, it’s a downwards spiral, customers will mail again asking why nobody responded, the backlog grows, the customer satisfaction decreases
    4. Maybe most importantly, it is difficult to express and perceive emotions

So what’s the solution?

More and more companies are moving towards live channels – Phone and chat have been around for a while, Social Messaging is the term people are using more and more. The term itself may actually be slightly misleading, as the “social” part of it is actually based on the original intent of such channels and tools. WeChat, whatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter initially had social intentions, fast and personal communication between people, however all (and others) have been working on business solutions for a long time, and the benefits for all involved are huge. Bear in mind that we now carry smart phones around with us almost permanently, and we probably have a slew of apps that allow us to stay in touch with friends or colleagues.  Now take a look at this:

From the recently released KPCB Internet Trends Report, available in full here

Not one group (segment) prefers email in comparison to other communication channels with businesses. Expect to see this trend continue, and also remember that customers are the ones that now decide how to communicate with businesses, and not the companies themselves. This trend is a good thing and that businesses are finally accepting this, and enforcing changes in this direction is a refreshing approach. It is certainly not universally applicable, and email will be with us for a long time, but I for one would rather work in a customer focused environment where live communication is the preferred method to help and service our customers.

As a last thought, who would have thought in the year 2000 that internal communication in companies would have been via Skype, Slack or HipChat? Not many of us, yet we do it naturally on a day to day basis. The revolution of communication is evolving, and it will do so at the cost of emails.