Is Email Dead? An in-depth analysis to the rise and fall of electronic mail.

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The rise

Depending on who your sources are, you may be led to believe that emails are not dead, but is in fact on the rise. Proponents of email will point to the raw numbers as proof.

4.1 billion active accounts.
74 trillion emails every year.
281 billion email sent and received every day in 2018.
99% of us check our inbox.

Built in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson, emails have been synonymous with generations of users. You use it, your parents use it, your children probably use it. Email has been widely accepted by businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations in the developed world, and it is one of the key parts of an ‘e-revolution’ in workplace communication.

That old, and that imbibed in pop culture.

And as these statistics show, there’s a good reason why email is still going strong; it works. What they miss out on mentioning, however, is if you dig one level further this digital house of cards comes falling down.

Let’s start off with the basics. There are two large drivers of email; Email used for interpersonal communication and Emails used for corporate communication.

You could divide your personal inbox right down the middle using this segmentation. The emails you get from your colleagues, friends and family slot into interpersonal communication, and the emails you get from companies about product updates, promotions, newsletters, and cold reach-outs from salespeople into corporate communication.

Seems simple enough.

so how bad is it?

In a word, very.

Only one out of five emails are ever opened, and even fewer viewed.

MailChimp, a company that sends billions of emails a month for millions of clients, sets the average of unopened emails at 80%. That’s over 60 trillion unopened emails, lying around in inbox cemeteries across the world. Think about what kind of wasted monetary opportunity cost 60 trillion dead emails represent. The average click rate of emails (how many successfully delivered emails get at least 1 click) is 2.43%. That’s 97.57% of emails you send that never see any engagement.

You’d have to squint really really hard to come to the conclusion that “email isn’t dying, it’s booming” after having looked at the data. Sure a lot of people have email IDs, and sure a lot of them check their email IDs, but you know what’s driving that global growth? Countries that are just getting hold of the internet.

In 2013, 67.7 million Indian users accessed their e-mail via a mobile device. In 2018, this number is set to surpass 200 million users.

With an ever-increasing middle class in developing economies across the world, more customers are entering the internet economy. This means buying phones, making email IDs and purchasing products. But anecdotal evidence would suggest even they’re tired of the spam.


 

The fall

At a recent panel discussion in India, I had the opportunity to interact with a crowd of around 500 attendees and ask them a couple of questions.

It went a bit like this.

"... that's my fundamental point, we've sold out to the numbers. Lemme give you an example. How many people here enjoy getting blast emails from companies?"

A slight puttering of hands go up, and then just as hastily back down. Picture the reaction if you asked a symposium of marriage counsellers how much easier their jobs would’ve been if monogamy was socially accepted.

"Alright, now how many people get those emails regardless?"

Unsurprisingly, most people at the conference put their hands up, yours truly included.

"I rest my case."

Often, a rebuttal to my assertion is that, yes while companies have overdone emails it in the B2C sector, where electronic mail really comes to shine is in the B2B sector. 80% of content marketers use email marketing, according to CMI’s B2B Content Marketing Research. Most B2B salespeople swear by emails as their go-to in generating leads.

So how effective is it?

I work at a B2B company, and this is what my work inbox looks like.

My primary inbox has no unread emails. It’s filled with people I want to talk to has been all caught up with. Right below, I have three drafts that I need to send out.

And then the problem. One thousand four hundred and forty-six emails from companies that I haven’t even bothered opening, much less reading.

 

Had I not had to use it for work, I’d never use mail.

To make it clear, I fully understand that I am not representative of the entire B2B market, but think of it this way. If you used email to reach out to me, what is the chance I’ll notice you with all the noise around me? The numbers back me up too, the average office worker globally (predominantly white-collar-type jobs) gets 121 work emails per day. There’s only so much subject-line-changing that will get me to open your mail before dumping it in spam.

The smart marketers now reach out to me using the trove of other options at their disposal; Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Instagram on occasion.  The really smart marketers make sure I’m the one reaching out to them, but more on that later.

This spam became so prominent that governments had to step in. GDPR was a vindication for the good guys. In the aftermath after it was announced, unsubscription rate doubled. Certain startups saw their newsletter subscription rates drop from 92% to 6%. CNBC reported that post GDPR, companies saw 61% of their customers either refusing to opt back in or using GDPR emails to unsubscribe from mailing lists entirely.

Emails are representative of a larger problem, which is that modern sales and marketing tools are based on tools from more than a decade ago. Emails, pop up notifications, cold calls, spam and hoardings, all made to annoy customers, rather than attract. Companies forcing themselves into the view of their consumers, crowding their airspace and inbox was the war cry for marketers across the world.

But society has moved on. It isn’t about who screams the loudest anymore. Companies that talk to their consumers are the companies that get to walk with them.

Emails are disappearing from our daily use as well. I haven’t used email to communicate with friends or family for years now, and why would I? It has neither the romance of a physical letter nor the convenience of a text message/video call. Even my out-of-date parents have moved on from email. My mother uses Google Photos to send me pictures and my family uses Whatsapp to send me funny videos.

email marketing

Most companies don’t even use emails for communication either. Services like Slack, Flock, Microsoft Teams and Discord are all changing the way we collaborate and converse with our teammates and colleagues.

So let’s round up the problem statement before heading to possible solutions.

  1. While more people have and use email than ever before, this is a product of increased internet usage and redundancy, not necessarily the people’s faith in the system.
  2. While we send more emails than ever before, more of it ends up in unread and unengaged with.
  3. Emails are equally inept for B2B and B2C industries alike, as fewer customers use it for communication.
  4. Most personal inboxes are graveyards for promotional material, and as more customers distance themselves from mail, companies will follow suit.
  5. The death of email will be slow, but it will be sure.

 


 

Where do we go from here?

By no means is this a declaration that all companies everywhere should stop sending emails of any sort to anyone. But it is a call to action, that says if you as a company are highly dependent on email, you’re losing out on a lot and you’re going to lose out on a lot more in the coming years.

There is a lot that companies can, and have done for their internal communications, that they simply haven’t transferred over into customer or lead support.

Customers have moved on from desktops and time-delayed tools of communication to more mobile and responsive alternatives. Companies need to follow suit. According to research, the average response time to handle a customer service request using emails is 12 hours and 10 minutes. Think about that statistic; in a world of instant gratification where your friends and family are never more than five seconds or a text away, a business taking twelve hours to get back to you is nothing short of a crime.

conversational support automation infographic

Emails suck for lead generation too. Remember the whole “B2B swears by email thing”?Researchers attempted to find out how serious they took the issue by auditing the lead response times of over 2,000 B2B companies. The results were published in Harvard Business Review: If companies didn’t respond to leads in five minutes or less, they risked losing them forever. Even more appalling? The average response time for B2B companies that bothered to reply at all was a massive 42 hours–almost two full days.

When phone calls and emails fail customers so spectacularly, it isn’t difficult to understand why customers want to use messaging to communicate with businesses in real-time. In a recent Twilio survey, 89% of consumers said they want the option to talk to businesses through conversational tools like messaging.

In a follow up to the aforementioned HBR study, research found that only 7% of businesses responded within the recommended five minutes. The common thread?

All of them used live chat on their websites.

real estate chatbot

So why are these companies, B2B and B2C alike, stressing about how quickly they can get to their prospects? There’s a 10x decrease in the odds of making contact with a lead after the first 5 minutes. Responding in 10 minutes vs. 5 minutes = 400% decrease in your odds of qualifying a lead.

Customers are on your website to ask questions and get answers. But because they’re on a computer miles away, one of two things will happen.

  1. They will spend the next half an hour scouring your website to get that answer. (unlikely)
  2. They won’t get their answer and leave. (likely)

And when customers in your target market are left untouched, they eventually go to one of your competitors. Most of the time, to the company that answered their question quicker. Think about how an email compares to these statistics. Most people couldn’t even finish a decent email in under five minutes, let alone write a comprehensive answer to a customers question.

And this inefficiency isn’t just limited to Sales. Email still remains a popular tool for Customer Support, and that takes a toll on your business. There is no customer that would rather have his support ticket addressed later than sooner, especially 12 hours later.

To understand the scale of the problem, consider this statistic.

80% of companies believe they are delivering excellent customer support. However, only 8% of customers believe that they are receiving excellent service, indicating a massive gap between delivery and expectation.

Why is speedy effective customer support important? Research done by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company (the inventor of the net promoter score) affirms this, by that shows increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. Conversational Support allows companies to automate and practice self-service for their customers. Take, for instance, Verloop’s work with Nykaa, a fashion e-commerce company valued at $450 million.

“Using Verloop’s conversational automation interface, Nykaa was able to automate customer queries ranging from cancellations, returns, shipping inquiries, replacements concerns, refunds and payment hassles for over half a million customers on its app. This let Nykaa’s customer support team to let the bot field qualification questions, while the team engaged with the more pertinent purchase problems.”

 

Gaurav Tejwani – VP, Product, Nykaa.

Tl; DR

  1. Don’t cut out emails completely, but remember that customers hate them.
  2. The future is fast and mobile. Customers don’t want to have to wait to have their problems and questions addressed.
  3. Companies that use live-chat manage to respond the quickest, taking advantage of every lead that comes to them.
  4. Better and quicker customer support means happier customers and an increase in revenue.

Instead of letting prospective customers simply slip through your website return to the Sales: Conversation. To create a conversational sales platform for free, in under five minutes, check this out.


Read more about the 5000+ companies that use Verloop for Conversational automation for Sales, Support, and Marketing. 

About the author

Anush Fernandes

Loves Canines, Conversational automation, and Curry. Stephen and otherwise.

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