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Why Don’t Companies Answer My Email?

I got an email the other day from someone who was frustrated that in a couple of cases where he’d sent emails to particular sites informing them of issues he was having, he never got a response.

Now, to speak for myself, I can’t reply to every email, I just don’t have time. (Though I did answer this one.) And, to be brutally honest, email’s not the best way to contact me with a question – the ask a question page is.

But I know it’s a common problem – you need help, want to report an issue with a site or service, you send email and …

Nothing.

Let’s examine some of the reasons that might result in your receiving no response.

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Before you blame the company

Based entirely on my own experience running Ask Leo! for the last 11 years, there’s often a very high likelihood that it might be your fault, at least in part.

I’m not saying that’s always that case, but I see it often enough that, honestly, it’s the first thing that comes to mind.

What I’ve found is:

  • People regularly type their own email address wrong in the feedback form. This frustrates me no end, as I’ll take the time to compose a reply to a problem that someone presents, and then my reply bounces. Remember, if you don’t enter your email address correctly the company you’re contacting can’t reply even if they try.
  • Many people don’t follow instructions. Have a look at my ask a question page. On that page you’ll note some very simple instructions: search first, give me lots of info, be complete. You would be amazed at the number of “it doesn’t work” questions that I get with almost no additional information. In many cases when I do take the time to probe for more information, the answer turns out to be an article already on the site that a simple search would have found. Depending on my mood (I am human, after all) questions that come in with insufficient information like this are likely to be skipped completely. I can imagine that the same is true when contacting companies for support.
  • Some people write novels. At the other end of the spectrum some people will provide their life story in a question. Given that have I limited time per question, once I see that things are headed in that direction I may also need to move on. And again, I can imagine that the same is true when companies receive a lengthy missive. (It should also go without saying that lengthy rants, disrespectful messages and the like are also likely to be completely ignored.)
  • Contacting the wrong target doesn’t help. This is related to following instructions, but often people will contact sales when they need support, or they’ll email a person when they really need to email a team, or they’ll assume an email address should exist when it doesn’t.1 The net result is that no one actually ever sees or acts on their request.

So, naturally, the advice I have for you is to not do any of those things. Make sure you’re contacting the right people via the right channels, and make sure that your message is respectful and contains the information that might be asked for without being excessive.

Do that and you’ll be much more likely to be heard.

Though you still might not get a response.

Problems at the company you’re contacting

Email Us ButtonI’ll theorize that the #1 reason queries go unanswered is simply that the company is overwhelmed.

The issue is that customer support – or whatever role it is that would reply to you – is massively expensive. Even when it’s outsourced, it costs a lot of money hire people to read and respond to what is most likely a fairly constant flood of support requests. Most companies, I’m sure, under-staff this role, particularly if the service being supported is free to users like you and me. Some go so far as to intentionally provide no support for direct contact at all.

It’s important to realize that no response doesn’t necessarily imply that no action was taken on your message. While it would be nice to get a response, it’s very possible that whatever it is being reported – such as a failure at the site – might be resolved without letting you know explicitly. The fact that the site begins working might be all the notification that you’d get, especially if many people report the same issue.

And finally, don’t expect instant responses. As I said, companies are often overwhelmed and speedy responses may not always be a priority compared to just keeping their service running. It’s not that uncommon for responses to arrive days after the original inquiry.

Problems WITH the company you’re contacting

There’s no escaping the fact that some companies just don’t get it.

Some simply aren’t interested in your feedback, problems or concerns, and anything that falls into those categories is promptly discarded.

They just don’t care.

And while we’d like to think that this would impact their business, often it does not. Often the service that they provide is so good, so unique or so entrenched that they can actually get away with poor or completely non-existent customer service and still make a profit.

And, yes, being on the user end of such a service can be very frustrating.

What to do

Whether for practical reasons of simply being overwhelmed and not being able to afford the support staff they might need, or because they just don’t care, companies are doing to do what they do regardless of what you and I want.

It’s our actions that are in our control. That means:

  • Choose service providers that have support when support matters. This is one of the reasons I typically advise against free email services for anything truly important.
  • Don’t expect support from free service providers. Yes, some do have it, but most do not. Remember, you’re getting something at no cost. Often that means part of the “price” you pay is that there is no direct contact customer service available at all.
  • Look for and follow instructions that the service might provide.
  • Look for support information, FAQs and knowledgebases that might be provided. Many questions are so common that the right solution is often to document the answers in online articles you can find without needing to contact anyone. (In many ways that’s all that sites like Ask Leo! really are – a massive FAQ or knowledgebase.)
  • Use peer support when available. Many companies will now at least invest in discussion software to set up peer support sites where users can help (or commiserate with) other users of the service. Again, don’t expect the company to actually be present in these forums. While some will have support reps participate, many do not.

And above all, backup your information and keep yourself secure. A large majority of the problems that you might submit to a non-responsive company can actually be completely mitigated by taking appropriate safety measures yourself.

Footnotes & references

1: A good example is “webmaster@” email addresses. Technically every site should implement that email address. In practice, however, many if not most sites do not – simply due to the large amounts of spam these known email addresses instantly receive.

13 comments on “Why Don’t Companies Answer My Email?”

  1. Leo- you ht the nail on the head when you said that they (the companies) just do not care.

    If you lived in S/E Asia as I do you will find that 99% of companies in both the UK and the US
    just cannot be bothered even if you were a previous customer of theirs when domiciled there
    which shows the absolute lack of respect for you and the support that you gave them previously.

    Same applies when trying to purchase on Ebay – the US just does not want to recognize UK
    Mastercard on PayPal even with one’s address being certified with them. UK Ebay sellers will
    bleat that they have lost too much money sending goods out of the country as an excuse. I have
    never lost one item posted to me in nearly seven years here in Indonesia. The Ebay sellers are
    just too idle to write out export documents because THEY CANNOT LOSE MONEY ON Ebay on
    undelivered orders – they are protected.

    It is only those of us who are unable to purchase quality and difficult items outside, or wish to
    ask for help and advice, that can truly prove such disregard.

    Both the UK and the US must try to remember that we all live globally in singularity now because this
    insular attitude will be their downfall eventually.

  2. Leo,

    Not getting a response is frustrating. However, getting a cut-and-paste response that does not relate to the question/problem is even worse.

    What you say why companies do not respond is understandable. Although those that are overwhelmed should do a little in-house checking to see why they are getting so many complaints. NOTE: This does not apply to Q&A sites, such as Ask Leo.

    I finally got one company’s attention by accusing it of using a computer to send out a generic response to everyone who contacted it. I’ve also replied to such automatic responses by asking why my input had not been read. (Sometimes the same generic response was sent to answer that question – which showed no one had read my e-mail.)

    I know you’re busy, but I wonder if you have any reasonable justification for companies sending out one-answer-for-all responses.

    • Sure. I do it myself. When you submit a question to Ask Leo! you get an automated response. Why? Two reasons: I can’t answer everyone, but I do want people to know that their question has been received. Second reason: an amazing number of people don’t read or follow instructions – so I reiterate those instructions in the email. That improves that chances that they’ll get an answer or – ideally – find the answer themselves. It’s a good use of the technology in my opinion. But, absolutely, like any technology auto-responders can be misused or used stupidly.

      • Leo,

        What you describe is fully understandable. Sometimes I get an automated response just to let me know they got my question/comment. A few ask for more information (some ask for a screen shot when I report getting a blank page – which I did send one company).

        My reference is about asking one question and getting a response about something different.

        For example, I take a lot of surveys. If I encounter a broken link and report it, I’ll get some generic response about why I may have been declared unqualified for the survey. If I complain about the response, they just send it again – even though my complaint was about their response.

        NOTE: I take full responsibility for not making my question clear.

    • I’ve had some good experiences with companies I recently signed up with. On one of the sites I had to go to their online chat for support on an issue and the matter was quickly resolved.

      For those who “don’t want to trade abroad” they should still be decent enough to respond and indicate their situation in this regard.

  3. One of the reasons we sometimes don’t get a response is, “People regularly type their own email address wrong in the feedback form.” And that I understand.

    What I don’t understand is why they even use contact/feedback forms. I find it frustrating when I click the “Contact Us” link and are presented with a form, instead of an email address. I find that irritating because I like to keep a copy of my correspondence with the company in my emailbox. I don’t have that opportunity with a contact form.

    The company gets frustrated because they spent the time to respond but it bounced because the email address was incorrect. Well if they had just provided an email address, the return email address would have more than likely been correct and their spending time responding would not be in vain.

    I get that they probably get more spam if they provide an email address and less with a contact form, but if they are running their email through a good spam filter (and there are good ones out there these days), I would think that would minimize the spam they get.

    • I use a contact form, and I can tell you why: I control the entire path from the form to my eyeballs. That’s simply not true for email.

      Email can get lost. People mistype the email address that might be posted, mailto: links don’t always work, and various servers and spam filters can indeed lose the email. The other reason is that the information goes directly into a database which allows me to control how the requests are handled by multiple people. When people send email it’s much more difficult to reliably parse that email and stuff its contents into a database, and simply handling it “as email” makes it more difficult to have the messages handled by a team rather than an individual.

      Also forms can be designed to require specific information. Sometimes that’s a hassle, but sometimes it’s also something that people just fail to provide that can further increase the chances of a response. Seriously. I’ve been considering a “What operating system does this question apply to?” drop down, since so many people fail to give me even that most basic information.

      And I can assure you it has nothing to do with trying to cut down how much spam I get. “Web spam” is exactly that – spam that is submitted in web forms in the hopes that it’ll be published somehow – spammers can’t tell comment forms from other forms so they just spam every form that they can find. We get a TON of spam on the question form. Fortunately we have a spam filter in place there as well. And for those items not caught, it’s one of the things my assistants take care of for me as well.

      Bottom line: it increases the chances that your question will be seen and answered. (And in my case, my automated response to you includes a copy of the question for your records.)

      • If only everyone was as thoughtful as you and sent an automated response (so we know it got there) and included the original post (so we have a record of the feedback we sent them), I’d be happy.

        I sent a comment to an organization a week and a half ago using their web form (as that was the only option) with my concerns about something their organization did recently. I still haven’t had anyone acknowledge my concern.

        • The problem with sending just about any email, but especially a copy of the original, back to the “sender” is that a spambot will happily use this to get copies of its junk sent to anywhere its controller likes, just by putting in the target’s email address as the “sender’s” address in the form. It’s not invisible (the normal receiver of the comments from the contact form will also see these), but it’s not preventable, either, except by *not automatically sending email back to the putative sender*.

  4. Going slightly off topic, I would like to add that if your pc etc. has a problem and you contact the manufacturer, your isp or mobile connecton provider (while the unit is still under guarantee I should add) and after a longish conversation with the so-called technician, who says he/she will call you at a certain time the following day, do not stay at home expecting a call. It’s what these people say when they have failed to sort-out your problem and do not know where next to go. ( Please note , I realise they must get calls from people who are almost computer-illiterate, where is must be very difficult for them, but this no longer applies to me. After a number of years reading Leo’s, and others’, excellent newsletters etc. I may not be a geek, but I think I usually now know what I’m talking about on this subject !

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