To Email or Not To Email, That Is The Question

More than half of businesses say that email is their user’s go-to channel when accessing their services. The very same companies (72%) insist that their customers want self-service. So, why, when our user base wants to self-serve are we offering them an email? Or perhaps more importantly, why are they accepting it?

The convenience of email

Email is ingrained in our professional, and personal, lives. You can guarantee that pretty much anybody with a computer has an email address, so of course, it’s one of our most popular communication channels.

When it comes to accessing services via email, the popularity comes because of email’s accessible nature. We’re likely using it already for our job, so why not fire off another email to ask the helpdesk to troubleshoot your problem? After all, it’s less time-consuming than heading over to the service desk or sitting in their telephone queue.

And it’s not just users that enjoy the convenient nature of emails. For the help desk, it’s a method of communication that provides an audit trail. Want to check you gave the right solution to an issue? Just check the email conversation. When it comes to users phoning or visiting the help desk, you don’t get this same level of information storage.

But does the bad outweigh the good?

With the positives of using email to access services comes plenty of negatives, too.

The process of troubleshooting an issue via email can be long and tedious. There’s often back-and-forth between the user and the helpdesk to try and establish the necessary information to solve the problem. This makes it hard for the helpdesk to do their job and the user to get on with their work. When calling, visiting, or using the help desk’s self-service portal (SSP) this problem doesn’t exist.

During the former, a flowing conversation means information can be established immediately. And forms on an SSP can directly gather the required information when logging a ticket – so there’s no confusion or delays.

Then, there’s the fact that emails can get messy. Yes, there’s an audit trail, but can you find it when hundreds of users are emailing in with their problems? In this example, organizations turn to spreadsheets to log communications, which is less than ideal. You can’t thoroughly and easily report on data with spreadsheets, anyone with access can see or edit, and as you can imagine, they get big and messy very quickly.

And it doesn’t end there. With email users are relying on the helpdesk to fix their problem, there is no ability to self-solve. Because of this the service desk becomes overwhelmed. In this instance, we usually suggest automating processes or simple workflows to save time but, again, email doesn’t have this functionality.

For many organizations, experiencing the above tips the scale meaning that the bad outweighs the good. Some decide to turn email off. But then where do their users go? They can’t send them to the telephone line because it doesn’t solve the above problems. Instead, the only answer comes in self-service.

The self-service solution

A SSP allows for a clear and precise audit trail of every ticket: you can see detailed conversation history, every resource that has been shared between the user and service desk, link assets to individuals, and even report on the requests of a single user to notice any recurring problems. Response times are sped up by getting the right information at the first time of asking. Tasks and workflows can be automated, freeing up time for busy operators. Detailed reports can be exported to assist in improving service delivery.

Falling back into bad habits – why?

The drawbacks of email are clear. Why then, does it remain our most used customer engagement channel?

There are a few reasons. First, implementing an SSP can be a time-consuming process. There’s no point rushing to publish a space for self-service because it must be done right. And the anticipation of such a long process, alongside daily work, can put some people off.

Second, there is often an unwillingness to change. We all know that change can be daunting, for some more than others. So, the prospect of trying to encourage a user base to change is an overwhelming one. What if you provide a detailed SSP but users are reluctant to try something new? There aren’t tools at your disposal to teach our customer base a new system – these are just some of the reasons why implementing an SSP is avoided.

And, finally, there’s a lack of promotion of the SSP. Let’s say you overcome the above challenges and implement self-service capabilities. If you don’t make your users aware of it, how will they know to use it? But when we don’t see immediate uptake from our SSP, we get worried and backtrack.

To email or not to email?

Email has overcome every new technology sent its way. Despite text capabilities, collaboration tools, voice notes, and chat services, we still email. And because it’s so popular and accessible, it could be the key to finally giving our users the self-service they desire.


To increase the SSP adoption of end-users, simply set up an automatic reply with limited information and direction to self-solve. By doing this, there will be no excuse of a lack of promotion. And those reluctant to change will have to try something new and find themselves pleasantly surprised when they get there.


So, to answer our question: not to email, unless you’re using it to send users to the SSP.


Tuan Vu
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Tuan Vu is service management consultant, TOPdesk UK