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Royal Mail has recently introduced a new online customer service system, 'Ask Sarah', which aims to give customers immediate answers to their queries online.

We talked to Stephen Mitchell, Royal Mail's Digital Operations Manager, about the introduction of the new customer service system and the impressive early results...

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Why did you decide to introduce Ask Sarah?

We started work on this in the middle of last year, seeing it as a key part of our digital strategy, by allowing people to serve themselves online.

We think that improving customer service online is key. Previously, we had a very static service and wanted to improve it by making it more interactive for the site’s users.

The new system has been put through usability testing, and the results were positive. While we try to answer as much as possible online, we also think it's important for people to be able to ask a question if they need to.

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What are the results so far?

It has been promising so far, with the number of email queries reduced by 50% overall, while in some areas this figure is as high as 96%.

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Can people still contact someone directly if they prefer?

We still have contact telephone numbers on the site, as some customers will always prefer to talk to someone directly if they have a question or problem. We allow customers the choice of channels to contact Royal Mail. Online is a popular first port of call for people seeking information, but we will always provide other options.

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Has Ask Sarah reduced the number of phone calls from customers?

As well as email queries, the number of calls to our contact centers has been reduced, though we don’t have any specific figures on this at the moment.

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Is this about saving money in staffing costs?

Not necessarily – we would look to reposition staff, and also, by removing simple and time-consuming queries that customers can now find answers to online, this allows our customer service staff to concentrate on more complex calls from customers. It is about putting the customer first.

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How comprehensive is the information offered on the site?

We have started out by providing information to help customers with the most common queries online. While we try to provide as many answers as possible, we also want to keep it accessible and easy to use by avoiding huge lists of FAQs.

To find out the most common queries we have been looking at the kind of questions customers have been asking online, as well as canvassing the opinions of our customer service staff.

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How flexible is the system? Can new information be added quickly, in case of a postal strike for example?

The customer service system was chosen because of its flexibility, so we can react to events which may affect our customers and respond to new queries quickly. We can change the information on the system as quickly as we can create the content.

For instance, we found that customers were using Ask Sarah to find out about the delivery status of their parcels, so we have updated the system to recognise parcel tracking reference numbers, and it now links to our parcel tracking system.

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What were the biggest challenges in implementing this new system?

The biggest challenge was in finding out the kind of information people want to find out online, and the ongoing analysis required to keep the customer service section relevant, while not simply displaying a massive list of questions and answers.

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Does this represent a focus on customer retention?

Yes, this is something we discussed at the recent E-consultancy roundtable briefing, and it was interesting to hear our peers saying the same thing. With more and more competition online, a positive customer service experience is one way of improving retention.

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How many visitors does Royal Mail receive? How many use the customer service section of the site?

We currently have around 4.5m unique visitors per month to the site. I don’t have any figures on how many use customer services, but we now that it is one of the most popular areas of the site. 

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Related research:
Online Customer Service Solutions Buyer's Guide 2007
Online Customer Service Briefing - June 2008

Related articles:
10 tips on improving online customer service
Firms could improve customer self-service

Graham Charlton

Published 12 August, 2008 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (25)

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Stuart

Amazed at the 50% drop in contact rates, having tried ask Ask Sarah it seems to be very limited in the answers it gives. Simple questions such as 'where is my delivery?' didn't get relevant answers. Try the national rail enquiries' Ask Lisa which is very good...

about 8 years ago

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TJ HUGHES

  •  Royal Mail could save MONEY if they looked at the MAINTENANCE side  get rid of Romec and use their own  engineers . and a security  firm.

over 7 years ago

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TJ HUGHES

  •  Royal Mail could save MONEY if they looked at the MAINTENANCE side  get rid of Romec and use their own  engineers . and a security  firm.

over 7 years ago

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100 foot

thanks tj hughes i usedto work for romec but made redundentgot 3 kids to feed you must be happy. royal mail owns romec .you are like the rest just blame romec when no one else wants to take on contract as royal mail make it too complicated like most things they run. get rid of you i say you even wasted an email by repeating yourself durrr

over 7 years ago

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Joslin

Yet another service with no substance. Do you not realise that we don't wish to speak to robots that have no answers.

Via your website, it is impossible to connect to a human, the phone number you give out just puts you thorugh to an offline version of Sarah...At no stage was I offered the chance to speak to someone in Customer services in my call to this number given on your website.

I run marketing for a large company and have noticed my mailings arrive a day late to my own address, coupled with many personal letters also arriving late, yet it has proved imposssible to contact a 'real' human either online or offline! Congratulations Sarah, you have secured the Royal Mail's decline.

about 7 years ago

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Dawn Roberts

Well sarah what a joke could not answer as to why my mail has been sitting in a london hun since the 16th june but then then again neither could anyone i spoke to as for online system it lies said royal mail tried to deliver gave time and date no one tried to deliver at all in all day door bell still working so in sheer desperation to get my mail i tried to book a special delivery on the telephone address from royal mail hub to me funny they could not do it royal mail sure are going to be big big loosers shortly

about 7 years ago

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Martin James

Ask Sarah is a complete joke!

Ive been trying to find a way to actually talk to someone via the phone number and its impossible no matter which option you choose.

Royal Mail are a JOKE.

about 7 years ago

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omer

a complete waste of time and money ..!

we need a human to speak to about a problem , not a robo generated voice to not help ...!!!

wat a wate of time ... 

almost 7 years ago

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lynn tomlinson

i posted a letter 2 weeks ago and it has not been recieved what do i do the letter contained a birth certificate

almost 7 years ago

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Giles

Royal Mail, you are an utter disgrace. None of the options you ask us to press direct us to a HUMAN BEING. In this day and age no one wants to talk to a robotic voice or press buttons left, right and centre. Any company that does not let us speak to someone must have something to hide

Incidentally, how on gods earth can a recorded delivery parcel be delivered to a company at 6:30am in the morning? Bunch of idiots.

almost 7 years ago

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Jon Davies

Oh how I despise Royal Mail - always loosing parcels etc then you are told it's not classed as lost until 15 days WHAT A JOKE!!!

Ask Sarah is the most frustrating thing I have ever come across, useless nonsense answers with no way to actually speaking to a Human - I will never send through Royal Mail again I hate them! FEDEX people - this is the only way to get the service required

almost 7 years ago

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ken shufflebotham

I sent a first class recorded delivery letter to Rotherham.

Royal Mail tried once only to deliver this, and instead of going back

with the letter, left a card saying it could be collected at the Manvers Office

10 days later it i still sitting there!!

What a crazy system!! and a waste of my money. I paid to have a

recorded delivery!!  Royal Mail is falling down on it's job.

And 'Sarah' is a robot and does not answer anything that might help!!

almost 7 years ago

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jim grogan

I too have been unable to find a telephone number or address to ask a question:

If I have stuck one of the new first class stamps to an envelope which I then find is too small, have I wasted the stamp. In the old days I would have soaked it off and used it (not re-used it, which I know is illegal) but this is no longer posible. Any answers?

over 6 years ago

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darren

what a bunch of plonkers got a letter today posted out on the 23rd dec 2009 and i am still waiting for 8 parcels to come that have been posted from the 29 of december and 5th and 6th of january thats going to be 14 days by monday how good was it 10 years ago second post good post men /women honest reliable

then they got privatised no deliverys on time or lost parcels /what a credit to the queen you are royal mail my ass more like troll mail

unhappy customers

over 6 years ago

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Mark Simons

Tried for two days to get through to a HUMAN on Royal mail telephone system regarding two parcels posted on different days for next day delivery which still have not arrived two weeks later. Tracking the parcels on line show "out for delivery" every day but two weeks later still not delivered.

Royal Mail managers please put back HUMANS on your telephone lines instead of robots, this is the most stupid system ever, and you are annoying your customers a great deal.

over 6 years ago

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MR @MRS E HUMPHREYS

HAVE TRIED TO FIND A EMAIL ADDRESS AT ROYAL MAIL THAT DEALS WITH THE WORRIES OF MAIL EXPECTED AND HAS NOT ARRIVED.

WE WISH TI INFORM OUR LOCAL ROYAL MAIL SORTING OFFICE THAT PARCELS WE HAVE BEEN EXPECTING ALL OF A SUDDEN OVER A FEW WEEKS ARE NOT TURNING UP.WE HAVE TOLD THE SENDERS AND THEY WILL PRESUMABLY BE TRYING TO FIND OUT WHAT IS GOING ON AT THE POINT OF THEM SENDING THE PARCELS.UNFORTUNATELY IT IS ITEMS THAT ARE SENT WITHOUT TRACKING NUMBERS-THIS MAKES IT DIFFICULT IF NOT IMPOSSIBLE TO TRACE AND WHEN ITEMS HAVE NOT BEEN A PROBLEM BEFORE SUDDENLY STOP BEING DELIVERED ALL SORTS OF THOUGHTS GO THROUGH OUR MINDS AND CANNOT HELP THINKING THE WORST ABOUT SOMEONE STEALING THE MAIL.CAN YOU PLEASE SUPPLY THE EMAIL ADDRESS OF OUR LOCAL MANAGER TO REPORT THIS TO AND WOULD BE GRATEFUL IF YOU COULD FOREWARD THIS EMAIL ON TO HIM/SHE

REGARDS

E HUMPHREYS

over 6 years ago

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michael harrison

Ask Sarah, Thats a joke, limited answers thats all its got. they could get better with the money they make from over charges, cheaper to get letter from america than get a letter through farringdon road.

over 6 years ago

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raymond

i agree with all the previous comments. absolutely ridiculous that when your mail goes missing you cannot speak to a human and have a rational discussion about the problem. it would appear that once it is lost........tough on you.....it is lost. the r.m. link on how to proceed with a claim is corrupted.....try it !!!!

over 6 years ago

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Marc

What a joke Royal Mail are. I was sent 2 packages from Switzerland on February 1st 2010, via Swiss registered post.
Nothing has turned up yet, almost 2 months later. SwissPost see the package arriving in the UK and then they stop tracking it.
Ask Sarah, your website and your customer service standards are a JOKE!

over 6 years ago

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m lees

this royal mail is shit took me an hour 20 mins today

about 6 years ago

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michael

I wanted a e mail address to send a complaint in writing but cannot find one Sarah dont know either, are you sure she is no blonde?

Michael

over 5 years ago

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Christine

Absolutely useless. Cannot identify the query at all.

Tries to find an address to write as have spent endless time waiting, listening to pre recordings on the phone, whilst we are paying for it.

Royal mail errors and you cannot write to them. Not everyone can phone from work and it is just a ridiculous situation

over 5 years ago

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Tim

I agree with all of your comments and i also have and still suffer the Zombie people who run/own Royal Mail,they are great at ripping us of with high prices and excuses so they can enjoy a luxurious lifestyle at our expense.I wouldn't give them the job of inflating baloons as they would only bust them much the same way as their firm is heading.I propose we all join up together and set up our own community postal service run by the people with no postal charges it is a system i think will work if interested in more details let me know by feedback.GET RID OF THE ROYAL LAZY,CROOKED,ZOMBIE MAIL SERVICE.THEY HAVE NO INTELLIGENCE from what i can see. I am lucky to see any mail at 11a.m.In older times when postman used bikes in all weathers and your mail always arrived before 7 a.m. (THE MIND BOGGLES AT THIS NEW LAZY POSTMEN.

over 5 years ago

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kim yearwood

how can u stop letter coming through your door because u want nothing to do with them and u still getting post

over 4 years ago

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Aamir Khan

i applied two times the first their was no answer one month ago and second three days ago i applied and their was no answer. Indoor sorting and deta entry operator.

almost 4 years ago

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