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Web site e-mail can be a black hole

Don't hold your breath waiting for a snappy reply from most U.S. corporate giants.

February 11, 1999
Web posted at: 4:13 p.m. EST (2113 GMT)

by Paul McNamara

Network World Fusion


NOVATO, CALIF. (IDG) -- Texaco may answer your e-mail inquiry faster than it takes to fill your tank, but don't hold your breath waiting for a snappy reply from most other U.S. corporate giants.

As a matter of fact, a surprising number won't answer your missive at all, presuming they deign to provide an e-mail address in the first place.

That's the gist of test results showing the time it took the nation's 100 largest corporations to respond to a simple e-mail question sent to their Web sites. The test was conducted by Brightware, a software vendor that helps companies manage the volumes of e-mail their sites generate.

A Brightware researcher visited 100 sites, found the most obvious generic e-mail address and sent a message asking for the location of the corporate headquarters. Among the results:

"I was surprised that a few companies did as well as they did," says Brightware CEO Chuck Williams. "I was also surprised there were 10 companies that actively invite e-mail questions on their Web site and just don't bother to answer them."

One of the latter insists that its failure was an aberration.

"This was an unfortunate circumstance, and we definitely try to get back to our customers as quickly as possible," says Charlie Sutlive, a spokesman for MCI WorldCom. "Our goal is to respond within 24 to 48 hours, [and] in December our response times averaged under 24 hours."

Mark Levitt, an analyst with Inter-national Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., says, "Assuming the survey results are accurate, this indicates that many companies do not yet recognize e-mail as an important mode of communication. Responding to an e-mail within one to five days is reasonable. Anything longer should be considered excessive and a sign that the company is not truly open for business on the Web."

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