The Value of Human Intervention

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Email Response Management vs Email Customer Service ...

I guess if you are actually reading this blog (I am entirely grateful) that you have at least a passing interest in VisNetic MailFlow, or Email Customer Service issues. Even if that is the case, I can not assume that you are so "into it" that you fully understand the offerings and technology available and the complex variety of offerings in this space. Speaking further about the article that I posted earlier in the week, I do however want to talk to you about one important distinction that you should consider if you are looking for a way to improve your handling of customer service email.

In the realm of email management tools and efficiently handling and responding to incoming customer service email - there are two main paths to follow. The first would be email self-service - aka Email Response Management, or human intervened - aka Email Customer Service. Both technologies have similarities in the way email is processed, and both are in use in scenarios where the email originates from a customer or business partner into the organization and needs to be responded to. How this is accomplished is where the two approaches differ greatly, and selecting the right tool is paramount.

Email Response Management solutions are design to be primarily a "self help" tool. They work essentially by combining a canned response database with a weighted search matching engine. A typical usage scenario would be that an email from a customer would arrive and the system would search for best match entries in the database, then automatically deliver a response to the customer without any (or very limited) human intervention. Some solutions contain a quality assurance tool that "surveys" the customer to see if the response actually helped them. From the
previous article posted on this blog, you can see that these types of solutions are implemented (in a large number) improperly. I believe that this type of tool is of most value to an organization that is repeatedly asked the same type of questions over and over, with very little deviation. They are also good for companies that want to have the appearance that they are a larger company, even though they might not actually have any customer service employees. And of course, the very large companies that have such a large amount of inbound email that they can not justify the cost associated with looking at every one. Microsoft is an example of a company that uses Email Response Management for many support functions. If you do not fall into one of these three categories, then you may actually be alienating your customers by using a solution like this.

Email Customer Service tools like
VisNetic MailFlow are designed for companies that have a mix of "like" and "unique" questions from their customers. There's just enough variation in the types of incoming inquiries they are fielding, that answering them automatically from a pre-populated database is not providing adequate customer service. However, MailFlow uses the weighted matching technology of an Email Response System, although the answer is typically not sent automatically. MailFlow contains a user populated "Standard Response" database that can be matched against the incoming email inquiry. The main difference however is that normally the response is reviewed by a human (we call them "agents"), edited if necessary - then sent on to the customer. It combines the best of automated processing with human intervention. So, for many this would be the solution of choice so you can accurately answer your incoming email in a timely manner more efficiently.

Who decided that we don't need to people to answer people anyway ;-)

Email Response Woeful, Says Jupiter

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Per Jupiter Research, circa 2006 (and still not any better today):

"Though 92 percent of ecommerce websites offer email as a customer-support option, only 41 percent of those sites acknowledge receipt of customers' messages with automated email responses, according to a new JupiterResearch report. The retail category results remained relatively consistent with previous years', but in other industries, such as finance and travel, auto-acknowledgement decreased significantly. Since 2000, the number of sites responding to emails within 24 hours continues to decrease, according to the report, titled "U.S. Customer Service & Support Metrics, December 2005."

Only 45 percent of sites resolved email inquiries within 24 hours; however, fully 39 percent of sites took three days or longer or did not respond at all. JupiterResearch points to two factors for such unresponsiveness: the continuing increase in email volume and broad failure among contact centers to invest in appropriate email handling technology.

"Failure to resolve requests via email is driving continued use of cost-intensive telephone work, negating any potential cost savings from handling inquiries via email," said David Schatsky, SVP of Research at JupiterResearch."

How using MailFlow can Solve These Problems:

1. MailFlow has a built-in autoresponder system, that can let your customers immediately know that you received their email inquiry.

2. MailFlow is a completely centralized, multi-user, email system that is accessed using an ordinary web browser from any network (or Internet) connected PC.

3. Using MailFlow, email workload is easily distributed when a customer service rep is not available.  Other reps are able to easily see and respond to messages (with complete history kept in "tickets") when a rep is away or on vacation.

4. MailFlow is available from any Internet kiosk, hotel laptop, or home computer.

MailFlow has built-in tools that make answering customer service email quick, easy, consistent, and accurate.

5. MailFlow contains the reporting tools management needs to ensure customer service quality, and staff load balancing.

6. MailFlow is very affordable.

Five Errors That Cost You Customers

Friday, September 19, 2008

Yesterday, while lurking around the web, I happened across this article written by Leslie O'Flahavan and Marilynne Rudick of E-WRITE. I have to admit that I am thrilled to see a piece of narrative work that almost perfectly illustrates the problems entities face managing and responding to their incoming customer service email. These 5 issues (and more) are exactly the reason that VisNetic MailFlow exists, and the problem it was designed to solve. Thank you ladies for so eloquently stating the problem to our readers. Editors Note - reprinted from the E-WRITE website:

What's the state-of-the-art of customer service e-mail? To find out, we sent out hundreds of customer service questions and requests via e-mail. We've e-mailed everyone–from Fortune 500s to ma-and-pa companies, from public corporations to nonprofits and government agencies. What we've learned:

* Lots of customer service representatives lack the basic writing skills they need to communicate with customers

* Lots of companies are sending out embarrassing, inaccurate, business-damaging e-mail disguised as "help."

As we analyze the e-mail responses, five common e-mail errors emerged.

1. Don't Write Us We Won't Write You

The Mayor's website urged citizens to send e-mail and promised a timely response. We sent an e-mail complaining about a garbage pickup. We got no response, untimely by any measure.

2. Give Customers The No-Answer Run-Around

A surprisingly high number of our e-mails got no response. We were annoyed and puzzled. Didn't this company want our business, the politician our vote? The no-responders lost our business and, if we had been their customers in the past, our loyalty. We'll be doing business with the competition from now on.

3. Send The Wrong Canned Response

Sometimes we got a one-size-fits-all response that probably fits no one. For example, we sent the following question to a financial aid information service: "I have a daughter, age 8. I would like information about saving for her college costs." We received a 1200-word answer that told us everything we DIDN'T want to know about the necessary forms and the filing deadlines for scholarships. The e-mail said nothing about SAVING for college.

We understand that auto responders and “canned” responses are practical. We appreciate a machine-generated response that acknowledges our e-mail and gives a timeframe for a "human" response. However, we were quite irked when the response didn't meet the promised timeframe, didn't answer our question or failed to answer all our questions.

In another query, we asked a senior citizen's organization "Do you have a list of summer camps that grandchildren and grandparents can attend together?" We were sent back to the website for a keyword search. The customer service representative wrote: "With our enhanced online services, you can now search our catalogs by topic or other keyword via our web site." Is it too much to expect customer service to do the search to find the information or know their products well enough to answer the question?

4. Give The Customer No Satisfaction

Sometimes the company did an adequate job of answering our question, but the response did not acknowledge our pain and suffering or our value as a customer. For example, we sent this e-mail about a bill we'd received for a magazine subscription: "You have sent me three bills for your magazine since I made my payment. Would you please make sure that I don't receive another bill?"

The subscription company finally solved the problem with the bill, but the e-mail response it sent us did not satisfy. The company wrote: "We have your payment." The company didn't acknowledge or apologize for our pain and inconvenience. Each customer service e-mail is an opportunity to build a relationship with a customer. Each response should make the customer feel valued.

5. Send A Sloppy Response

Some companies that sent us e-mail had clearly adopted the "it's only e-mail" attitude. They decided somewhere along the line that e-mail was so casual that spelling and grammar don't matter. Here's the e-mail response we received to our question about a product guarantee. "Our product quarantee is Gauranteed Period." This response made us wonder. Is the company as sloppy about shipping as it is about spelling? Would the package arrive by Christmas, as promised?

What do these five e-mail errors tell us? Many companies need an attitude adjustment when it comes to customer service e-mail. Perhaps the benchmark of a successful customer service e-mail effort should be the quality of the response, not how many e-mails are answered per hour. Did the e-mail response serve the customer? If not, companies risk alienating customers and hurting the bottom line.

Using a Gmail Account as a MailFlow Message Source

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"How to collect mail from Gmail with MailFlow", courtesy of Kevin Fortune, technician.

In its current form, VisNetic MailFlow does not support Secure POP3 or IMAP connections. However using a 3rd party program called Stunnel this process can be completed quite easily.

Follow these steps from within Gmail to allow POP3 Collection:
  1. Log into Gmail
  2. Click on Settings at the top
  3. Click on the Forwarding and POP/IMAP option
  4. Enable the option Enable POP for all mail (even mail that's already been downloaded) This option will allow you to collect all the mail that is stored in your Gmail account
  5. Specify under option 2 to keep Gmail's copy in the Inbox. This option keeps your mail as it currently is in Gmail
  6. Click Save Changes


Now MailFlow is creating a POP3 Connection from itself to Stunnel. Stunnel is then creating the Secure connection to the Gmail Servers and collecting the mail. All logging will be accessible via the MailFlow log file.

Now we will need to download Stunnel
Once downloaded follow these steps:
  1. Run the installation, which will install the program and all required files, by default, to c:\program files\stunnel\
  2. After Stunnel has been installed, open Windows Explorer and navigate to the c:\program files\stunnel\ directory
  3. There should be a file installed called stunnel.conf. Open this file with Notepad
  4. Delete all the contents of the file and paste in the following:
    ; Sample stunnel configuration file by Michal Trojnara 2002-2006
    ; Some options used here may not be adequate for your particular configuration

    ; Certificate/key is needed in server mode and optional in client mode
    ; The default certificate is provided only for testing and should not
    ; be used in a production environment
    cert = stunnel.pem
    ;key = stunnel.pem

    ; Some performance tunings
    socket = l:TCP_NODELAY=1
    socket = r:TCP_NODELAY=1

    ; Workaround for Eudora bug

    ; Authentication stuff
    ;verify = 2 ; Don't forget to c_rehash CApath ;CApath = certs
    ; It's often easier to use CAfile
    ;CAfile = certs.pem
    ; Don't forget to c_rehash CRLpath
    ;CRLpath = crls
    ; Alternatively you can use CRLfile
    ;CRLfile = crls.pem

    ; Some debugging stuff useful for troubleshooting
    ;debug = 7
    ;output = stunnel.log

    ; Use it for client mode
    client = yes

    ; Service-level configuration


    [SMTP Gmail ]
    accept =
    connect =

    [POP3 Gmail ]
    accept =
    connect =

    ;accept = 443
    ;connect = 80
    ;TIMEOUTclose = 0

    ; vim:ft=dosini

  5. Save the file
  6. Click on Start then go to Programs Then go to stunnel
  7. Select Service Install
  8. Once the Service is Installed the setup of Stunnel is complete

Now onto VisNetic MailFlow
  1. Log into MailFlow as an Administrator
  2. Click on the Administration button on the left hand side
  3. Expand Message Handling and select Message Sources
  4. Create a new Message Source
  5. Set the Server Address to be localhost
  6. Enter in a Description
  7. Set the Port to 111
  8. For the Username enter in your Gmail Username
  9. For the Password enter in your Gmail Password
  10. Configure the rest of the options as needed
  11. Click Save


Now MailFlow is creating a POP3 Connection from itself to Stunnel. Stunnel is then creating the Secure connection to the Gmail Servers and collecting the mail. All logging will be accessible via the MailFlow log file.

3CX and Bring PBX Integration to Email Management

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gaylord, MI – September 16, 2008 – and 3CX announce the release of VisNetic MailFlow version 3.8, an email management system with integrated support for 3CX Phone System.

VisNetic MailFlow 3.8 is a momentous release for both VisNetic MailFlow and 3CX customers, as the combination of the two products gives them an end to end customer service solution,” said Mike Deerfield, CEO of - developers of VisNetic MailFlow. “Features like click to call, telephone conversation time stamps and call notes allow MailFlow customers to easily call their contacts within MailFlow and record – and refer back to – their telephone conversations, while 3CX users not currently employing an email management solution will benefit greatly from MailFlow features such as: automatic email routing, shared email queues, standard responses and reporting. also fully supports both products and can provide all of the necessary assistance to ensure a smooth installation.”

VisNetic MailFlow is an email customer service solution for Windows used by thousands of organizations that provides: email routing and tracking, reporting, standard responses, a global contact database, customer email history tracking, and much more. 3CX Phone System for Windows is a multi award-winning software-based IP PBX that replaces traditional proprietary hardware PBX. It is based on the SIP standard, and therefore interoperates with most popular SIP phones, VoIP Gateways and VoIP providers.

“3CX is designed for and used by businesses that require a high level of functionality and reliability in a phone system, but are also knowledgeable and budget conscious enough to avoid high overhead or administrative phone system costs,” said Nick Galea, CEO of 3CX. “Similarly, VisNetic MailFlow is an email management application offered by [3CX North American Distributors] that provides all of the necessary tools to ensure a high level of email customer service, but is also reasonably priced and easy to administer. The marriage of these products provides users with an advanced and affordable integrated communication system that can manage and track all of an organizations’ email and telephony traffic.”

About VisNetic MailFlow VisNetic MailFlow is an email management solution designed for businesses who wish to improve their level of email customer service and business intelligence. VisNetic MailFlow combines excellent affordability with super-fast deployment capability and extremely low management burden to offer an incredibly compelling value. First released in 2002, making is one of the most mature email management applications. Today, VisNetic MailFlow is used by over 22,000 agents worldwide – a sampling of which include John Hopkins Medicine, Boston Globe, Blue Nile, Gold Medal Travel Group, Guess Inc. and Lowrance Electronics. Flexible licensing terms includes a 30-day “try before you buy” download and free technical support. Useful Links: VisNetic MailFlow website: a Guided Demo:

About 3CX and 3CX Phone System for Windows
3CX is an international developer of telecommunications software, headquartered in Europe with offices in the UK, Germany, Cyprus, Malta, USA, Australia and Hong Kong. It is a Microsoft Gold Certified partner and is backed by an experienced management and development team. 3CX Phone System for Windows is an award-winning software-based IP PBX that replaces a traditional proprietary hardware PBX. It is entirely SIP standard based, and therefore interoperates with leading SIP phones, VoIP Gateways and VoIP providers. 3CX’s IP PBX has earned Windows Server 2003 Certification and has been developed specifically for the SMB market with a full set of features that make it simple to install and manage. For more information on 3CX, 3CX Phone System for Windows and 3CX VoIP Phone visit

Press Contact: Don Hoyt Tel: (989) 732-8856

How to make a call from within VisNetic MailFlow

Article 3 of 3 explaining the steps to implement VoIP in MailFlow with the 3CX IP PBX Phone System:

To make a call from within VisNetic MailFlow follow these steps:

  1. Ensure the following two articles have been followed:
    Enable VOIP in VisNetic MailFlow
    How to Create a VOIP Extension for an Agent

  2. Login to VisNetic MailFlow
  3. Search for a Contact by clicking on Contacts on the Left Hand Side
  4. Select the contact that was located and click on the Properties button at the top
  5. Click on the Call button at the top

This now will bring up the VOIP Call window
  1. Verify that the information listed in the FROM section is correct
  2. The Contact Name should be displayed in the TO section
  3. Verify which Dialing Code has been selected to be used
  4. Next enter in the phone number for this contact if one has not been specified already
  5. Click Dial


Once the call has started the Phone Notes window will open allowing the Agent to enter in phone notes while a timer is tracking how long the call has been established.


How to Create a VOIP Extension for an Agent

Article 2 of 3 explaining the steps to implement VoIP in MailFlow with the 3CX IP PBX Phone System:

In order to create a VOIP Extension for an Agent within VisNetic MailFlow follow these steps:

  1. Ensure that Enable VOIP in VisNetic MailFlow has been followed to enable VOIP
  2. Log into VisNetic MailFlow
  3. Click on Preferences on the left hand side menu
  4. Click on the VOIP Extensions tab
  5. Click the New button
  6. Enter in a Description
  7. Now Specify whether this Extension is to be Enabled for this Agent
  8. Next Specify whether this Extension is to be the Default extension for this Agent
  9. Next Specify the VOIP Server from the Drop Down menu
  10. Next Specify the Extension this Agent has assigned on the VOIP Server
  11. Next Specify the PIN this Agent has assigned on the VOIP Server for their Extension


Follow this Article for any other Extensions that this Agent would need to have created for them.

Enable VOIP in VisNetic MailFlow

With the upcoming release of MailFlow V3.8, Kevin Fortune - technician has created the following guides for successfully integrating the 3CX IP PBX Telephony server, with MailFlow creating a complete email / telephone customer service solution. This is 1 of 3:

To Enable Voice Over IP (VOIP) in VisNetic MailFlow, follow these steps:

  1. Log into VisNetic MailFlow as an Administrator
  2. Click on the Administration button on the lower left hand corner
  3. Expand Voice Over IP (VOIP)
  4. Click on Settings
  5. Check Enabled under VOIP Integration


Now that VOIP Integration is enabled, we need to configure the VOIP Server information.

  1. Click on Servers on the Left Hand side under Voice Over IP (VOIP)
  2. Click New
  3. Enter in a Description for this VOIP Server
  4. Specify for this VOIP Server to be Enabled
  5. Next you can specify whether you want this VOIP server to be the Default VOIP Server that MailFlow uses
  6. Next specify the Server Type. Currently only 3CX is a supported VOIP Server
  7. Now enter in the Hostname of the VOIP server
  8. Finally enter in the Port the VOIP server is listening on. With 3CX, by Default this is port 5481


Now that the VOIP Server is specified, dialing rules must be configured for the VOIP Server:
  1. Click on the VOIP Server that we just created
  2. In the Lower portion of the screen you will now see Dialing Codes Click New
  3. Enter a Description for this Dialing Rule
  4. Specify for this Dialing Code to be Enabled
  5. Specify whether this Dialing Code should be the Default Dialing Code that MailFlow uses
  6. Now Specify the Dialing Code itself. When dealing with 3CX this will relate to the Outbound Rules you create.


Using Firefox with MailFlow

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A somewhat well kept secret is that now you can use Mozilla Firefox with MailFlow if you prefer. From inception, MailFlow was designed to be used by desktop computers running Windows and IE (5.5 and above). Now, through the use of a free Firefox plug-in you can use MailFlow with either IE or Firefox under Windows. In our experience, there is no degradation of performance with Firefox, and it is very stable.

Here are the details provided to you courtesy of Kevin Fortune, MailFlow technician:

NOTE: This article only applies to installations of Firefox that are installed on a Windows Operating System.

In order to use Firefox with VisNetic MailFlow, the following addon must be installed:

IETab – This addon is for Windows only

Once the addon is installed into Firefox follow these steps:
  1. Open Firefox
  2. Click on Tools
  3. Click on IETab Options
  4. Specify the URL you access MailFlow with, followed by a /* (For example:* ) NOTE: All entries need http:// before adding and also need /* at the end.
  5. Click Add

  6. Source

Now when you open this URL in FireFox the page will load in an IE Tab.

MailFlow V3.8 Release Notes

We're very close to a GA release of MailFlow V3.8, which will include some useful new features! Please find below the product release notes:

VisNetic MailFlow 3.8 - Features and Enhancements:

VoIP Integration - VisNetic MailFlow is now able to authenticate directly with PBX servers, allowing users to manage their email and voice communications centrally on the MailFlow server. Outbound telephone calls can now be initiated directly within MailFlow using the phone numbers associated with each Contact record. VisNetic MailFlow currently supports 3CX IP PBX for Windows.

Click to Call - initiate a phone call with a click, simply by selecting the appropriate contact, then clicking the Dial option. A phone call is initiated through the PBX, causing the extension to ring. When the Agent picks up the phone, the call is immediately made to the contact.

Phone Call Time Stamps and Notes - when a call is initiated in MailFlow a timer automatically starts. When the Agent completes the call and selects to stop the timer, the call time is recorded in the contact record. Conversation notes can also be recorded for each phone call, giving MailFlow users access to complete phone conversation history information.

Bulk Options - users may now take a bulk action on all of the tickets within a Ticketbox, including: moving tickets to a new ticketbox, and closing or deleting all tickets.

(GM Release)

o Feature Enhancement: Added support for outbound VOIP calls via the 3CX IP PBX Server.

o Feature Enhancement: Added support for Phone Notes associated with Tickets and/or Contacts.

o Resolved Defect: Fixed issue where Purge All Tickets from trash would fail.

o Feature Enhancement: Added Bulk Actions option to TicketBoxes (Delete All and Change TicketState).

o Resolved Defect: Fixed issue where attachments of Content-Type: message/rfc822 were not being saved (are now saved as .eml files).

o Feature Enhancement: Added support for Ticket Lists and InboundMessage date utilizing the Email Date/Time.

o Feature Enhancement: Extended Ticket Search to include search by Inbound Message Date/Time.

3CX and VisNetic MailFlow Integration

Hey All;

Just a heads up. is very close to having 3CX/MailFlow integration. This will allow MailFlow agents (users) to originate 3CX phone calls from a MailFlow contact record, or ticket with a simple click of a button. There is also a pop-up window that will allow agents to type in notes summarizing the call and an automatic timer that will time/date stamp the call and its duration. These notes will be attached to a ticket or contact record.

The basic way it works is this; Let's say that you're working in MailFlow and either viewing a ticket, or a contact record. You realize that you need to call the contact for whatever reason. You click the call button and your extension will ring at your desk, and you will pick it up as you would any other call. Once you pick it up (either via handset, or speakerphone) it will immediately call the other party. Simultaneously - a "Phone Notes" edit box will appear which will contain a time/date stamp, and a timer. Once the call is complete - just hit the "stop" button and the duration of the call will be displayed and recorded. You will also be able to type notes summarizing the call. Hit the save button - and Wolah.. you have a new contact record/ticket event recorded that will be viewable along with any other history associated with that contact record! Now you will have a single place to record all email and voice communications with your customers or contacts.

Contact records can have multiple phone numbers and these will be selectable from a drop down box and state is saved for defaults. Dialing rules are defined at the server level and can also be selected via drop down and state is saved.

For 3CX and MailFlow customers this should be pretty useful.

How Will MailFlow Benefit our Organization?

This is a question that we are asked often. Unfortunately, many times organizations' do not realize that they are losing opportunities and revenue as a result of their inability to answer customer service oriented email in a timely and accurate fashion. On the MailFlow site, has compiled a list of documents that will explain the benefit of MailFlow to various enterprise departments. They are grouped by category:

In addition to these documents, several white papers and technical documents are available.

Making the Case for Customer Service Email Management

Why Do I Need VisNetic MailFlow?

The Internet provides streamlined, cost-effective channels for delivering products and services to customers. As a result, email communications are growing faster than any other form of customer interaction.

According to the Software Support Professionals Association, the average cost of a call center support call is $53, while email support queries cost only around $3 per message. For this reason, many organizations are actively encouraging email communications as the preferred means of customer interaction.

But as email load levels continue to grow explosively, responding to customer email inquiries will become more of a challenge. And according to Gartner Group, over 90% of enterprises are not adequately prepared to handle even current customer email volumes.

Meanwhile, traditional CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solutions have distanced themselves from the average business by being incredibly expensive ($30-100k+), difficult to manage, and requiring serious cultural changes to foster internal adoption. Ironically, small to medium sized businesses, with their limited budgets and strong focus on customer service, actually have the most to gain from the CRM concept.

VisNetic MailFlow is the equalizer your organization needs to stay effective and competitive in today's business environment. It quickly pays for itself by preventing the loss of a single customer.

Ask yourself these critical questions: How much email do you receive each day? Who replied to those emails, if anyone? What's the current status of those email inquiries (and customers)? What are customers asking of your company? Are customers receiving the right answers? How long do email messages remain unanswered (on average)? Who is answering emails the most efficiently & effectively? If the answers to the questions above are unavailable or unclear, then VisNetic MailFlow can help you to get a handle on these (and many other) critical customer relations issues.

More information:

Enabling Super Service with VisNetic MailFlow (PDF HTML)
VisNetic MailFlow Data Sheet (PDF HTML)

New VisNetic MailFlow Blog

Hi All! ...and Welcome to the VisNetic MailFlow Blog. We are looking forward to keeping you up to date on VisNetic MailFlow tips and tricks as well as addressing the issues organizations face to provide timely, accurate customer service email response.