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 ;-)