Customer Email: Handle with Care

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The viability of a business is built upon strong customer relationships – at the core of which is trust. Effective communications build customer trust. The vast majority of customer communications occur electronically – and email is a primary media. Yet when customers conduct business via email, they may feel apprehensive:
  • Will my message be intercepted, treated as “low priority,” or worse, not handled at all?
  • Will my message be categorized improperly, and, if so, will I receive a boilerplate response to a question that I didn’t ask?
Effective communications occur when the customer can message within an environment that feels comfortable, such as, email – without jeopardizing quality of service. Conversely, the business’s customer care agent must be trained to understand the unique communication characteristics of email versus instant messaging, voice and other customer-facing media. Similarly, customer care management must be able to measure the quality of email handling against business activity. Noticeable causes of email mismanagement include:
  • Over-reliance on auto responders
  • Over-reliance on ad hoc, agent-created messages to customers
  • Poorly defined handling processes
  • Poorly defined management of handling processes
  • Poor or lack of process for knowledge-sharing among agents
Email mismanagement can be subtle and inconspicuous. Common cases include:
  • Using a “one size fits all” technology model across business units and functional areas – such as, sales, marketing, public relations, fulfillment and customer care. Some examples:
  1. ­ Customer relationship management (CRM) applications
  2. ­ Content management systems with integrated email capability
  3. ­ Email response management systems (ERMS)
  4. ­ “Home-grown” applications
  • An architecturally complex email management technology, which may “work” though not optimally.
  • Statistical reports, instead of analytic reports that align statistics to business activity
  • Whether noticeable or subtle, the results are the same, which include:
  1. Delays in responding to customer inquiries
  2. Lack of administrative oversight and accountability
  3. Ongoing failures in meeting service level agreements
Managing customer email is technically and culturally different from managing customer inquiries through other media types, such as chat and voice. The customer care center must understand those differences -- from the customer’s perspective.

Customers use the communicative media that feels comfortable and efficiently meet their needs.
Email is a preferred means of communication by customers who do not have the time or desire for a live discussion (as is the case with chat and voice). Email messaging provides a written and machine-dated record of each discussion between a customer care agent and the customer. Email messages are sent at the customer’s convenience – that is, without relevance to the customer care center’s “open for business” hours.

Email messaging uses “store and forward” routing. Nonetheless, the customer expects near “real-time” responsiveness. The “clock starts ticking” as soon as the customer clicks the send button.

VisNetic MailFlow:

VisNetic MailFlow is focused solely on the management of customer email. The framework is intuitive in design, so as to humanize the relationship between the customer care agent and the customer. This one-to-one relationship emulates the interactive nature of chat and voice within an email message conversation. Similar to PBX routing of individual phone lines, VisNetic MailFlow automatically routes customer email messages to the appropriate customer care agent.

A business that can humanize the customer’s email-inquiry experience can influence customer trust and customer loyalty. Customer email management, however, can be unruly. VisNetic MailFlow provides an affordable and easily manageable software solution. Ease-of-use, along with rich agent-centric functionality and management reports, means that agents can center on the customer’s needs – without interference from the technology or process.