Elevating Customer Service E-mail From Adequate To Excellent

Thursday, December 10, 2009

(Leslie O'Flahavan and Marilynne Rudick)

Happy Customer What differentiates "adequate" customer service e-mail from "excellent" customer service e-mail? We've analyzed hundreds of customer service e-mails and we've found that many companies do an adequate job of responding promptly, within 24 – 48 hours. And some companies do a good job of answering the customer's question. So, what more could customers want? Customers want, and deserve, excellent e-mail responses. And excellent customer service e-mail exhibits two qualities that sets it above adequate: (1) it doesn't merely answer the customer's question -- it solves the customer's problem, and (2) it makes the customer feel valued.

The companies that provide these excellent responses recognize that customer service e-mail should be used for more than answering customer questions. Customer service e-mail is a powerful marketing tool, an effective form of permission-based marketing.

1.  Excellent Customer Service E-Mail Solves The Customer's Problem

To illustrate the difference between answering the customer's question and solving the problem, we'll use an example: A customer e-mailed a catalog store about whether she could exchange the size 8 pants she'd bought for a size 6. The customer wrote: "I purchased a pair of pants, size 8, at your outlet store in Leesburg, Virginia. I'd like to exchange them for a smaller size. I've been told that no size 6 pants are available. I'm wondering whether the pants come in petite sizes, and if so, whether a size 6 petite is available. The item number is: 031020581. Thanks!"

A merely adequate response would have been something like this: "Thanks for your e-mail. Unfortunately we are sold out of size 6 in the pants you inquired about. If you have any further questions, please call or e-mail us again."

Excellent E-mail Anticipates What Else The Customer Needs To Know
The adequate response, above, certainly answered the customer's question. But it didn't solve the problem of how to get the pants in a size that fit. Of course, solving a customer's problem in a phone call can be easier than in e-mail. In a phone conversation the customer asks follow-up and "what if" questions to elicit additional information that will solve the problem. But in answering an e-mail query, the customer service representative (CSR) has to anticipate the follow-up questions that the customer would ask and supply the responses to those questions.

Excellence Means Solving the Problem
Here's how the customer service representative solved the customer's problem with the pants and elevated the response from adequate to excellent. The customer service representative (CSR) anticipated and answered the customer's follow-up questions. The CSR wrote that the pants weren't available in size 6. He went on to include this information: "However, there are a couple of size 4 pants available. The waist is 25 inches and the low hip is 39 inches." The CSR gave the customer the information she needed to make a decision about the size 4 pants.

And if the customer wanted to try the size 4 pants, the CSR anticipated her next question as well: "How do I exchange the size 8 pants for the size 4?" The e-mail explained exactly how to do this: "Be sure to include a note in the package with your name, address and, in large red letters, write that you would like to exchange the pants for a size 4. If you decide to do this, please do this right away, as we only have a few left in size 4."

Close The Communication Loop
This excellent e-mail served the customer by offering a solution to the problem. The e-mail also served the company by selling something in return for the pants that didn't fit. And it served both the customer and the company by closing the communications loop. The customer didn't have to spend any more time calling or e-mailing again with these follow-up questions. And the customer service department is not burdened by a second inquiry.

2.  Excellent Customer Service E-Mail Makes The Customer Feel Valued

Every customer service e-mail is an opportunity to build a relationship with a customer, to acknowledge loyalty, and to make the customer feel valued. Too many companies miss this opportunity. Many customer service e-mails convey the impression that answering the customer's inquiry is a chore, not a chance to serve and impress the customer. So, how should e-mail from a CSR make a customer feel valued?

Personalize The Response But Respect The Customer's Privacy
A customer who has taken the time and trouble to write an e-mail deserves to be treated as a person—not a tracking number. Excellent customer service e-mail begins with a personal greeting: "Dear Jane," or "Hi John," not "Dear Valued Customer."

Personalizing the response suggests that someone took the time to read the customer's e-mail and respond personally. Customers like e-mail responses that refer to their question or problem: "Thank you for your inquiry about whether we still sell the Balsam Tabletop Tree" is much better than "Thank you for your e-mail." Customers appreciate a personal response that acknowledges their relationship with the company: "We are glad to hear that you will be visiting Luray Ranch again this summer."

However, customers find it creepy and Big Brother-ish when it seems that the company knows too much about them. Most customers are aware that companies collect considerable data on their purchases as well as personal information. But they don't want to be reminded of this each time they hear from the customer service department. Personalize but don't pry! Excellent customer service e-mail includes personal information only when it is relevant to the question the customer asked.

Make A Gesture Of Goodwill
Making customers feel valued means not just solving their problems, but providing satisfaction. When we e-mailed our printing company to complain that our company name was misspelled on our business cards, we didn't just want to hear that the company corrected the problem. We wanted an apology at the very least. And we appreciated the company's consideration for our pain and suffering: "We apologize for our error on your business cards. We've sent the new cards by overnight mail, and we will refund your payment."
Customers also want an e-mail response to give consideration for being a good customer. For example, a customer e-mailed an online retailer asking if he could return a video he'd opened, played, and didn't like. He was unhappy with the response he received which simply reiterated the company's return policy (No!).

While the customer can't expect the CSR to overturn a policy, he wanted the company's policy to provide some latitude for valued customers. He expected the CSR to consult the customer database, see that he'd spent hundreds of dollars on books and videos over several years, and do something to acknowledge his relationship with the company. An excellent response would have said: "We can't accept a return of the opened videotape. But because you are a valued customer, we are sending you a coupon for a 10% discount on your next purchase."

It's not too much to expect that every customer service e-mail deliver excellence: solve the customer's problem and make the customer feel valued. If you weigh the costs of acquiring customers against the effort of satisfying existing customers, then excellent customer service e-mail is a bargain.

Katherine Barchetti, Pittsburgh-area clothing retailer, said it succinctly: "Make a customer, not a sale." Excellent customer service e-mail can make a customer yours for life.

In Brief

What differentiates "adequate" customer service e-mail from "excellent" customer service e-mail? Excellent customer service e-mail does more than answer the customer's question; it solves the customer's problem, and excellent customer service e-mail makes the customer feel valued.

(c) E-WRITE, 2004 - 2009.

Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O'Flahavan are partners in E-WRITE, a training and consulting company that specializes in writing for online readers. Rudick and O'Flahavan are authors of Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents

Hot Off the Press: MailFlow V4 KB Articles

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Today Deerfield.com’s MailFlow technician, Kevin Fortune introduces four newKevin knowledgebase articles for the email customer service software solution, VisNetic MailFlow .  The four KB’s cover setting up and using some of MailFlow’s new V4 features.

Great News! MailFlow 4.0 Renewal Policy and Pricing!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Save Money VisNetic MailFlow owners with valid upgrade protection dating back to October 31, 2009 are eligible for free upgrades to VMF 4.0.  This date will be recognized during MailFlow’s installation process and will prompt the customer accordingly.  Customers may also check the status of their upgrade protection by logging into MailFlow / Administration / General Configuration / Registration

Regarding renewal pricing – a significant reduction in renewal pricing!  Renewals for MailFlow are now 30% of original purchase price, featuring a 20% savings over the previous renewal price card.  New purchase pricing remains unchanged.

VisNetic MailFlow 4.0 Now Available

Monday, November 30, 2009

VisNetic MailFlow 4 vastly improves stability, scalability, security and email supervision

VMF4Banner December 1, 2009 Deerfield.com Releases VisNetic MailFlow 4.0, the next major release of VisNetic MailFlow – the web based email customer service solution used by thousands of organizations that provides: email routing and tracking, reporting, standard responses, global contact database, customer email history, and much more.

“VisNetic MailFlow 4.0 is the next logical step in the progression of email customer service management,” said Mike Deerfield – Deerfield.com CEO. “At the core of this release is the ability to run multiple MailFlow instances against a single database, which is a key, strategic course of development that ensures that MailFlow can scale to any size organization, while delivering a high level of availability and performance. This new load balancing capability is immediately beneficial to high volume organizations, but also provides peace of mind to smaller organizations, since as their email traffic increases, they can be confident that their email customer service platform will scale to meet their needs.”

“Also included in MailFlow 4 is the feature most commonly requested by existing customers: Outbound Message Approval. This feature is essential for training new staff members or just to collaborate on outbound messages, as it allows specified Agents to have their outbound messages approved by supervisors before the message is delivered. With these new capabilities and a series of additional enhancements, MailFlow 4.0 is a major step forward, and makes it the clear choice for organizations that value their customers’ email,” said Deerfield.

VisNetic MailFlow 4.0 Includes:

Load Balancing – By employing load balancing you will immediately see improved performance and speed, a more stable MailFlow environment and you will “future proof” your MailFlow installation, ensuring that no matter how much your email traffic increases or your company grows, MailFlow will be able to accommodate your requirements.

Load Balancing can be accomplished through distributing MailFlow Tasks such as: database maintenance, message delivery, message routing, ticket monitoring and scheduled reports over multiple servers. Another load balancing usage scenario is to install multiple MailFlow servers, then have Agents login to separate servers (e.g., Agent 1 logs into server 1, Agent 2 logs into server 2, etc.), distributing the workload between servers based on Agent logins, as opposed to tasks. Both servers will share the same database, so it will be as if they are on the same server, but the workload is distributed behind the scenes. MailFlow Load Balancing also allows for manual failover, whereby if one server goes down, another can quickly take over.

Outbound Email Approval - require Agents to have their outbound emails approved by a supervisor or group of supervisors before the message is delivered. Ideal for Agents in training, this feature allows you to oversee and collaborate on messages before they are sent.

Enhanced Alerting - New Agent level Alerts are available that provide commonly requested, immediate notifications, making Agents aware of new inbound emails, tickets assigned to them, outbound messages being approved or returned to them, and more.

Caller ID and Email History Pop Up Window - MailFlow is now capable of producing a pop up window when an inbound call is received, displaying the contact record of the caller, providing the Agent with immediate Caller ID and email history information of the contact before they answer a call.

More information on version 4.0 is available at: http://www.deerfield.com/products/visnetic-mailflow/features/new.htm
Download VisNetic MailFlow 4.0 at: http://www.deerfield.com/download/visnetic-mailflow/
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 it 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 through an online knowledgebase and email ticket support.
Useful Links:
VisNetic MailFlow website: http://www.deerfield.com/products/visnetic-mailflow/
Request a Guided Demo: http://www.deerfield.com/products/visnetic-mailflow/demo/index.htm
Datasheet: http://www.visneticmailflow.com/resources/vmf_datasheet_v3.pdf
Press Contact:
Don Hoyt
Tel: (989) 732-8856

Thanksgiving in the USA – Did you know ?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

*Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Day, presently celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, has been an annual tradition in the United States since 1863. It did not become a federal holiday until 1941. Thanksgiving was historically a religious observthanksgivingation to give thanks to God, but is now also identified as a secular holiday.

The First Thanksgiving was celebrated to give thanks to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive the brutal winter. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days providing enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Indians.  The feast consisted of fowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, and squash. However, the traditional Thanksgiving menu often features turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.

** The idea of a national Thanksgiving Day can be attributed to Sarah Joseph Hale who promoted the idea to President Abraham Lincoln.  In 1863, President Lincoln set aside the last Thursday of November as a National Day of Thanksgiving.  President Lincoln later explained to a friend:  “When I left Springfield (to assume the presidency) I asked the people to pray for me.  I was not a Christian.  When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian.  But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.”  In 1941, Congress made Thanksgiving a national holiday.

*** If you are a Christian, a way to show true thanksgiving to God is to always remember Him. Remembering Him means that He is a part of our thoughts, words, and deeds. It is impossible to give gratitude to God if we never think or speak of Him. When we remember Him we are choosing to think, speak, and act as He would have us do.

All of us have much to be thankful for -  as did the Pilgrims and Indians of Plymouth Colony that historic day in 1621.  Thanksgiving day provides a great opportunity to honor God for all that He’s provided for us. – especially Turkey feasts and Football!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sources: * Wikipedia **Manteca Bulletin ***About.com

New GM Program Awards Dealerships That Can Answer Customer Email

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I was recently made aware of an almost unprecedented program that GM is goingMoney_Email to roll out to some of its dealerships.  Basically, in an attempt to improve the dealership’s email customer service and sales, GM is going to pay quarterly bonuses to dealerships that demonstrate they can answer customer emails in 2 hours or less.  Wait … what ?!?

GM is looking for more than a simple auto-response however (our source reveals); they want their dealers to respond with helpful answers to the customers specific questions, not just a reply informing them to expect a call later, or automated requests for more information.

I believe that the only reason GM would be willing to do this is if they suspect they are losing significant opportunities as a result of slow, incomplete, substandard, or non-existent email responses to customer inquiries.  Such was the experience of our own staff members recently while searching for a new vehicle online.

Apparently it’s all over the map with dealerships that are using their online presence to drive sales, with some generating a significant amount of business -  to those dealerships that see little value in their dealership’s web presence.  It appears that GM is looking to change that by providing incentives to dealerships that can show a high level of commitment to email customer service, improving revenue and customer satisfaction in the process.

Could it be that the world is waking up to the idea that customers expect timely. professional responses to their email inquiries?  We’d like to hope so.  I do not think that consumers in general send email inquiries to vendors just for “the fun of it”.  They do so because they are busy, or are trying to avoid the “pushy” salesman on the phone.  Whatever the reason, studies find that if they are ignored - or receive inaccurate or unprofessional responses, they move on.

Do you know how many of your customers are moving on?  To fully understand the challenges of email contact centers, and how you can improve your email customer service, download the  free whitepaper “Customer Email: Handle with Care”.

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Sneak Peek: What’s New in MailFlow V4 ?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Due out in November 2009 – VisNetic MailFlow improves its Scalability, Quality Assurance, Presence, Unified Messaging and Logging Capabilities.

MagGlass After a tedious 13 Month development cycle, the release of VisNetic MailFlow V4 is imminent.  As stated in an early blog post, due to the upstream penetration into larger customer service organizations – it was necessary to allow MailFlow to scale to the demands of these organizations.  The required foundation-level changes required painstaking attention to detail, was it worth it? We think so!  Additionally, new features were added that will benefit all organizations’ ability to ensure they are delivering the highest level of customer service possible to their customers, while enjoying high-availability.  Below is a list of the of the major new features in VisNetic MailFlow V4:

Load Balancing - VisNetic MailFlow now includes the ability to run multiple MailFlow instances against a single database. This allows users to distribute the MailFlow workload across multiple servers, providing increased stability, scalability and security. By employing load balancing you will immediately see improved performance and speed, a more stable MailFlow environment and you will “future proof” your MailFlow installation, ensuring that no matter how much your email traffic increases or your company grows, MailFlow will be able to accommodate your requirements.

MailFlow Load Balancing can be accomplished through distributing MailFlow Tasks such as: database maintenance, message delivery, message routing, ticket monitoring and scheduled reports over multiple servers. Another load balancing usage scenario is to install multiple MailFlow servers, then have Agents login to separate servers (e.g., Agent 1 logs into server 1, Agent 2 logs into server 2, etc.), distributing the workload between servers based on Agent logins, as opposed to tasks. Both servers will share the same database, so it will be as if they are on the same server, but the workload is distributed behind the scenes. MailFlow Load Balancing also allows for manual failover, whereby if one server goes down, another can quickly take over.

Outbound Email Approval - This new feature allows you to require certain Agents to have their outbound emails approved by a supervisor or group of supervisors before the message is delivered. Ideal for Agents in training, this feature is a safeguard that allows you to oversee and collaborate on messages before they are sent. The feature allows supervisors to deliver the message after review or send it back to the Agent to make edits before sending. It also allows supervisors to enter Notes only viewable within MailFlow to assist with the editing process.

Enhanced Alerting - New Agent level Alerts are available that provide commonly requested, immediate notifications, making Agents aware of new inbound emails, tickets assigned to them, outbound messages being approved or returned to them, and more. These new alerts provide Agents with a new level of awareness and accountability.

3CX IP PBX CRM Integration - MailFlow is now capable of producing a pop up window when an inbound call is received, displaying the contact record of the caller, providing the Agent with immediate Caller ID and email history information of the contact before they answer a call. This new feature is enabled with 3CX IP PBX for Windows and the 3CX Call Assistant w/CRM Integration. It provides a new level of phone system integration, tying different forms of communication together into one common source, and allows your Agents to provide a higher level of customer service.

Database Logging - MailFlow logs can now be saved to the Microsoft database instead of the MailFlow file system. This new feature saves disc space on the MailFlow server, allows logs to be backed up during the database backup process, and is essential for customers utilizing load balancing.

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Which Hotel Chain Does Customer Service E-Mail Best?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hotel At the height of travel season, we decided to conduct a (non-scientific) experiment  to find out which hotel chain does customer service e-mail best.  Using the clever pseudonym “Jane Doe,” we sent this e-mail query to hotel chains with properties near Chicago’s Midway Airport.

Subject: Request for info - room for disabled traveler - Labor Day 2008

Hello -

I'm interested in making a hotel reservation for my brother near Midway Airport in Chicago on       August 31 and September 1, 2008.  (He uses a wheelchair.)  Does the [insert hotel name here] have rooms for handicapped travelers?  If so, how do I make a reservation?

Thanks –

Jane Doe

Within two days of sending our query, we’d received responses from five hotel chains:  Best Western, Marriott, La Quinta, Hyatt, and Hilton. 

Want to learn which hotel does e-mail best?

The quality of the responses was uneven, to put it politely.  To see which hotels provided excellent service and which bombed, download the hotels' e-mail responses and our comments (PDF).
Here’s a quick overview of customer service e-mail winners and losers.

  • Quick response: Best Western and Marriott answered within two hours.  La Quinta was the quickest, answering within just one hour.  Check our comments to see whether La Quinta’s response was quick and good, or just quick.
  • Clear answer to our question: Marriott wins. Here’s the third sentence of Marriott’s reply: “Handicapped accessible rooms are available at all Marriott hotels in the U.S.”
  • Polite, professional tone: All five hotel chains used a customer-friendly tone. In fact, four of the five began their e-mails by thanking the customer!


  • Grammar and spelling: Embarrassing errors slipped through in Best Western’s, Hilton’s, and La Quinta’s e-mails.
  • A no-answer reply: Hilton never even mentioned accessible rooms or rooms for handicapped travelers.
  • Incomprehensible “from” lines: Customers should be able to tell who’s writing to them by looking at the “from” line.  But some of the hotel chains we tested included unfamiliar abbreviations in the from line or used a sender’s name customers won’t recognize. (Who is internethamp@hiltonres.com, anyway?)

For our complete analysis of the hotel e-mails’ customer service quality, download the hotels' e-mail responses and our comments (PDF). A disclaimer: we haven’t flagged every error in each e-mail; we’ve focused on the ones that affect customer service quality.

(c) E-WRITE, 2004 - 2009.

Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O'Flahavan are partners in E-WRITE, a training and consulting company that specializes in writing for online readers. Rudick and O'Flahavan are authors of Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents

Customer Service E-Mail In A "Do Not Call" World

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Build Relationships The national "Do Not Call" list and anti-spam laws present new challenges for marketers. With customers saying, "don't call us, don't spam us" how can you market your products and services? Take another look at your customer service e-mail. E-mail responses to customers who ASK to hear from you provide an important marketing opportunity. Customer service e-mail may be the last wide-open channel companies have for communicating with customers.

Here are five ways to transforming routine customer service e-mail into e-mail that markets a relationship … with you.

1. Solve customers' problems quickly and completely. They'll be grateful! And grateful customers will tell their friends about your company’s great products and services. "Do you believe it? They sent me the part I needed for my laptop by 10 a.m. the next day!"  Great customer service e-mail can be the foundation for the best kind of viral marketing.            
2. Strengthen your relationship with your customer.  After delivering service by e-mail, send a follow-up message to see if the customer is satisfied with the service he received or the product or information he asked for. Ask “Was your problem satisfactorily resolved?” or “Did you get the information you requested?”
3. Offer relevant information. You could close your e-mail with something like this: "We’re glad to have solved the problem with your laptop battery.  And we thought you’d like to know that we have a way to protect you from unanticipated and expensive repairs.  Check out our service agreement..."            
4. Ask permission to contact the customer again. Customer service e-mail gives you the opportunity to ask customers to opt in to other kinds of e-mail communication.  For example, ask “Would you like to subscribe to our free newsletter for laptop owners?  It features trouble-shooting tips you can use right away.”                                                                                                            
5. Add offers to customer service e-mail.  Reward customers who have communicated with you by e-mail.  Include relevant special offers in your customer service e-mail response: a discount on the next purchase, a two-month product trial, a valuable research report for free.  Be sure your offers are targeted to what you know about your customer’s buying history and interests. Your customer will keep reading—and buying—when your customer service messages contain valuable offers.

A Customer Service E-Mail That Goes The Extra Mile
Here's an example of a customer service e-mail response that goes beyond the traditional and works hard to build a relationship with a potential customer.

To: Linda@webfriend.com
From: CustomerService@wildduckinn.com
Subject: Re: Request for two rooms on Dec. 27-28
Dear Linda,
Thanks for your e-mail asking us whether you could book two rooms on December 27 and 28 for our New Year's Champagne Weekend.  We're sorry to tell you that we are fully booked for that weekend.
However, our affiliate property, Highland Inn, has a similar New Year's Champagne Weekend, and they are still taking reservations for that package. Many of our guests have also stayed at Highland Inn and have been very happy there.  If you'd like to make a reservation at Highland Inn, please call them at 1-800-555-3042.  
We have special events and packages all year. Our quarterly newsletter gives advance notice of these events. That way, you can make reservations early, so we won't have to disappoint you again. May I sign you up for this newsletter?
We hope you'll be celebrating the New Year at Highland Inn and that you will join us for Valentine's Day—or one of our other special weekends.
Jim McKee
Wild Duck Inn 

In Brief

With customers saying "don't call us, don't spam us" customer service e-mail may be the last wide-open channel for communicating with customers. Here are five ways to transform routine customer service e-mail into e-mail that markets a relationship--with you.

(c) E-WRITE, 2004 - 2009.

Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O'Flahavan are partners in E-WRITE, a training and consulting company that specializes in writing for online readers. Rudick and O'Flahavan are authors of Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents

Adding New Tools to the Blogging Toolbox

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hi All – Please bear with me as a I test a new tool for creating blog posts. Seems I’m finding myself blogging more and more these days and between the blogs I am contributing to, such as MailFlow, Mail Server, 3CX, and Dynamic DNS – it’s time for me to take a step forward toward efficiency. In addition, I will be traveling a bit these next four months and I will need a tool that will allow me to create blog posts offline, something that the various blog servers I am tied to do nToolboxot allow natively.

The tool that I am testing for this blog post is called Windows Live Writer, and it is part of the whole “Windows Live” bunch of stuff that you can get free from Microsoft. One thing that I would note is that if you only want to download and install the Writer tool – you have to be careful during the installation process and de-select all of the other bloat that is selected by default in the Windows Live Writer download manager .

So far I am impressed with it. It makes it much easier to create a blog post, and previewing it is very easy. It’s almost like using a mini version of MS Word to author your blog posts, but it’s way simpler. Adding hyperlinks, pictures (or entire photo albums), videos, tables, maps, and tabs is also quite easy. There is also a plug-in manager that allows to to install one or more of over 100 plug-in’s that are available for it. from the Windows Live Gallery.

We’ll see how it goes :-)

Do You Need a "Writing for Customer Service" Tune-Up?

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'd like to shift gears a moment in this post and talk a little bit about the the skills needed by your customer service reps to be successful at satisfying the needs of your customers via email. I believe that even with all of this technology today, the best customer service experiences are still a result of skilled humans!

But first - a recap: We've spent a lot of time in this blog talking about the importance of "using the right tool for the job" when it comes to customer service email. We've given several examples, statistics, and expressed much concern about the shortcomings of not handling your inbound customer service email quickly and professionally. We've discussed repeatedly how by using a tool such as MailFlow, you can gain and retain customers, thus improving your bottom line.

What we've not talked about much is what human skills are needed to answer customer service email quickly, professionally, and efficiently. Basically, the most skilled customer service agents in an email contact center are good writers, and more specifically, they're good at writing for customer service. They have the skills necessary to communicate with a customer in a caring way, providing the customer with just the information they need - in a clear, non-confusing, professional manner.

The truth of the matter is that these folks are in short supply today and good writing is often the exception, rather than the rule. Some of the gotcha's that are common in today's email correspondence are things such as bad grammar and spelling, slang and contractions, too little or incomplete information, or just a general tone of non-helpfulness.

I am not affiliated in any way with this company, but I did discover a book that has been written specifically targeting "writing for customer service". It is called "Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents". If you operate an email customer service contact center (or you simply converse with some/all of your customers via email), I think this is an excellent read.

Here's a short description of the book from the author:

"Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents is a cost-effective, self-paced method of teaching your staff to write customer service e-mail. The workbook is unique. It uses e-mail exchanges between customers and companies to teach customer service professionals the writing skills they need to communicate with customers. "

This book is actually written by the founders of E-Write, a business dedicated to helping others provide professional content for electronic media. For more information about the book, or to order a copy - click here.

See MailFlow and 3CX Tomorrow at ITEC Detroit

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just a reminder that Deerfield will be showcasing 3CX Phone System v8 and VisNetic MailFlow at Itec Detroit tomorrow! There's still time to register and get free passes by completing the form here.

Deerfield's Mike Ryan will be joined by Ron Skoagland of Heritage Telecom. Stop by the booth and say Hi! .. maybe watch a demo and learn how by using MailFlow and 3CX together you can increase email efficiency and reduce telco costs in your customer service contact center.

Enterprise: Email is Dead ?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

As posted previously, Deerfield (creators of VisNetic MailFlow) will be exhibiting at ITEC Detroit in October. If you want the exact details - you can find them here. So today I discover an interesting article titled "If Email is Dead, Then Why is there So Much of it?". The article was penned by Ron Miller and posted on the ITEC site. It basically references an article written by John Dvorak for PC Magazine. The long-time columnist and self-acclaimed expert (if you met him you'd know what I mean, in a good way) goes on to list nine reasons why he thinks that email is dead.

Miller puts his own spin on it however - making a case that organizations are drowning in it, thus reducing its effectiveness as a reliable business communication tool. Miller gives an example of the challenges facing organizations wrt eDiscovery, whereby all correspondence on a particular issue may need to be retrieved. He advocates using more social networking tools in lieu of email to help alleviate the pain, tools such as blogs and wikis. He concludes his article by stating " Email may not be dead, but it's not resting very comfortably and we need to find ways to alleviate its pain".

I would say that largely I agree with Ron and John, but here's my take; a primary reason that email is failing in the workplace is because we are using the wrong tools to manage it. Monolithic email clients such as Outlook were not designed to be a collaborative enterprise email client. The collaboration capabilities of the Outlook's of the world are in their ability to manage calendars, contacts, etc - the GroupWare functions. Ironically however, - not the mail stream. I compare this to an accounting system whereby instead of having a centralized accounting system, every staff member keeps their own Excel spreadsheet on their desktop computer. What an unmanageable mess that would be! Same result when you use standalone email clients to manage a corporate mail stream; silos of non-syncronized, decentralized, black holes of correspondence.

VisNetic Mailflow was created from the ground up to be an enterprise grade email management / customer service solution. With a multi-user, web-based interface sitting on top of a SQL database, any and all email correspondence is centrally stored, archived, and backed up - and collaboratively available to all parties with the proper rights within the organization. If you are struggling with email - you really need to take a look at MailFlow... like maybe come visit us at ITEC Detroit. BTW - we have plenty of free passes if you are interested :)

Meet up with Deerfield.com at ITEC Detroit

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We’re pleased to say we will be attending and exhibiting at this year’s ITEC Detroit conference. Deerfield.com, a technology solutions provider operating out of Northern MI for 15 years (in “technology” years, this is more like a century), is pleased to announce they will be attending and exhibiting at this year’s annual ITEC Detroit Conference and Expo, held at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi Michigan. There, we will speak with Michigan business owners and IT staff, and discuss how they can improve the way they communicate by email and phone, while saving money and improving their customer conversion and retention rates – areas that every business needs to concentrates on, particularly in difficult economic conditions.

As an Exhibitor we have the ability to grant free conference access to anyone we like! Before this newfound power gets to our head and we create elaborate tests of strength and skill to determine whom we deem worthy, you are free to signup by following these instructions:

- Register online at: http://city.goitec.com/det/register.html
- Enter the following, double secret code in the “Source Code” field during the signup to receive your free registration: DeerVIP

You can also learn more about ITEC Detroit at: http://city.goitec.com/det/

Please drop us a line at info@deerfield.com if you plan on attending. We look forward to seeing you there!


SMB's: Create Competitive Advantage by Deploying UM and CRM Affordably!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Every once in awhile I encounter an online company that just gets it right, from a customer service perspective. Unfortunately, More often I have a less-than-desirable customer service experience when dealing with a company remotely via phone, or email. Often my inquiry is answered in a time frame that is not adequate and the answer/information I receive is usually not complete enough for me to make a purchasing decision. When I do encounter a company that gets it right, I try to be sure and let them know - and I have a tendency to go back to them for future business.

Because our business evolves around customer service - I have a desire to analyze my experiences and interactions with the companies in which we do business. I try to learn what it is that allows companies to get it right, and what goes wrong in those that don't.

In those experiences that have had led to a positive result, I have seen no real trend with regard the size of the company. I've had good experiences with large and small companies, and also poor experiences with both. What I do find to be the common denominator in the successful "get it right" experience is a properly skilled representative utilizing efficient communication and CRM systems.

From time to time I track my experiences with online companies. Recently, I tracked the last five transactions that I completed whereby my initial inquiry was initiated either by email or phone. Of those five, one resulted in what I would consider a "get it right". The other 5 required substantial follow-up from me, and two of the transactions still have not been completed - despite repeated attempts (all initiated by me) to do so.

What I have observed over the course of time (many years) is that both small and large companies struggle with delivering good customer service, albeit for completely different reasons. The end result is the same however; a poor customer service experience and a dissatisfied customer. As an example - large companies typically have larger IT budgets and on-staff IT personnel that deploy state of the art CRM systems. However, the representatives are often ill trained, improperly motivated, or have little accountability (sometimes all three). Small companies on the other hand don't have high IT budgets and sophisticated IT systems, but their representatives are often multi-versed in the company's business, have high levels of accountability, and motivation for keeping their jobs. The smaller companies however, largely suffer from the lack of good communications and CRM tools to adequately service their customers efficiently.

I would be willing to actually go out on a limb here and say that poor customer service is so epidemic online, and most people are actually expecting a bad experience most of the time.

When a customer encounters a company that fulfills their needs, solves their problems, and does so quickly and painlessly - they are loyal to them. In other words they gain competitive advantage!

The secret to gaining competitive advantage from a (customer service perspective) is to combine the best of both worlds (people skills and information systems), and wala! good customer service experience = loyal customer gained!

OK - so what tools do I need to accomplish (from an information system standpoint) to compete with the largest of companies in our space, and how much will it cost? The following solutions listed below are all on-premise software products than can run on the Windows computers you already own.

1. A Low Cost, Highly Powerful, Simple to Manage IP PBX Phone System: (Free Version Available - Paid starts at $350)
- This will allow you to take advantage of the latest technology like remote extensions (teleworkers), VM to email, call queuing, auto attendant, and many others. These features are no longer just for the large-budget companies - but are now affordable for small budgets as well.

2. An Email Customer Service / Management Solution: (Free Version Available - Paid starts at $749)
- If you are trying to run your online-enabled business on standard email clients, you are making a big mistake! Email managment tools allow you to answer customer email quickly and effectively, and utilize features such as standard responses, representative load balancing, automatic routing, immediate access to customer voice and email correspondence history. When used in conjunction with an IP PBX even a pop-up box will display on your screen alerting you to whose calling and allowing single-click access to their communications history with you.

3. A Unified Messaging Email Server: (Free Version Available - Paid starts at $1500)
- Will allow you to solve all of your personal and office email, instant messaging, calender, scheduling, and resource sharing needs. Also it will provide a way to integrate all of the mobile devices that your staff is carrying. Combined and integrated with items 1 and 2, you now have a highly functional, yet affordable communications infrastructure to serve your staff and your customers.


4. High Trained, Properly Motivated, Customer Service Representatives:
- At the end of the day, it's humans that make customers happy or not. Invest in your customer service staff. Cross-train them as much as possible, so they can handle a broader range of customer service inquiries. Empower them to make decisions, or take a course of action, hold them accountable. Reward them for a job well done, get rid of them if they are unwilling or unable.

Internet Explorer 8 (IE 8) causes the left pane in MailFlow to be expanded

Thursday, July 9, 2009

This article outlines how to resolve a display issue that is caused by Internet Explorer version 8 (IE8). This display issue would cause the left pane in VisNetic MailFlow to be stretched to the right and not allow for an Agent to view tickets or ticketboxes. (note: this has been fixed and will be in an upcoming release - however this is the current workaround for existing customers)

To implement:

1. Browse to the VisNetic MailFlow installation directory (typically c:\program files\deerfield.com\visnetic mailflow)

2. Navigate into the wwwroot folder.

3. Rename the following file to a temporary names:


4. Navigate to the wwwroot\javascript folder
5. Rename the following files to temporary names:

main.jmf ticketlist.jmf keycode.jmf

6. Download this file

7. Extract the contents of the zip file to the appropriate folders.

8. Have Agents clear their browser cache of temporary files and cookies in IE 8. To perform this, from within IE 8 click on Tools then select Internet Options. From the General tab click the button Delete Files. Make sure the following options are checked:

Temporary Internet Files Cookies

Once those options are verified, click the Delete button at the bottom.

9. Refresh the MailFlow login page

MailFlow and 3CX a Hit at Internet Retailer!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hey everyone - for the fourth year in a row Deerfield.com has shown VisNetic MailFlow at Internet Retailer Conference and Expo, however this year was something special as we unveiled the new 3CX Phone System and MailFlow integration that is due to be released this July. The new integration takes advantage of the CRM plug-in capabilities of the new 3CX Call Assistant that was released in conjunction with 3CX V7.1.

Essentially, MailFlow can be described as an email PBX that is used by customer service departments. It is especially useful for organizations that are using email for a customer, vendor, or partner contact point. For a few more details - see the following blog post from the recent 3CX Boot Camp that Deerfield participated in. If you are interested in previewing the new MailFlow and 3CX solution, or becoming a Deerfield reseller - send an email to sales at deerfield.com, or call 989-732-8856

Deerfield Shows Preview of New MailFlow/3CX Integration at 3CX Boot Camp

Friday, June 19, 2009

Last Tuesday in Chicago 46 attendees representing about 30 companies participated in 3CX sales and technical training. Attendees were greeted with a brief introduction by Brian Conway - 3CX Channel Manager, whom during his presentation shared with the group 3CX's V8 roadmap. Mike Harris from the 3CX premium partner Worksighted conducted the 3CX technical training by showing a 3CX installation, various menu options, and some basic troubleshooting. Before lunch, brief presentations were performed by 3CX distributors, and many participants walked away with giveaway prizes which included IP Phones, from SNOM and Aastra, Software from Deerfield, a VoiceGear Skype Gateway, and USB drives from 3CX.

Of particular interest - Deerfield's Mike Ryan, Product Manager showed a preview of the new integration between 3CX and VisNetic MailFlow, which is an on-premise, web-driven email "PBX" used for customer service. By utilizing the new 3CX CRM integration, Deerfield created a plug-in that allows for integration between VisNetic MailFlow and 3CX. While using VisNetic MailFlow with the 3CX CRM plug-in, users are able to received a pop-up screen on their computer (when an incoming call comes into their phone) that displays contact information about the caller from the MailFlow database. Users can instantly view the contact history of the caller by simply selecting a link; both phone and email correspondence - while also creating a new "note" for the contact during the current call which will time/date stamp and record the duration of the conversation. Typed notes recapping the call can also be stored in the note which than can be later viewed by any user with the proper credentials with a few clicks of the mouse.

In a later post - I'll detail the 3CX/MailFlow integration, but you can also get a look at it yourself by contacting Deerfield Sales here.

OutlookPower Puts the Spotlight on MailFlow

Friday, May 22, 2009

MailFlow recently caught the attention of OutlookPower Magazine. They wrote a Product Spotlight article, indicating: "MailFlow's an interesting beast, because either you need it, or you don't. If you have a sales team, a tech support team, or any sort of organization that gets a lot of incoming email that needs to be tracked, organized, and processed, MailFlow might be just for you." Check out the full article!

VisNetic MailFlow

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Deerfield.com announced today a new release of VisNetic MailFlow is available, version

The release includes two feature enhancements:

Feature Enhancement: Increased inbound attachment file creation retries from 2 to 4.
Feature Enhancement: Added registry key to force archive import of Ticket data only (DWORD:ArchiveRestoreTicketsOnly) when set to 1 will force next archive import to Ticket data only then resets to 0.

Click here to view the release notes and here to download VisNetic MailFlow V3.8.1.3

New VisNetic MailFlow Release

Friday, March 6, 2009

I am pleased to report that VisNetic MailFlow is now available! This release resolves a handful of issues and is a recommended upgrade for all MailFlow users. Here are the release notes:

- Fixed issue where archive import would report success but no Tickets or Messages would be imported.

- Fixed issue where Ticket escalation from Ticket Properties dialog would fail.

- Fixed issue where quote in Subject would be escaped on Message forward and reply.

- Fixed issue where leaving message composition window open longer than session timeout value would cause orphan outbound message id.

With current upgrade protection VisNetic MailFlow may be installed directly overtop of existing installations.

VisNetic MailFlow may be downloaded at: http://www.deerfield.com/download/visnetic-mailflow/

VisNetic MailFlow Demonstrations Now Available!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

In my discussions with people concerning what MailFlow is, does, and what it can do for them, I find, inevitably the best answer is: let me show you. It is in this spirit that we announce the availability of online MailFlow demonstrations. People considering using MailFlow may either login to the MailFlow demo by themselves to poke around and get a feel for what MailFlow looks like, or schedule a guided online demo with a MailFlow Service specialist, where they can demonstrate the product for you and answer your questions. Self serve demos will give you an idea of what MailFlow is and does, but guided demos are recommended to give you a more thorough, personalized demonstration. Demoing MailFlow is free and easy, and will help you in your decision making process. Get started now!

VisNetic MailFlow on Facebook

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Well, it had to happen - MailFlow now has it's own Facebook page. Feel free to visit, post on the wall, start a forum topic, or upload a favorite photo! We'll be updating the site regularly with info of interest to MailFlow users, and just some random chit chat between us.

In order to access all the cool features of the MailFlow Facebook page (posting to the wall, creating a discussion topic, becoming a fan, etc.), you'll need to sign up for a free Facebook account if you don't already have one. Of course if all you want to do is look first, then browsing the page will work just fine without signing up. But hey - you don't have a Facebook account already, ...what you living under a rock? Facebook is not just for college kids anymore ..

There are a few ways to quickly find the new MailFlow Facebook page:

1. If you an existing Facebook user, then just go to the Deerfield.com Facebook page and select it from the "favorite pages" in the right pane.

2. Just go directly to the VisNetic MailFlow page here.

3. Whether you are a Facebook user or not, you can access it directly from http://mailflow.atfacebook.net/ , and if you need to you can create your new Facebook account there.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

When to Move on From Outlook

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

If you’re receiving 30 or more emails a day, Outlook or any other standard email client is not designed to meet your needs.

Recent studies show that 88% of consumers emailing an online organization expect to receive a response within 24 hours, and 33% say they will not do business with a company if they do not receive a response within an hour of sending their message. Most organizations realize the importance of responsive, professional customer service, yet more often than not they fail to meet their own expectations, or more importantly, their customers. When analyzing why most organizations are not providing quality service via email, you must first look at the tools with which they have to correspond.

As a personal email client, Outlook is an excellent solution to send, receive, and organize individual messages. It also has the lowest learning curve, as company representatives are accustomed to its design and functionality. However, as inbound business email traffic to your organization increases, personal email clients are not equipped to properly route and track messages to meet customer service standards. Automatically routing messages to the appropriate parties or groups, tracking messages and how quickly they are being responded to, alerting executives when messages aren’t responded to in a timely fashion, are all essential functions that are necessary to ensure that business email is being responded to quickly and in accordance with your company guidelines. Personal email clients do not provide this level of functionality.

Email Response Management Systems are designed to remedy these problems, and provide organizations with the essential tools to capitalize on all inbound messages. They are the logical progression from personal email clients to collective business wide email clients, allowing representatives to view all customer history correspondence, create and use standard responses to most frequently asked questions, easily distribute messages to appropriate representatives and more. Administrators proactively route messages to groups and individuals using highly flexible routing criteria (email to or from address, message content, subject line, etc.), are notified if messages aren’t answered in a reasonable time frame, track emails - who answered what and how quickly, report on overall email traffic and individual performance, and much more. Akin to the progression from individual phone lines to a phone distribution tree, Email Response Management Systems automatically route emails to appropriate groups and individuals and ensure quality, timely responses, resulting in vastly improved customer satisfaction and immediate, recognizable ROI.