Well-managed e-mail steps up as a differentiator for companies

Successful companies are using e-mail as a means of differentiation from their competitors, benefiting from the ability to effectively engage with customers at their own level.

June 13, 2012

Successful companies are using e-mail as a means of differentiation from their competitors, benefiting from the ability to effectively engage with customers at their own level, improving efficiency and providing effective two-way dialogue.

The flexibility of e-mail offers prospects and existing customers an easy interaction with any company whenever they choose and from wherever they may be. This constitutes relevant communications on the customer’s terms via PC, mobile phones and PDAs.

The value of such communication is that it promotes lead cultivation, cross-selling and up-selling as well as after-sales interaction. However, it also requires good planning and management.

“Business environments today are beginning to develop a 24/7 approach in response to increasing expectations as regards service and response,” says Mark Edwards, director of product and services at integrated technology and people resource solutions provider, Intuate Group.

He adds that a US survey indicated that close to 40 percent of respondents did not respond to e-mail within 25 hours and did not know what their average response time was.

Companies should implement strategies to elevate e-mail performance using technology such as auto-responses confirming receipt of an e-mail and stating that it is being processed. With today’s technology this is easy to achieve cost-effectively.

“To better manage expectations companies should implement e-mail metrics much as they do with voice contacts. It is possible to set and achieve reasonable response times without adding resources in an integrated contact centre. Unified contact centre software will manage multiple channels, including inbound and outbound voice and e-mail simultaneously. While inbound voice channels have priority, e-mails can be delivered to specific agent groups when they are not engaged on the phone.”

Unified contact centre software operates with a common database structure, allowing cohesive management of all types of interactions. Sales staff can view these interactions as well as notes and results. Managers can analyse categories of interactions and use the results to plan appropriate follow-up actions, including proactive voice calls to check on the customer’s level of satisfaction.

Edwards says it pays dividends to ensure that the contact is routed to the appropriate agent or team that has the right skills and knowledge to meet customer expectations. “Proactive communications will generate good customer service. Being aware of any issues that will affect a customer group and contacting them first will enable the company to avoid a deluge of inbound calls later and the contact is also an opportunity for up-selling and cross-selling.”

Agents armed with the right information from all communication channels, including voice, web and e-mail, as well as CRM systems and back office applications, will provide better services. Agent desktop software offering customer history and the ability to view all interactions and notes will highlight sales opportunities and issues.

Unified contact centre software assists in comprehensive management of the performance of all contact channels. Through real time text and graphical displays, managers are able to see what agents are doing at all times. Statistical and interaction data is captured for historical reports so that performance can be analysed and real-time statistics icons assist with agent resource management.

Promotions and marketing campaigns can also be monitored, says Edwards. These are typically run through multiple outlets such as e-mail blasts, website advertising and online or print publications, among others.

“Evaluating the effectiveness of such campaigns can be difficult. However, elements of unified contact centre systems allow the creation of media categories for the tracking of e-mail and telephone sources, which provide data that can establish the impact and success of such campaigns.”

Many organisations continue to use personal e-mail programmes such as Outlook and Lotus Notes for the handling of general corporate e-mail. Typically these e-mail programmes are beneficial for individuals, however, they are generally incapable of handling, routing and reporting on general non-personal e-mail. Such systems also do not easily cope with surges of promotional e-mail or when and issue arises. Another weakness is that they do not easily scale or manage e-mails as part of a comprehensive communications programme that includes voice and other contact channels, nor do they have the tracking and reporting capability for full effectiveness.

Edwards says companies should examine criteria to establish if they need to automate e-mail in the contact centre.

Key criteria are: inadequate auto response mechanisms; receipt of 50-75 e-mails daily or 1,500 to 3,000 a month; representatives spending time each day sorting and routing e-mails; difficulty with routing e-mails to appropriate skilled agents; re-routing e-mails when agents are absent or times when e-mails go unanswered; difficulty handling e-mail spikes in busy or promotional periods; reviewing e-mails to pick up trends and create reports; and inadequate tracking response times and performance.

“If companies identify any of these criteria as applying to them then it is a sign to start looking at an e-mail programme designed for contact centres.”

Edwards stresses that technologies should work together to simplify people’s lives. Operational managers and representatives need technology to enable them to achieve more work with fewer resources in less time. The technology should also deliver improved and faster services for customers.

“Unified contact centre systems bring all the contact channels together so that managers can achieve more each day through easy-to-use intuitive interfaces managing telephone, e-mail and web contacts to consolidate resource management and reporting. With a common database, managers and representatives can view all contact channels as part of a comprehensive customer history for better productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction. Last but not least, they gain the ability to rapidly adapt to fast-changing conditions.”