What Every Customer Service Leader Should Know About Email Management
An effective email management strategy should be guided by a clear set of basic principles. An organization has to understand the need for an appropriate email management system to manage customer emails, be aware of the overall multichannel nature of customer service, set internal objectives and SLAs, and acquire executive sponsorship and funding.
The following fundamentals apply across all aspects of successful email response management:
Ground Rule: Always Respond
A delayed response is not ideal but always better than not responding at all. The ground rule is to always respond to every customer email that requires a response. It is important to clearly identify emails that may not require a response (like a “thank you” note) as well as emails that may just require a single automatic acknowledgement (like customer service questionnaires, responses to promotions, or RSVPs).
Document this basic principle as part of the internal service objectives and use functionality available in email management systems to configure alarms as well as notifications when emails remain unanswered for more than a specific period of time. If possible, include methods for self-service or even standard answers.
Scale By Investing in an Email Response Management System
If the organization currently has or is thinking of using an email client like Outlook, Notes, or Thunderbird to manage customer emails, consider investing in a specialized email management application.
According to Jupiter Research, “Companies that deploy email automation solutions are able to handle at least 54 percent more email inquiries per hour than those with custom-built applications, and 63 percent more inquiries per hour than companies using business applications.”
Although the likes of Outlook are effective for managing one’s personal and business emails, they lack a large set of critical features required to effectively manage customer queries, including the concepts of departments and queues, intelligent routing, agent productivity tools such as preconfigured responses and shortcuts, personalization tools, knowledge base integrations, customer service metrics, and many more. Unless these features are leveraged, chances are it will be a constant struggle and a losing battle when it comes to meeting response expectations and ensuring customer satisfaction.
Keep an Overall Multi-Channel Strategy in Mind
Any customer service strategy should consider the various traditional as well as the more recent communication channels— phone, email, online chat, self-service, and web collaboration. For effective customer service, it is imperative to provide cohesive and consistent service across all channels. Even if it is planned to implement just an email solution at this time, ensure that the system either offers other channel modules in a pre-integrated fashion or allows for easy integration with other applications.
An integrated offering will ensure the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) by providing out-of-the-box features, such as unified customer history across channels, an integrated knowledge base, multi-channel routing, and cohesive analytics.
View Email Differently From Phone
Responding to emails requires a different set of agent skills and system features than when compared to answering phone calls, especially when contact centers are overwhelmed. For example, email agents should be good at reading comprehension and written communication, as opposed to listening skills and voice accents in the case of phone agents. Multi-tasking is also an additional skill set requirement. Agents will often handle multiple channels, such as phone or chat.
From a system standpoint, immediate and real-time access to customer data is useful for improved email agent productivity but is not as critical as in the case of phone (since the customer is not holding the line on the other end). Reporting is also impacted as agents might manage more than one email at a time, while phone agents usually only handle one customer at a time. Consider these differences between phone and email communications when selecting an email management system as well as staffing customer service teams.
Ensure Executive Commitment and Sponsorship
Acquire ongoing executive commitment and sponsorship early in the process of implementing an email management system. Identify two or more senior executive sponsors, as selecting a single individual may leave you vulnerable in case that person leaves the organization. Work with the email management vendor to present case studies and success stories to the executive team. Secure adequate funding for at least the first phase of the implementation with guaranteed continuous funds (which could be based on meeting predetermined first-phase objectives). Executive sponsorship and adequate funding make email customer service a tangible initiative with a real chance at success.
Establish Objectives and Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
Consider current email response processes and historic data to establish internal goals, as well as clear service level agreements. In the case of just starting off or not being sure about meeting objectives (for example, at least 90 percent of the time), consider using statements like, “We endeavor to respond to all emails within 24 hours and, at the latest, within three days.” However, remember that more and more customers are expecting faster email response times. If a customer is told that it will take 72 hours to respond and their requirement is less, they will immediately escalate to another interaction channel, such as phone. Standard customer expectation is a 24-hour response time, but only 46 percent of companies answer within this time period. Establish realistic SLAs and set expectations upfront. If possible, communicate these to customers on the website.
Your customers are the most important aspect of your business, and they will always come to you with questions and comments. Take some time to optimize the ways in which customer messages get handled. Maybe there are reoccurring questions that could be deflected away from email. Call a meeting to review your current progress, establish objectives, create response time goals, meet with executives, and discuss the pros and cons of multiple email management systems. With the right email management system, your customers will feel engaged and important, and so will you.