A story about Contact Center Software

Monday, October 11, 2004

Some thoughts on e-mail in the contact center

Do you have an e-mail account?
What a stoopid question! Of course you do. Everyone and their dog has at least three to four e-mail accounts. Let's count. I have a gmail, yahoo, hotmail, ADSL-provider and work account. And I'm checking them regularly. They all serve a different purpose. So e-mail is very, very popular. Right?
Well, yes, but not in the contact center. Yet. How come? Let me tell you a story.
Yes, e-mail is extremely popular - many businesses would cease to exist within weeks without e-mail. Some people would rather do business without a telephone than without e-mail. However, the level of e-mail usage prevalent in most contact centers is amazingly low. One would expect that, with the ease of writing e-mails, customers would use it to communicate with contact centers. But this is not happening. E-mail is in most cases only a couple of percentages of the voice volume.
How is this possible?
In the past years when customers and companies discovered e-mail, they have tried to communicate with each other, however, a lot of companies rushed to implement e-mail systems resulting in a poor implementation, a lack of vision and certainly a lack of understanding at the top level. So the customers' natural reaction is to stop using e-mail. Which is what happened in most cases. Hence the fact that e-mail is only a small part of the volume of a contact center.
Individual organisations have managed to make e-mail the channel of their choice, especially in the IT sector, but for most it is not the case. This is a pity, because e-mail is the best channel for high complexity, low urgency transactions - you can explain a lot in an e-mail; include documents and so on - but you will not have the same turnaround time as for a telephone call.
As I described earlier, it is desirable to manage all interaction channels with the same business rules so that you can act quickly and consistently when the SLA slips. Too often I see that contact center sacrifices their e-mail queue in order to meet the telephony service level. And you must understand, these e-mail interactions already have been in the queue for a day to reach the same urgency.
It seems to be sensible, doesn't it? The e-mail will still be waiting after the client has been dealt with, and no-one wants a high level of abandoned calls. Now let's look at it in another way. A telephone queue is to a certain extend self managing. Read that again. A telephone queue is to a certain extend self managing. When you wait too long in a queue - what do you do? You drop the call. Right? The e-mail queue will not do this. I can write an e-mail to a company and when I don't get an answer back in a couple of days, I resent the e-mail thinking that the e-mail is lost. Now you have two e-mails to answer if your system is not intelligent enough to match the two together. Thus, old e-mails will pile up and agents can spend all day answering request that no longer apply because the customer has lost interest, went to a competitor, or oh irony, has telephoned your call center to get the reply denied to them by e-mail.
Perhaps you must not sacrifice your e-mail queue to meet your telephony SLA.
So what should you do?
  • First of all, implement a single 'universal queue'. I cannot stress this enough. All interactions should be managed and routed according to business rules, regardless of channels. This will also help you having a single view across all your channels - one of the key ways to improve the quality of the offered services.
  • Give an autoreply with perhaps an estimated answering time or SLA. Customers need to know that they are in a queue and will be helped!
  • Secondly, you can gain considerably cost savings from (semi)automated e-mail handling. E-mails can be analysed automatically, and an answer can be constructed and proposed to an agent. The agent then only has to check whether the automated process has done the job well, add a human touch, and send the e-mail.
  • Furthermore, train your agents on e-mail response. Unlike speech, there is no real interaction with the customer and the agent run the risk of offending customers if they use the wrong words. And, telephony agents may not necessarily make good e-mail agents.
The universal queue will allow the routing and handling of every channel to be managed dynamically, allowing you to build an image of each and every customer's interaction history. As I said before, one of the mail reasons for the low numbers of e-mails in contact centers is that the channel was offered to customers without proper support and system. Used once, then abandoned by customers who went back to the channel they could depend on, the voice channel. This gave e-mail a bad name, and customers are still hesitant about using it - unless they have a positive prior experience. This means that the first experience a customer must have of using your e-mail channel as a contact method must be similar, no better than the telephone. Otherwise - why would they use it again?
Next time you deal with a nasty e-mail problem in your contact center, check us outWe make such software. It works - it doesn't hurt to ask me about it


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