As a support channel, email was originally viewed by many as inherently superior to traditional phone calls: asynchronous support, flexible agent staffing, an expected short delay—a buffer against the real-time expectations of speaking with a live agent.
Sometimes, though, the high-level promise of a technology fails to pan out. In 2007, for example, Linksys, a Cisco Systems subsidiary that provides Voice over Internet Protocol services, removed email as a support channel entirely, citing slow resolution times as the rationale. The result? Eighty percent of traffic went to discussion forums, the rest went to chat—and there was no increase in phone volume. “For some companies,” says John Ragsdale, vice president of research for the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), “it’s just not the most effective way to solve problems.”
And yet Ragsdale says eliminating email is far from a universal solution. “In the nontechnical consumer world, email makes a lot of sense,” he says. “A high percentage of interactions can be automated with email tools.” TSIA members seem to agree, with adoption of email-response management systems rising from 45 percent to 55 percent in the last two years.
Ragsdale says that, given this market’s maturity, vendor selection doesn’t necessarily come down to functionality—though the table stakes now include the ability to dynamically build responses as well as real-time integration into data systems and pre-existing knowledge bases—but instead whether a given vendor already owns the agent desktop. Best-of-breed email management vendors still have a shot, he says, unless a prospect is already using a CRM system that has an email solution. “It makes me uncomfortable if a company evaluates a wholly separate email tool and creates another repository of information out of synch with everything else,” he says.
Email management solutions come in both on-premises models and software-as-a-service (SaaS) ones, but Ragsdale says that in either case two factors remain key: scalability and flexibility. “Say you’re Amazon.com and Christmas comes along,” he says. “If you’re chunking through [only] two to three emails per second, you could be two weeks behind in processing email. That’s why large financial services companies must have 20 to 30 email servers—to handle the traffic at peak times.”
Even if a lack of such hardware options leads you to SaaS, you still need to decide if an email management module will suffice or if it’s necessary to purchase an entire suite. According to Michael Maoz, research vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, many suites now include a “customer interaction hub” that brings together all points of customer communication. That’s a boon for customer experience, and it requires more than an on-demand email management module. Ragsdale says four vendors seem to grab the most attention these days—eGain Communications, Kana Software, nGenera, and RightNow Technologies—and they all have a SaaS offering. (See Vendor Shortlist, below, and the Web Interaction Management category in this year’s CRM Service Awards, page 29.)
An on-premises solution will cost approximately $100,000 for an email server, software, and infrastructure, and then $3,000 per user license. On-demand offerings can run $99 per user per month, but don’t expect to pay full price, Ragsdale says—current discounts are running as high as 50 percent.
Best-of-breed or otherwise, email management solutions can deliver savings in time and cost if utilized properly, Ragsdale says. The main thing, he adds, is recognizing when it’s best not to use email. “Have a policy and training procedure in place to help customers escalate out of email to phone or chat if necessary,” he suggests. “That’s the biggest stumbling block…. Email-only agents get into situations clearly more technical than email [can handle]. Someone needs to pick up the phone and call.”
- Make better use of autoresponse.
- Have a policy and training procedure in place to help customers escalate out of email if necessary.
- Start with a vendor for your primary knowledge base and see if it has an email solution that satisfies your needs.
- Identify the issues best left for email and the ones best handled in other communication channels.
- et expectations for when customers can expect an email response.
Source: John Ragsdale, Technology Services Industry Association
VENDORS: THE SHORT LIST
eGain Communications (http://snipr.com/eGainMail) --- eGain Mail, part of the company's larger eGain Service, features predefined workflows, common knowledge base, intelligent content parsing, and Web-based consoles.
Kana Software (http://snipr.com/KanaResponse) --- Kana Response, part of the KanaIQ solution, features automated message handling, secure messaging, advanced security, performance monitoring, and enterprise architecture.
nGenera (http://snipr.com/nGenEmail) --- part of the larger nGen CIM solution, nGen Email features intelligent rules and routing, intuitive user interface, manager/supervisor functionality, and audit trails and compliance capabilities.
RightNow Technologies (http://snipr.com/RNOWemailmgmt) --- RightNow Email Management, part of the RightNow CX family of products, features organizationwide response tracking, skills-based business rules, and agent routing of email. RightNow Smart Assistant scans messages and automatically suggests answers.