Far from what it seems, the use of email for customer service purposes is not decreasing, but increasing day by day for several reasons:
- It is quiet: Calling a bank or insurance call center when we are working may not be well received by our colleagues (and definitely not by our boss!)
- It is a 24x7 channel: We can send emails whenever it suits us (not all call centers receive phone calls 24x7) and we can read the messages in detail whenever we want.
- It is durable: Unlike the phone, email offers official communication with the company, providing confidence to the client.
In the past, contact center infrastructures have been provided with several tools in order to manage phone calls efficiently, but many times the proper management of prospect and client emails has been ignored.
The effects of dealing with customer emails wrongly are even worse than if done over the phone, as the client has a written copy of the answer that he or she can quickly propagate on social media.
INBENTA has worked with several clients to improve customer aervice using advanced natural language processing (NLP) technologies. From our experience, we have learned some important points to bear in mind within any customer service environment. These lessons can be summarized into 5 simple rules:
Rule number 1: Inform clients you have received their email as soon as possible
Sending a confirmation email to the client informing them that they will soon receive an answer gives confidence to any user. That email should ideally contain a “case number” or identifier so that the client can refer to it in any email (or phone call) that they generate.
Rule number 2: Your agents should have access to all the customer emails at any time
- “I was told that information was already updated”
- “I’m sorry sir, I don’t see any registration”
Similar conversations often take place in call centers, causing both clients and users to become frustrated and angry. Written documents provide an excellent opportunity to avoid this situation in the future. Therefore, agents should be able to easily access email (and phone calls) records for all customers.
Rule number 3: Canned answers can be a great resource, but only if they are high quality
One of our customers wanted to create and store a selection of standard responses based on answers used by agents in their call center. The idea was to create a knowledge base that would take into account a set of solutions previously written. Using a search engine, the agents could find these “solutions” and allegedly use their content again. As a result, in a few months this “knowledge base” had more than 15,000 solutions. Most of these contents were duplicates, which led to the search engine having trouble finding the most suitable solution most of the time.
The search engine became outdated, as well as the knowledge base; the agents went back to writing the answers by hand, even when 80% of the user questions were completely repetitive.
Standard answers (also called canned answers or FAQs, frequently asked questions) is an excellent productivity tool, bearing in mind the following conditions:
- There should be an editorial circuit, reviewing and editing the answers clearly and in detail. These answers should be periodically reviewed so that they are not outdated or (even worse) inconsistent with each other.
- An intelligent search engine should be used, so that the agents are able to find the standard answers easily and quickly. Using NLP and semantic search tools have shown to be very successful with this kind of application.
- The extent of the knowledge base should be managed. According to our experience with several of our customers, a knowledge base containing between 500 and 2,500 FAQs is strong enough to supply 80% of automated responses and small enough to be easily maintained.
Rule number 4: Clients positively value web self-service when it’s high quality
If rule number 3 has been followed, this rule can be easily applied: let the users search in the same knowledge base used by the agents in the company.
With several of our clients, the number of incoming emails (and phone calls) was reduced by about 90% just by allowing the customers to search through the business’ online solutions, Q&A (question and answer) systems, virtual assistants and semantic search engines.
In case customers do not find an answer to their question, or the answer does not fulfill their needs, they will eventually write an email or use the online forms.
Important: Do not make your clients repeat their question or complaint when they transition from web self-service to email. There is nothing more irritating than writing a question or complaint twice (this is a common mistake in call centers, so here is a great opportunity to avoid that).
Rule number 5: Measuring the level of service
Any email management tool in a call center should provide statistics about the following: emails sent and received, minimum and maximum response time average, SLA (Service Level Agreement) level of performance, productivity and performance of each agent in the call center, whole traceability of all the incoming and outgoing messages, etc.
Far from just being used as a tracking system for the agents, these statistics should be used to find aspects of the experience that need to be tweaked and the type of communication held with the customer, allowing you to ultimately implement mechanisms for improvement.
According to our experience in several environments, there are obviously other suggestions to bear in mind, such as:
- emails received are a great opportunity for cross selling
- emails should share a common answering style
- the system should be compatible with your corporate CRM
- It can be integrated with your CTI system to avoid receiving phone calls while answering emails, etc.
While email use for customer care continues to grow over the next few years, we strongly believe that more and more new tools will include these and many other features.