E-mail streamlined for profit

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Outstanding customer service is an incredibly elusive goal.

A survey last month by researcher Internet Data Corp. reveals the percentage of business-to-consumer sites that offer interactive customer service will more than double to 41% of sites next spring. Still, more than half of consumer sites will lack interactive customer service, or "e-care."


One online game provider using Web-based e-mail management software to interact with online customers has been able to identify repetitive inquiries and to set up automatic responses to common customer questions.

This entertainment company has been able to improve response times and reduce the cost of a live agent handling each incoming e-mail. The company expects to answer at least 20% of incoming e-mails automatically and to service the remaining 80% using "auto-suggest" tools, which identify the best response in the e-mail management system and presents that answer. Consider the customer requirements driving e-care today. End-users are demanding access to consistent customer service via all channels: voice, Internet, fax and point-of-sale. They are demanding 24-hour, 7-day, 365-days-a-year customer service availability.

A bricks-and-mortar retailer that recently graduated to bricks-and-clicks has implemented e-mail management tools not only to help reduce the number of phone calls into the company's contact center, but to improve customer service.

The e-tailer implemented a system that intelligently routes product questions received by e-mail to designated product specialists who have access to an online response database, which aids efficiency, quality and accuracy when providing e-mail responses. Customers not only get the answers to their questions, they also receive product support documents, URLs and site navigation assistance that they would not have received in a phone conversation.

By layering enabling technologies to deliver an end-to-end view of customer relationship marketing, companies are able to avoid problems and to deliver e-care.

This means boosting service-handling capacity while reducing the time per call and overall costs to support the customer relationship.


An outsourced partner can help keep costs down, yet ensure proper investment in the right technology. However, if a business already has a substantial call center, an upgrade to a customer interaction center is more affordable, and the return-on-investment can be substantial. With technology available for real-time chat, e-mail routing and knowledge-base delivery of FAQs, customer satisfaction is improved.

Implementing a successful e-care solution does not depend on how many of these technologies are implemented, but rather on how all or any of these can be used to achieve a competitive advantage, a cost-effective solution for customer satisfaction and a more short-term return on investment. M

Lori Laurent is VP-eCRM sales for Harte-Hanks and its direct marketing division.

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