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Channel Management in the Call Center: Email

Email management is no longer "the next big thing" for contact centers, but there are still centers out there struggling with mastering the management of this channel. Those contact centers that do it well have several things in common, so take a look at these tips based on their leading practices and attributes.

Recruit, hire and train for email aptitude and skills. The skills required to handle email differ from those required to handle phone calls, so look for ways to build email channel aptitude evaluation opportunities in your hiring process. Online recruiting, whether on CareerBuilders.com or Monster.com -- or on the job board at icmi.com, dedicated to call center jobs. Web-based recruiting programs attract candidates who are already savvy to the ways of electronic communication. Take this chance to establish an email dialog with candidates. And, if candidates move on after the initial contact, take it to the next level with tools such as simulated email transactions -- you can also use these tools to evaluate existing agents' aptitude for new channel assignments.

Once you've got your email agent onboard, focus on the additional business aspects of email in your training programs. Incorporate modules that focus on how email is handled in the center, the agents’ specific role and performance objectives, features of the email management technology the center uses, and security or privacy issues that agents must be aware of.

Set service levels for email. Email response times should be clear to customers, feasible for your center's delivery capabilities and acceptable to customers. Clearly communicate your contact center's email response time objective to customers. There's no industry standard for email response time, but it should be standard practice to let customers know how long they can expect to wait for a response to their email contacts. This is generated by your service level goal, but don't just set it randomly; base it on your center's ability to handle its email workload and your customers' needs and expectations around your company's business.

An auto- respond option featured in even the most rudimentary email applications -- where the customer instantly receive a notification that their email has been received and let's them know when they can expect an answer or resolution from the center — puts customers at ease and eliminates additional emails from the customer wondering if their emails reached you and when they'll hear back from you.

Get the most out of your email management system. Your email management system (EMS) can help make sure that each customer contact is efficiently routed to the right agent and that each agent is armed with the information and tools needed to deliver quality service in a timely manner.

EMS applications allow the creation of critical Web forms that can guide the customer through his or her email composition, ensuring that all emails are clear, concise and follow a consistent format, making them easier for agents to understand and respond to.

The skills-based routing function of the EMS categorizes emails by type or topic and routes each contact to an agent with the appropriate skills or knowledge and availability to effectively handle the inquiry within the center’s response-time parameters.

The EMS can also provide staff with access to complete customer account and/or transaction histories and can also be used to help your center build and grow a centralized email knowledge base.

You can also use your EMS application's reporting capability to evaluate productivity, spot trends and get a heads-up on potential problems.
Master email work-force management. Just as with phone contacts, centers need to accurately forecast incoming customer email volumes and schedule the appropriate number of agents needed to meet the centers response time objectives. Examining historic trends and preparing for events that could cause a spike in email volume (new marketing campaigns, for example) can help you predict staffing needs.

Make email quality assurance a top priority. Online customers live in a much larger and interactive community than typical phone-only customers--they have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of friends online and nearly as many online soapboxes from which to lambast your center's service quality. Thorough and consistent monitoring of agents' email contacts for quality purposes can help keep you out of customers' crosshairs. And there are tools that can help you do this, such as those that check agent email responses for accuracy in spelling, grammar, and message content, as well as for personalization, and that provide reports regarding agent performance. These tools, coupled with having quality specialists regularly monitor random transactions manually (and provide timely feedback) ensure that agents are providing the level of email support that the company expects and that customers demand.

Evaluate the detailed reports that EMS applications provide. These will reveal common problems that can be quickly remedied by tweaking the EMS or by providing coaching and training to staff.

Use email surveys -- whether administered inhouse or by using a third-party host provider -- to find out how your customers rate their email interaction with your center and work from those results to improve the channel.