Email Management– What’s the fuss?
By John Cockerill, President, The Taylor Reach Group, Inc.
You might be considering adding email to your centers capabilities. If so there is a lot of angst about doing so, from who will do it, how do we control it, to will the customers like it? Keep in mind the following thought. This is not new.
Call centers are known by many terms. One however that has fallen off from use is, Correspondence Department. Yes, before the days of email and even before phones people wrote letters to companies and organizations. Each needed to be answered. Staff had to be trained to know or find the answer, write it clearly, resolve the issue, maintain quality and act within set guidelines for responses, production, and behaviour. The art and science of managing these has not changed all that much. What has changed are the tools, forms or typewriters to computers with printers and email, and the speed with which to do the tasks. The underlying issues remain the same as ever. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
The new tools especially in the email management are wonderful additions to a call center looking to reduce costs. A call center that has only phone calls must staff according to the load that arrives. So a center management must forecast with some accuracy the expected load by each half hour for every hour open. Some forecast accurately. While others pray and hope for the best. The same forecasting approaches can be true with email. Email through by its nature can be more forgiving of errors. Center management have a little more time to recover given the service standard for email. Calls are live and are a here and now problem. The call service level for voice calls is often stated as 80% of the calls, answered in 20 seconds, with a less than 3% abandon; or 80/20/3.
For email service standards range from 100% in 2 hours (100/2) to 100% in 48 hours (100/48) and many other standards as well. A consensus for most commercial organizations seems to be settling in about the 4 to 24 hour range as being acceptable to both the firms and the customers. Any defined standard is good for all involved but especially the call center management and their agents. With a delay between receipt of an email an the required response, a center can smooth the work load for agents by enabling them to take calls during the heavy volume periods and handle some or all email during the lighter call volume periods. For example in a typical call arrival pattern of light early morning, heavy mid morning to mid afternoon, and increasingly lighter over the evening period; a center might put one or two extra agents on early in the morning to clear the overnight email backlog. Then as the call volume increases switch the agents to only being on the phone. Similarly in the evenings a reversed approach can be taken. Thus what the service level standard creates, effectively a response delay, enables time shifting of the work from the ‘here and now’ model of calls to the ‘I’ll get to it shortly’ model.
This response delay has another advantage not always obvious. It greatly aids agent training and especially new agent induction. Most email tools now allow for supervisor oversight. Agents build the response reply, then have a supervisor review and release the email. In operations where responses are more complex and require interactions with other systems to gain an answer or look up information or orders, this delay allows the supervisor to check that a new agent knows the correct response, materials and procedures before putting them on the phone with a live customer. Think of this as live practice without the real time pressure.
This same principle applies to very complex or infrequent questions; you know that ones I mean those questions that only get asked to any individual agent once in a blue moon. By using some of the business rules in the email tools, these very complex and/or infrequent questions can be bucketed to enable only a single agent or selected agents to process them. This way an agent gains experience quickly with supervisor oversight on items that may have taken months of ‘on the phone’ experience and without the oversight to ensure quality.
The new email tools provide a manager the same detailed reporting that we’ve come to expect and love from the phone and ACD systems. No groaning please, some of them are quite good. One example below shows the volume of emails and the daily delay against the service standard. So now mangers who have in the past made do with Outlook, Lotus Notes and other email tools, not designed for a production environment can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Detailed insight into the email production floor is now available.
Reports by agent, issue, delay, arrival pattern, response time and thread are available. This provides both a deeper insight to the operation but also evidence and data to improve the forecast that is so important for budgets, staffing and meeting the service levels.
One use of this insight is the tracking and evidencing of issues. With paper and printout in hand the quality assurance team, managers can now make the case for changes to company policies and practices quicker than was possible before. This is a superior approach to listening to a few calls. Nothing is as convincing as being handed reams of printouts on the same issue with a neat tabulation that summaries the point. This data becomes the basis for developing an ROI for the proposed changes.
Service level reporting also becomes easier since now it is simple to find out the oldest email that has not been responded to. The new email management systems are exciting and there are a lot of options of how to deploy them to choose from. The traditional premise based, owned and installed on site, to hosted software as a service. All are an improvement over the just install MS Outlook approach. Think of this as the improvement of going from single line hunt groups and moving to an Automatic Call Distributer (ACD) or instead envelopes to electronic and onto an Email ACD or Automatic Communications Distributor.
We are assembling an inventory of Email management tools. Send us your favorites and why to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will send you a copy of the list as it is built and added to our web site.