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By Don Hoyt

Recent studies indicate that when customers or potential customers contact an online organization, 80 percent prefer communicating by email over phone and over 50 percent will not do business with a company if they do not receive an adequate response to their email within 24 hours. The average response time to a customer email inquiry is 72 hours.

Most Online organizations communicate regularly with customers and clients by email, but few provide a level of email customer service that satisfies their clientele. While email service standards are low, the benefits of communicating via email are palpable:

Cost – an email conversation generally costs 75 percent less than a phone conversation.

Time – the time it takes to respond to an email is significantly less than a phone call. Email also allows both the customer and your company representative to multitask, responding to email messages while attending to other matters.

History – email allows for the easy tracking and retrieval of email conversations, which ensures accountability and allows for organizational benefits derived from the sharing of customer history and knowledge.

Challenges

Effectively managing email is critical to your organization’s ongoing ability to service customers. The customer of today is increasingly familiar with your competitors, and is no longer willing to wait for you to get back to them. From the moment an email inquiry reaches your company, the clock is ticking. You must have the capacity to:

• Answer customer inquiries quickly and efficiently, despite potentially high volumes of email
• Answer customer inquiries accurately, with information relevant to the customer’s needs
• Build and sustain lasting relationships with your customers

As you research means of managing the opportunities and problems of email communications, you will also find that the successful formula differs considerably from a traditional call-center service. There are new concepts and models which, when used properly, can greatly enhance your online customer service capability.

The Problem with Client-based Email

Traditional email, though widespread in use, fails to provide a framework for efficient and successful customer interaction. In the traditional model, each company representative runs email client software on their workstation for the purpose of interacting directly with customers. In such an environment, email communications are dispersed and isolated, and opportunities to manage, facilitate, and standardize customer interactions are practically non-existent.

Drawbacks include:

• Very difficult to monitor employee productivity
• No ability to intelligently or efficiently distribute employee workload
• No centralized store of communications history with customers
• Limited system administration potential (backups, archiving, etc.)
• Limited ability to increase productivity and training potential via collaboration
• No ability to access email systems from remote locations via the web
• No centralized store of customer contacts
• No ability to report on mail loads in order to refine business processes & operations

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Don Hoyt is the Marketing Director and Sales Manager for Deerfield.com.
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