22nd August 2019
by Derek Lewis
Head of Customer Experience
Businesses must recognise the need for efficiency and consistency across all the channels of communication they have with their customers. Contact centre automation, especially in key processes, is an effective way to achieve this.
Automation will also free up valuable time and budget, allowing you to focus on other areas such as enabling self-service capabilities, and letting your contact centre agents handle interactions that require human decision making and knowledge of more complex issues.
In this article, we’ll focus on the example of automating email processing, but automation of any communication channel can be viewed as a beneficial approach to improving customer experience and delivering consistently good service across the business.
Whilst there are thousands of business initiatives underway to offer customers web-chat, digital self-service solutions, and mobile apps – increasingly powered by bots and AI – email processing remains an under-appreciated item on the customer experience agenda.
The majority of organisations continue to manage email through shared mailboxes, taking up a disproportionate amount of time, money, and resources, to ultimately deliver poor customer service any way.
But there’s a significant risk that ignoring one of your channels will undermine the efforts and investment in others, as any lack of consistency in communication will damage customers’ trust and confidence, and variation in response times outside of clear SLAs will result in multiple contacts for the same issue, which is likely to hurt your brand and your pocket.
The specialist solution providers that offer digital multi-channel systems, and most of the leading contact centre vendors, all acknowledge the need for effective email management solutions alongside web-chat and voice, so why are established email workloads being overlooked?
Maybe it’s because email isn’t as trendy as the more innovative customer experience technologies, or because it’s managed outside the contact centre. Maybe it’s assumed that volumes will organically disappear sometime soon, or perhaps there’s an assumption that there isn’t an affordable fix.
The reality, however, is that your email communications today often contain a wealth of information to support your digital transformation across all channels, including:
Also, in addition to revealing the above insights, moving from shared mailboxes to any automated email processing solutions will present other benefits, such as:
Despite many early predictions, email volumes for contact centres and customer service teams don’t appear to have diminished much at all. It was expected that the growth of self-service applications and customer portals would reduce the need for free-format email communications, but there are still many scenarios across all industries where email enquiries remain a vibrant and valued method of engaging with end users.
Many customers are still comfortable with emails because they can be authored when not ‘connected’ and sent as soon as they’re next online, with a clear time and date stamp. Another benefit of email communication is the ability to describe issues in more detail or ask multiple questions, which other mediums like social media don’t allow.
At the end of the day, email communications will always have value, as long as the context and subject matter can’t or shouldn’t be dealt with in a more self-sufficient, structured, or convenient way.
Just a few years ago, considering automation for processing emails would have led you to consider adopting one of the specialist solutions, such as eGain or Eptica, probably resulting in a considerable on-premise investment with the siloed solution being used by specialist team(s) outside the contact centre, alongside other workloads in the back office.
At that time, many businesses would’ve considered the volume of emails, their complexity, and the widely anticipated reduction in email contact, and decided the investment in automation wasn’t justified or affordable. Some will have invested in those solutions, combining the email processing capability with inbound and outbound voice solutions such Maintel’s Callmedia, and some will have elected to combine projects for agent knowledge and web self-service along with email processing to aggregate budget to fund a project.
Instead, the majority of organisations across all industries continue to manage the emails within one or more inboxes, with manual manipulation of shared inboxes. This practice remains prevalent today, resulting in poor SLA management, processing inefficiencies, unwanted repeat contacts, and inconsistent, unhelpful responses. It also offers little or no reporting or statistics to guide continuous improvement initiatives.
If you’re one of those organisations that still manually manages emails from one or more shared inboxes in this way, now is the time to reconsider automation, as many technology vendors in this space have made acquisitions, merged technologies, and developed new solutions to make contact centre workloads like email and web-chat more accessible and affordable, which will in turn benefit the customer.
Furthermore, many specialist providers have transformed their propositions to be consumed through cloud services, shifting to usage-based charging models supported by managed services, making them more cost-effective than previous capex-based on-premise solutions.
Alongside continued efforts to remove and deflect the need for email communications into the business, the ability to consistently and efficiently process the remaining emails, plus voice and other digital back-office interactions, is crucial to a successful customer experience strategy these days.
There’s no doubt that continued advances in robotic process automation (RPA), natural language processing, and voice-enabled devices will continue to increase the volume of complex enquiries that can be triaged or fully serviced without the need for someone to write an email or fill out a contact form.
However, in the mean-time, there’s plenty of opportunity to make quick improvements that could release operational costs to fund projects which explore those new technologies.
Now is the perfect time to revisit the prospect of automating your email processing, to free up budget and resources as an integral part of your digital transformation and further improve customer experience.
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