Email management systems can be divided into three primary functional categories. Most systems offer a mix of all three categories, with a varying emphasis on each. These primary categories are:
Automated systems analyze incoming email for content, tone and importance then automatically reply to the sender with appropriate information. If the system cannot match a prepared response with the email inquiry, the message is forwarded to an agent. While key words and phrases can be used to analyze the content of incoming email without great difficulty, developing effective automated responses for the wide range of incoming email inquiries can be very challenging and time consuming.
Assisted systems are best used for dealing with commonly asked questions or for providing answers to straightforward questions. The system generates a response and then routes that response to an agent for approval or minor editing. This frees agents from answering the same questions over and over but still provides a check to assure that accurate information is being communicated. Questions that cannot be handled by the system are directly routed to an agent.
Manual systems are used to control the flow of incoming emails. Emails are distributed to agents based on a set of user-defined criteria. Agents are given emails or can request emails as they are capable of handling them. Status and reporting are provided to help management ensure the proper level of service is being provided.
There are a few key features that you should look for in whichever type of system you are considering. These are:
Address spoofing - This feature enables you to hide the agent's actual email address and have it replaced with a generic address such as: email@example.com.
Real-time status - This is like a window into your contact center - it gives you the ability to see what is happening as it happens. You can watch the volume of emails being handled, monitor response times, track individual emails that have been in the system too long, and almost every other function of the contact center. Real time status functionality is crucial to assuring efficient email management.
Historical reporting - Reporting that provides a historical look at the contact center's key performance data. This reporting helps identify trends that are essential to improving contact center performance. Historical reporting is particularly important with an assisted system where identifying recurring questions that could have automated responses is the key to the process.
It's important to seek a solution that fits your needs. While a full-blown automated system may be everyone's desire, the reality of capturing the information required to support that system is unrealistic for a great many companies, especially small and mid-sized companies. For these, an assisted or manual system can do an excellent job managing their email.
The final issue to consider is the future. Right now, email management may be the problem. But despite the tremendous growth of email as a communication medium, nearly every industry forecast indicates that Web based communication will very soon overtake email and voice as the most common form of b-to-b and b-to-c contact and voice over the internet will soon be commonplace as well. So it's important to take these into account as you plan your email solution. Look for solutions that are flexible, scalable and adaptable and you'll save yourself a great deal of trouble down the road.
This was first published in February 2001