10 Best Practices for Email Customer Service

Email is a popular interaction channel - customers find it convenient to use, and companies encourage customers to use email because it is less expensive than phone calls. Yet, customer satisfaction with email customer service is abysmally low. The complaints are almost always the same: delayed or no replies, and poorly composed replies with inadequate or incorrect information.

Is it that hard to make email-based customer service work? Here are 10 tried and true ways to improve email interactions with your customers.

1. Set and manage customer expectations -- Set up your email system to send automatic acknowledgments for all email and webform inquiries received. The acknowledgment must include the expected response time.

2. Monitor, monitor, monitor -- Define service levels based on customer expectations and service level agreements and enforce them with these capabilities:

  • Alarms that are triggered if an inquiry is not handled within a specified period
  • Monitors to provide real-time data about email volumes and handling times
  • Reports that measure service levels

3. Automate service with intelligent routing -- Create webforms customers can use to submit issues. Webforms make it easy to gather the information agents need to solve problems, classify inquiries, and route queries appropriately. Set up automated workflows to route emails based on the skill and workload of available agents, the nature of the inquiry, and the lifetime value of the customer. Make sure that workflows allow agents to collaborate with subject matter experts. Agents should be able to forward draft responses, and share internal notes.

4. Make complete customer information available -- Give agents easy access to account and billing information as well as complete interaction histories for each customer. Set up quick access to external data sources such as UPS tracking systems that agents frequently refer to while responding to inquiries.

5. Build a knowledge base -- A comprehensive, up-to-date knowledge base is the answer to most service problems.

  • Design a knowledge base that is easy to use and maintain, and make it available across all communication channels.
  • Start small. Analyze customer queries to identify simple, frequently asked questions (FAQs). Create high-quality responses to these questions.

6. Provide self-service access to the knowledge base --

  • Publish parts of your knowledge base on your website.
  • Encourage customers to search the knowledge base before contacting you by email or phone.
  • Escalate unresolved issues easily to email, chat, or phone agents with transcripts of the self-service sessions.

7. Preempt customer inquiries through proactive communication --

  • Use the reporting capability in your email management system to spot trends and topical issues that are generating similar customer inquires, and communicate those issues proactively to all affected customers.
  • Use the group-email capability of your system to communicate product and service news regularly to customers who have opted to receive such notifications.

8. Integrate email with other interaction channels -- In a multichannel service environment, create an enterprise-wide view of the customer with a centralized customer database.

9. Respond to customer feedback --

  • Use your email system's reporting and analysis capabilities to identify and categorize issues being raised by customers and to track trends.
  • Make this information regularly available through automated online reporting to business decision-makers so they can adjust service capabilities and product offerings accordingly.
  • Integrate marketing and upsell messages into service responses based on issue category and customer type.

10. Use a proven solution -- In evaluating email management systems, start with those solutions that have been proven in a business environment similar to yours. At a minimum, look for the following capabilities:

  • 100% browser-based agent interface for easy deployment that is independent of location
  • Categorization and intelligent routing of emails, auto-responses, and suggestions
  • Workflow for outgoing emails to ensure regulatory compliance and quality control
  • Secure messaging to authenticate customers before they view confidential information
  • Access to complete customer interaction history, with out-of-the box integration with call center infrastructure and business systems based on open standards
  • A searchable, self-learning knowledge base that is easy to create, use, and maintain
  • A comprehensive set of monitoring, reporting, and archiving tools
  • A scalable architecture to handle email volume growth
  • The ability to handle multilingual content, where appropriate.

If you wish to avoid the IT investment and system administration efforts, opt for a hosted email customer service application. Again, look for a vendor with a proven track record.

Provided by Meenakshi Sharma, Marketing Communications Manager, eGain