4 tips for effectively handling emails in a call center

New service channels emerge, but email remains a popular way for customers to contact businesses. Call centers should use the proper email management software and strategies.

Email is a growing channel for many call center customers who expect a quick and quality interaction.

Customer care channels continue to shift from more traditional channels -- phone, email, in-person and mail -- to more interactive channels -- chat, text and video conference -- but there are still customers who rely on email for support.

Many consumers have multiple email accounts for different purposes -- such as for shopping or for friends and family -- and studies expect the average number of email accounts per user will continue to grow.

Creating and maintaining effective email management practices is a key focus for contact centers that offer email as a support channel.

Benefits of email in contact centers

There are many benefits of using email as a communication channel. Its continued growth is due to many factors, including:

  • Ease of use. Email is available 24/7, and doesn't require an immediate answer. The amount of time a customer will wait for a response varies. Some customers are willing to wait for a response and not have to make a phone call or wait in long chat queues.
  • Ease of response. From a call center perspective, email lowers call volumes for non-urgent or immediate contacts and creates a less expensive channel due to the customers not requiring an immediate response. This means that call centers can reduce the number of staff in each shift. Because emails are easy to respond to, a call center can often meet its service-level agreement (SLA) expectations. Chatbots can also answer repetitive, high-volume inquiries and eliminate the need for human interaction.
  • Establishment of a paper trail. Auto-response receipt notifications with service-level targets for response times help set and communicate expectations to the customer. The email also creates a record of the conversation which the organization and customers can reference. The auto-response emails may include instructions and links to knowledge base content that customers can reference and use to resolve the issue themselves.

The importance of email management software

Typically, when organizations build best practices for a contact center, they focus on the people and process first, and then technology. When building effective email management strategies, it is vital that the organization focuses on technology first.

Email management software should integrate into the infrastructure of a business's call center management framework. In an email management system, emails are a documented contact -- which means they have an associated record or ticket -- that can have assigned tasks as part of the workflow assigned to anyone in the organization. Because the email creates a record, the call center can track an email through its entire lifecycle from open to close.

Email management software enables a call center to collect, sort, route, handle and resolve email contacts just like a phone call, chat or text. Call centers are no longer just one-stop phone shops; businesses must have multichannel capability to support customers properly.

Studies revealed that 91% of consumers expect omnichannel experiences. Call centers require an integrated technology suite that includes email management such as Zendesk, Talkdesk, Avaya, Five9 and NICE inContact. When an organization includes email management as part of a suite, it enables omnichannel routing and handling of email built on the business requirements that call center leadership establishes.

Call centers are no longer just one-stop phone shops; businesses must have multichannel capability to support customers properly.

Strategies for handling incoming email

Handling high volumes of incoming emails is not easy for call centers, so it is important that service representatives have a strategy to provide resolutions. Resolution can mean resolving an issue, answering a question or providing information. Resolution and quality are two customer experience KPIs that email strategies must be built on. 

  1. Automate and document email responses. Every email that comes into the call center should receive an automated response stating receipt of the email and communicate response time commitments. All emails should have an accompanying record associated with it that an email management software can track.
  2. Communicate email response times. The call center should develop, document and communicate email response times to all key stakeholders -- agents, supervisors, quality analysts, C-suite and customers. No matter the type of call center, customers must understand the level of service it is able to provide. Customer expectations of response times vary from two to 24 hours. Each call center should focus on what its customers want and what it can deliver by asking key questions such as:
  • What is the level of urgency?
  • Has call center leadership already set expectations on response times?
  • What do support agreements state about how quickly agents will respond?
  1. Build scripted responses. For high volume and repetitive email inquiries, it is important to build scripted responses that humans and email bots can personalize. Using AI and analytics, an email bot is programmed to create and deliver automatic email responses. This enables call center managers to gather more information to send to the agent as needed. If the call center doesn't currently use an email bot, it should have an accessible knowledge base.
  2. Provide guidelines for quality email interactions. By providing service representatives with scripted responses, sample text and guidelines on personalization, call centers increase the quality of responses and decrease the level of effort that agents need to spend on drafting a reply. Call center representatives should receive training on best practice guidelines for quality email interactions which their managers should monitor each week. Quality control also includes the creation of best practice guidelines and scorecards that all call center representatives are initially trained on and continuously monitored on each week. Guidelines for quality email interactions include:
  • how to create a proper email greeting and body of an email;
  • attachment guidelines;
  • closing statements; and
  • signature and branding.

A call center's quality program should include best practices for email monitoring such as how many email responses a manager should monitor, score and coach on a continuous basis. Quality monitoring software helps with monitoring outgoing emails.  

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