E-mail is the root of all on-line customer service

In the world of e-commerce with competitors literally a mouse click away, customer service is key. Canada’s competitive on-line book retailing market means an annoyed customer will quickly defect to the other side, and there’s nothing more annoying in on-line shopping than not receiving replies to e-mail.

“If you called someone and you were on hold for five hours, you’d never do business with them again,” said Ryan Rosenberg, vice-president of marketing for eGain in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Chapters Online is using eGain’s Email Management System (EMS) to deal with their increasing volumes of customer correspondence.

“When people ask me why I spent all of this money on eGain – because it wasn’t cheap – it’s customer satisfaction. Customers have no tolerance for bad service, and if you don’t do this you’re just dead,” said Rick Segal, president of Chapters Online in Toronto.

Rosenberg said Chapters knew it needed to get on top of its e-mail problem before it grew out of control.

“One thing we know about Chapters is five per cent of their e-mails before they put our system in place were duplicates… because they weren’t using acknowledgements and people would keep resubmitting their e-mail,” said Rosenberg.

He said eGain’s statistics show that before the EMS was implemented, about 30 to 40 per cent of customer calls to Chapters were to complain about e-mail that had not received a response. Chapters is not alone in this dilemma: Rosenberg cited various studies showing that e-commerce companies in general leave e-mail unanswered for up to five days, and then one third of the responses are erroneous anyway.

“People are waiting five days to get the wrong answer,” he said.

Segal said his company used to use an in-house built e-mail system that, according to Rosenberg, was missing features such as spell check, cc and bcc. Segal said the company had planned for a certain level of growth and decided to bring eGain in during July 1999 to tackle the growing amount of e-mail before it became a problem.

“We get thousands of pieces of e-mail every month with people asking questions about books that they want research on, interesting things that they want to know if we can order for them, questions about order status, their Chapter 1 Club membership,” Segal said.

“When it comes to these e-mail management systems, you’ll find many people that are doing this might be keeping all their mail on their own servers and all of a sudden they realize they’ve got 100,000 pieces of e-mail, so they go out and they buy eGain or some other system and then they spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours trying to make it fit.

“Our approach was we knew where our volume was and we could handle those calls, but as we went from 10 people on a shift to 35 people on a shift as a business group, somewhere around the 20 th person we wanted to make sure we were all set to go with the system. We tried to be very proactive,” Segal said.

Rosenberg said most eGain customers go with a phased approach to eGain’s various e-commerce offerings.

“At the first pass they’re just trying to get the e-mail problem handled. Then once they’ve got that handled they link in their phone system or e-commerce system,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg explained that eGain’s eCommerce Bridge integrates with a company’s existing e-commerce platform. Segal had been concerned that eGain wouldn’t interoperate with his existing NT systems.

“I wanted to make sure that the services they built played nice in an NT environment, and it turned out to do a great job,” said Segal.

Chapters had eGain’s people come to its offices and help with set up and training because there had to be a smooth transition from the old system to the new system without losing customer e-mail.

“It was a much better way to do it than just purchasing a piece of software and hoping that we could read the manuals,” Segal explained.

Segal said the main benefit of eGain’s EMS is that it is very good at tracking e-mail and phone calls. Rosenberg said the system continually tracks each piece of e-mail through the system and there is an available policy setting, whereby if the e-mail has not been answered in a specified time, alarms go off to management. He added that an under-used feature of eGain is the ability to send an automated message after a specified time to assure customers that their message hasn’t been forgotten.

“If you e-mail back and forth several times, they get lumped into what we call a ticket, and that can be linked to the phone calls. It’s all together in one place, every single communication,” said Rosenberg.

The system also categorizes e-mail, which Rosenberg said can be used to understand where customer problems or questions tend to originate.

“E-mail management systems have a workflow engine. This means they take the e-mail and route it to people,” said Rosenberg. “Do you know how most companies handle this without a system? Usually someone like the customer service manager logs on each day to an e-mail in-tray and takes blocks of 50 or so, selects them with a cursor and forwards them. No wonder things get lost.”

The entirely browser-based interface provides customer service representatives (CSRs) with a knowledge base of template answers and an artificially intelligent feature that gives the CSR automatic suggestions.

“One of the problems of customer service is there’s a lot of turnover, so it’s important to have a system where someone can be plugged in and be accurate right away,” he said.

Like many e-commerce packages, eGain also includes push technology so CSRs can direct customers around the site and help them fill in forms.

“If you are trying to get your password and you’ve just gone to the password page and then the password help page, you don’t have to explain that to the CSR. I can see that. I know where you’re coming from and where you’ve been on the Web site, and it really cuts down on the level of repetition for you,” Rosenberg said.