Managing inbound email communications

Inbound customer contact strategies

Approaches to managing the cost and quality of service related to management of customer enquiries.

For large organisations, e-mail volumes are already significant. For example, Bicknell (2002) reports that the Nationwide Bank web contact centre receives nearly 20,000 emails each month. According to Mark Cromack, Nationwide's senior operations manager, customer contacts by e-mail have increased fourfold between 2001 and 2002, but through choosing the right process and tools, it has only been necessary to double the number of operators. See Mini Case Study 5.3 for further information on this topic.

Successful management of inbound communications is important to service quality as perceived by customers. In order to manage these communications, organisations need to develop inbound customer contact strategies.

Customer contact strategies are a compromise between delivering quality customer service with the emphasis on customer choice and minimising the cost of customer contacts. Typical operational objectives that should drive the strategies and measure their effectiveness are:

• Minimise average response time per e-mail and range of response time from slowest to fastest. This should form the basis of an advertised service quality level.

• Minimise clear-up (resolution) time - e.g. number of contacts and elapsed time to resolution.

• Maximise customer satisfaction ratings with response.

• Minimise average staff time and cost per e-mail response.

Customer contact strategies for integrating web and e-mail support into existing contact centre operations usually incorporate elements of both of the following options.

1 Customer-preferred channel. Here the company uses a customer-led approach where customers use their preferred channel for enquiry whether it be phone callback, e-mail or live-chat. There is little attempt made to influence the customer as to which is the preferable channel. Note that while this approach may give good customer satisfaction ratings, it is not usually the most cost-effective approach, since the cost of phone support will be higher than customer self-service on the web, or an e-mail enquiry.

2 Company-preferred channel. Here the company will seek to influence the customer on the medium used for contact. For example, easyJet encourages customers to use online channels rather than using voice contact to the call centre for both ordering and customer service. Customer choice is still available, but the company uses the web site to influence the choice of channel.

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