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E-mail Management Tips

We asked for ideas on how to manage the growing flood of e-mail support requests. Most of the contributions turned out to be remarkably simple to execute--and very powerful.

  • Automated followup messages: "After a call is closed for seven days," says Paul Simpson of Trellix, "we automatically send the user a personalized message from the owner of the case, making sure that the problem is resolved. We get lots of customers who are amazed at this level of concern--it's the most successful thing we've done with e-mail support. And the best part is that it's all automated."

  • Technote attachments: Julianna Duryee of PC Synergy says that one way to speed up the handling of e-mail is to create "a good supply" of standard technotes in PDF format. "These can be easily attached to e-mails," she says. "Regularly evaluate what your frequently asked questions are for these technotes," she adds.

  • In-house experts: "We share the e-mail load by giving each support person an expertise, be that hardware or certain modules of the software," says Julianna Duryee. "We then describe these areas of expertise briefly on the Web site, with e-mail links to the reps who handle these areas."

  • Informative auto-reply: David Keifer of Cutler-Hammer Corp. reports that his support group has tried to make its automatic confirmation messages especially informative. An auto-reply message now acknowledges receipt of the support request, outlines basic service-level agreement points (such as response time), and makes sure the customer has supplied required information (hardware platform, software version, history of the problem). "This approach addresses the customer's expectations and eliminates some of the typical time-delay from bounce-back traffic."

  • Skill set analysis: Spencer Murray of Rockwell Electronic Commerce says it's important to "assess the strengths and weaknesses" of team members who will be involved in handling e-mail questions. "Strong writing skills are quite obviously a must for e-mail responders," he points out. "Although a skills evaluation process can seem like a headache, it will save time and money."

  • Smarter e-mail forms: "We force users to fill out a form that asks for critical information," says Paul Simpson. "We also put the top five questions on the e-mail support form. Both of these approaches help reduce the number of e-mails that are necessary to resolve an incident."

  • File repository: When customers sent file attachments (.ini files, databases, or NSD dumps) to Lotus support, Steven Underwood says, it was difficult for technicians to transfer cases or cover for an employee who called in sick. The solution: "We implemented a Notes mail-in database called 'incident_files@lotus.com' which allows customers to mail files to that Internet address. Our analysts can then find the e-mail and copy/paste it into the call tracking system for all to see."

  • Automation tools: "Automated e-mail response programs can often handle up to 80% of inbound e-mail inquiries," Spencer Murray points out. "These are cutting-edge tools and typically a bit expensive," he says, "but if your company receives either a high volume of e-mails or a lot of time-intensive e-mails, they may end up saving money."