10 Best Practices to Increase ERMS Success

I recently published a research article entitled “10 Best Practices to Increase ERMS Success,” and thought an abbreviated version would be good to share with the blogosphere. For SSPA members, the full article can be accessed here.

SSPA Benchmark data shows that customer email volume has increased while the service levels of email incidents have declined. Email Response Management Systems, currently used by 45% of SSPA >$1B members, can improve service levels for customer emails by auto-responding to repetitive questions, auto-suggesting replies to agents to streamline email processing, and auto-routing inbound emails to the correct person or group, eliminating manual reviews and routing.  Based on customer case studies and technology partner interviews, SSPA Research has identified the following 10 Best Practices to maximize the effectiveness of your ERMS.

#1 Set Customer Expectations

The biggest complaint about email customer service is typically that companies take too long to respond or that they don’t respond at all. As more customers adopt email as a preferred interaction channel, expectations for service level increase as well.  In the 1990s, surveys showed customers expected a response within 24-48 hours; today, surveys indicate a 2 hour response window is best, with younger demographics likely growing impatient after the 1 hour mark. However, clearly setting expectations up front helps tremendously.  Regardless of a customer’s personal ideas about email response time, if they are told they will receive a response within 4 hours, they won’t complain when the response doesn’t arrive sooner. State the response time commitment clearly on the Web form where emails are submitted, and reiterate that commitment in the auto-acknowledgement.

#2 Monitor Service Levels and Automatically Escalate

The second part of clearly setting customer expectations is to follow through on response time commitments.  Email response suites include graphical reporting to monitor email service levels, and managers should be proactively notified when customer emails will not be responded to within the guaranteed window.  Once notified that service levels are in danger of being missed, the manager has time to reallocate staff, or to send auto-updates to customers letting them know of the delay, and providing an updated response time.

#3 Leverage Web Forms, Not Free Form Emails

While SSPA Research agrees that email addresses for support should be provided in the ‘contact’ area of the self-service site, there should be an option to submit a support email that leverages a web form to collect information.  The web form should contain required fields for product, version, error codes, problem categories, etc., which allow the ERMS classification engine to accurately auto-respond or auto-suggest with a solution.  By creating a form with 3-5 required fields, and a space for free form text, the number of back and forth emails will be dramatically reduced and email incident resolution time should be significantly impacted.

#4 Search Before Submit

Customers may not have attempted a knowledgebase search prior to submitting an email, or they may have used poor search criteria.  Once the customer has completed the web form to submit the email, use all of the data collected to perform a search of the knowledgebase, and prompt the customer with a list of matching solutions to review, with a final ‘submit’ button to use for the email if the solutions do not help.  In this way, self-service is proactively prompted to the user, and the search results should be accurate since the required field data will be used in the search string.

#5 Adequate Rule Coverage

Companies with the highest auto-response and auto-suggest rates have a large number of rules, as many as 80 to 90, each written to identify a very specific issue or problem. Using product names, error codes, other key words or phrases (password, power failure, change reservation, etc.), the classification engine evaluates email text against all defined rules to find a match and sends the corresponding response. The more rules (and the more specific the rules) defined in the system, the greater the number of issues that will be identified correctly. Some of them include:

  • Routine requests.  Simple, repetitive questions (forgot my password, product information) are good candidates for auto-response as enough information is known about how these questions are asked to write accurate rules, and auto-response deflects these routine and redundant tasks from agents, keeping agents active with more engaging inquiries.
  • Procedural questions. Non-technical questions are especially good candidates for auto-response, such as general information requests, and “how do I” requests, i.e., issues that do not require analysis of environmental variables or peripherals.
  • Policy reminders. Auto-response may also be appropriate for general policy replies such as inbound emails containing profanity, emails received outside of supported hours, or when emails contain customer information that may violate privacy legislation.

#6 Leverage Intelligent Routing Options

ERMS classification engines do more than identify possible solutions for inbound emails, they also support skills based routing.  Rules can be identified to route emails about specific products, versions, or from specific customers or customer categories, differently.  Though skills based routing is offered with telephony systems, most companies have not integrated emails into the same system they use for routing phone calls.  By leveraging the existing rule engine in the ERMS, emails can be routed very granularly, not dumped into a group email queue for agents to select.

#7 Give All Agents A Multi-Channel Customer View

According to SSPA Benchmark data, 19% of companies have dedicated agents for email and web incidents.  This percentage is even higher in consumer industries, with 45% consumer members reporting dedicated ‘eChannel’ agents.  Although it is tempting to only provide these agents with an ERMS, be sure you give them access to the full 360° view. Email and web interactions are less expensive than phone, and making a decision to hamper the ability for an email agent to service the customer only reinforces to customers that they should rely exclusively on the phone channel.  In today’s multi-channel world, all agents should have a complete history of every customer interaction, regardless of channel.

#8 Proactively Communicate To Eliminate Inbound Interactions

While email response systems were originally architected for processing inbound emails, most systems also support outbound emails (though sometimes the outbound module requires an additional purchase).  Find out what outbound capabilities are included with your ERMS, and leverage the system to proactively communicate with customers concerning outages, account problems, or newly discovered bugs that will eliminate inbound calls or emails.

With a simple integration to a back office system or a remote monitoring solution, whenever a defined event (new bug, bounced check, error condition, etc.) occurs, the ERMS will send the appropriate email message to the customer or customers, personalized with their name, account and product information.  Also, some email systems handle outbound email campaigns, allowing you to leverage your existing system to alert customers to events, products, or other outbound communications.

#9 Offer Secure Email as an Option

Privacy legislation within the financial services and healthcare industries makes standard email communications with customers difficult at best.  ERMS vendors now offer an option for secure email to address this concern and avoid violating privacy legislation.  When a customer submits an email containing sensitive information, or when the response would include data covered under privacy laws, the customer is sent an email containing a link to their online customer account.  Once they logon to the self-service site, they can read the email response securely, and reply back as necessary.

With more customers concerned today about electronic privacy, offering a secure email option is a good idea, and some customers prefer this method even for email communications not involving information covered by current privacy legislation.  Especially in the consumer world, with multiple members of a household sharing an email account, secure email avoids any customer satisfaction or legal issues resulting from inappropriate access of private information.

#10 Offer Alternate Support and Escalation Options

No matter how concise the rules are in a classification engine, occasionally an inbound email will trigger an incorrect auto-response.  Be certain to include alternate support and escalation options (separate email address, phone number, link to a website to escalate) in every outbound email to customers. Customers will forgive you for an immediate auto-response that misses the mark, as long as they are given options to escalate to a live agent.  Typically, if the customer replies to an auto-response, that email should be routed to a live agent. Alternately, provide the customer with a link to the self-service site, an alternate email address the customer can use to bypass the ERMS classification engine and reach an agent, and/or the phone number to call for support.

What have your ERMS experiences been?  Do you have other best practices to share?  If so, please add a comment or send me an email.  For the SSPA’s complete library of research, click here.  Thanks for reading!

Explore posts in the same categories: Best Practices, Technology

2 Comments on “10 Best Practices to Increase ERMS Success”

  1. Jonathan Bradbury Says:

    Hi there, a well written concise article, in your opinion if you were issuing a Request For Information to half a dozen industry leading contenders who would you consider (in no particular order);


  2. jragsdale Says:

    Hi Jonathan;
    Here are the leading providers of email response software. If you’d like a copy of the Wave I did on this space while at Forrester, let me know. It outlines ERMS functionality you can use for an RFP. The leading providers include eGain, Kana, RightNow, Talisma. You can also check out the email response section of our online buyers guide: http://www.thesspa.com/buyers_guide/eservice/email_resp.asp

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