By Wikus Engelbrecht
Today’s B2B and B2Ccommunicators are subject to a daily digital bludgeoning of email queries. In the years before email became popular, senders shouldered the burden of mail. The writing and mailing of a letter was a lot of work, and each new addressee meant more postage; so businesses and individuals needed to be more thoughtful and specific about whom to send things to.
Since cost-effective sending to an infinite number of people is now a reality, every little impulse can become an instant global communication, and it’s the readers who are now bearing the burden. The result: Information overload.
Email is a productive and effective technology. The convenience and flexibility of email makes it the perfect vehicle for improving a company’s communications performance, but it can eat up time faster than most other communication channels. When you get an email you have a few seconds to decide what to do: whether to defer it to a later point, to delete it or reply to it. If you decide to reply, you have only a short time to craft your response, however, even this may break down when what should be a simple once-off reply draws out to long strings of email responses.
The increase in incoming email traffic will lead to more pressure on any department, especially once one starts down the dark road of falling behind on critical replies while still facing an overwhelming incoming volume.
So if like many you feel as though you’re wading through email treacle and living a cliché of inbox non-progress, it may be time to look at better ways to declutter:
Assess and plan — Firstly, establish the quantity of incoming written communication, which response channels your customers prefer (email, SMS/Text or telephonic) and what type of contacts you mainly receive (queries, orders, complaints) then use this research to determine which response loads can be resolved directly without you mounting the keyboard.
Respond rapidly — How many times have you sent in an email to a company and received no response or only a partial answer after waiting for days? Forrester Research reports that customers expect an email response in less than two hours, and sometimes even this falls short of people’s expectations. Make your customers trust email as a reliable communication line to you by responding as quickly and comprehensively as possible.
Stick to the point — When you send an email newsletter; the subject line is your headline, the email’s purpose should be clear in the first two lines and the action expected of the recipient should be explicit. If you are routinely receiving an excess of queries after every email campaign, it may be that you are not providing all the information necessary to streamline conversions.
Deliver relevant answers — If you need to, route every query that you receive to the most appropriate respondent based on its attributes. This way your customers can be sure that their questions are answered by the person with the right skill set to address the specific issue.
Deflect emails with Web Services — Your organization might be able to offer web self-services for repeat enquiries, leading to immediate query resolution without needing constant personal involvement. Answer questions ahead of time. Take away the need for people to email you in the first place. Try putting relevant information in your signature or including an FAQ section on your website to answer those everyday questions.
Filter out unwanted email — If your inbox is bulging periodically with 2 000 messages or more; you are desperately in need of becoming a filtering ninja. Most email systems allow for filtering and sometimes you can set up an account to forward emails with certain keywords to an assistant, or to provide specific automated responses. Regardless, use filters often. Spend an hour setting up a few of these and then sit back and watch your inbox lose weight.
Use email search, not email folders — According to a study by IBM Research; if you file your emails into folders, you’re wasting time. The 345-user study found that people who used the search function in their email program could find relevant emails as easily as those who had categorized each email into a folder. The likelihood of finding the intended email was no greater when it had been filed in a folder. Therefore, preparatory behaviors such as relying on complex filing systems are inefficient and do not improve retrieval and response speeds.
Turn off new email notifications — If you’re getting invasive notifications of new email, just turn those off. They can be a constant distraction that only increases your feeling of overload. It can be very hard to be productive and get real work done with endless pop-ups about new email; especially since the majority of email can wait for a little while until you can deal with it.
Autoresponders are your friends — The best tool in the automation process is an email autoresponder. Your autoresponder should take the same route as your email signature by anticipating people’s needs and provide solutions beforehand. Let them know where to get the information they want and tell them whom to contact for certain special requests.
Leave no email unanswered — When customers take the time to send an email, they expect a quick and meaningful response. As a preferred interaction channel, email communication is an effective way for organizations to answer questions, resolve issues and guide people along the customer journey. So care is required to avoid causing frustration by ensuring responses are consistent and timely.
Once you’ve worked up the ladder of inbox optimisation and automation, you will undoubtedly still be left with some messages that require human interaction. However, independent of content and who the person behind a customer enquiry is, each communication is important and can be seen as a litmus test of your service performance.
Even if you are in a position where there is no way for you to halt the daily email invasion, the most important thing to remember is that every problem has a solution. Examine the guidelines above and get technology working for you, instead of the other way around.