Back in the old days of the internet revolution (circa 1990s) email was the solution for communicating with customers. It was to replace the phone, and virtually any other channel, for support. It was going to be automated and processed within minutes. It was going to allow anyone close to a messaging device to get world-class customer service.

The magic of SPAM, viruses, and malware, hindered that vision, and the coming of other text-based communication channels with more prompt responses put the, supposedly, final nail in ERMS (email response management systems). Email support became a four-letter word – but several companies saw email as an opportunity and succeeded at it. Their stories provide us with some very valuable lessons learned that we can use to optimize the second coming of email.

When properly done email can significantly improve and optimize your support organization. Of course, “properly done” is not usually the case. There are three things you can do make sure your ERMS implementation is actually well done:

Extend customer experience – for the most part, email support has been neglected, not loved, sent to the corner. Usually when a customer sends an email for support the answers are incomplete, incoherent with other answers and policies, or (in close to 50% of emails) non-existent. Make sure you can complete the transactions your customers want in a timely manner, and that you have access to necessary resources, data, and applications to complete the transactions.

Identify the proper transactions – organizations tried to use email for every single transaction, regardless of the viability of doing a good job with that channel. Not all transactions were meant for email, some of them will be almost impossible to do cheaper or better than through other channels. Make sure your ERMS tackles the transactions that make more sense – not just any transaction.

Speed up resolution – This is the killer application for ERMS, if there ever was one. If you use automation (included free with the best ERMS packages), and tie it to the proper knowledge repositories, you can increase response times to almost negligible. Better yet, route users to either use a web-form for sending emails, or automate the initial interactions to get the information you need (think conversational agents) then you are sure to answer those emails so quickly… it may just work.

Email can be your most powerful weapon for decreasing the costs of customer support and for improving your customers’ perception of your willingness to help them. Don’t cast it aside for a bad experience, turn it into a positive one.

What do you think? Are you ready to turn your customer service email into your friend?