omnichannel customer service best practices

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The Comprehensive Guide to Surprise & Delight your Customers on Live Chat, Email, Social Media & SMS

Best Practices for Digital Omnichannel Customer Service

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Chapter 2

Email

Email is a foundational pillar of customer support, and one of the most popular support channels: research shows that 91% of consumers use email daily.

It’s easy to understand why email is so popular. For one thing, it offers customers the space to explain their issues thoroughly. Although it isn’t the fastest channel, customers appreciate that they don’t have to wait on hold. Email takes the pressure off of customers and agents to participate in an immediate exchange; customers can request support and address the issue on their timeline. This is helpful for multi-taskers, people with busy schedules, and customers who may need a little time and space to type out their needs.

Companies have had a long time to perfect their email outreach for marketing and sales, but many fumble when it comes to this support channel. According to a benchmark report by SuperOffice, 62% of companies do not respond to customer service emails at all. The same report found that only 20% of companies are able to answer questions in full on the first reply.

Staying on top of email responses doesn’t just strengthen your customers’ loyalty and trust – it’s critical to your bottom line. Having a deep appreciation for why customers are choosing this channel in the first place and maintaining high cross-channel support standards are necessary steps to cultivate a healthy email support system. With all the unique opportunities email provides for relationship building, it’s really more than just a support channel – it’s a bridge to long-term customer success.

Best Practices for Email

1. Reduce the back and forth

According to the Harvard Business Review, 2.4 emails are needed on average to resolve an issue, compared with 1.7 calls.

With numbers like that, it can be tempting to see email as an impediment to resolution rather than a pathway to a success. But long email chains are not a necessary evil. While email provides a little more space and time than live channels by design, efficiency still matters – to both you and your customer.

Use these key tools to help you achieve a boast-worthy first contact resolution (FCR) rate and cut down on inbox-cluttering back-and-forth interactions.

Key Tools

  • Service Level Agreements
  • Collaboration and Issue Tracking

In order to keep email exchanges low, you need a ticketing system that allows you to set and track Service Level Agreements (SLAs). SLAs are a way of establishing your customer service goals and making a promise to meet key customer expectations. They give your team clarity on which tickets need to be worked on first and how long they have to resolve a ticket. Setting an SLA to resolve an email inquiry within a certain time frame can promote a level of forethought and solution-oriented planning that stops unwieldy email exchanges in their tracks.

comm100 sla policies

Setting SLAs for email in the Comm100 dashboard

To keep SLAs top-of-mind, they should be easily visible in your agent console. In Comm100’s agent console, SLAs are attached to each ticket, with color-coded notifications that alert agents to when that SLA is nearing (or currently in) breach. This helps agents direct their focus to the most pressing email tickets, and keeps the workload running smoothly and according to schedule.

Sometimes, it can be hard for a lone agent to meet resolution SLAs. Collaboration and issue tracking lets agents loop another representative into a more complex problem. Agents can write notes to each other, flag tickets for follow up, and more, helping them solve issues in fewer correspondences and without the obvious baton-passes.

While SLAs and the collaborative nature of ticketing systems can help reduce the back and forth of email, having these tools in place is only part of achieving this goal. Emails require time and thought from customers, and companies must offer the same in return, or risk alienating buyers. Simply put: the customer service that you are delivering must be on par with the tools that you are using to deliver it.

Consider the following scenario:

Jessica recently found that a part of the standing desk she bought is defective, preventing her from putting it together. Due to an upcoming company retreat, Jessica doesn’t have much time to deal with the issue – she still needs to finish packing, and needs to tie up some loose ends with a client.

So she fires off an email to customer support, hoping that there’s a way to resolve this issue by the time she gets back from the retreat. Mike, the agent who receives her request, doesn’t have adequate information concerning Jessica’s purchase based off of her email address and name alone, so he emails her asking for a purchase confirmation number. In breaks at her retreat, Jessica digs through her emails to find the confirmation number.

Once he receives the confirmation number, Mike emails Jessica to ask how she would like the issue to be resolved. Jessica says she would like a replacement part if possible. But because of the back-and-forth which is occurring sporadically over many days, Jessica’s request for a new part isn’t processed until she’s already back from her retreat – leaving her without a standing desk for another week and disappointing her initial hope for a speedy resolution.

In this scenario, it’s easy to see that there are a number of issues that kept the agent from solving the problem efficiently, including a lack of effective omnichannel support, as well as an open-ended line of questioning as opposed to offering direct solutions. So what could be done instead? Take for example this Timex email exchange, where a customer was hit by a car and received damage to his Timex watch:

Customer service email example, Timex

Customer service email example, Timex

What’s excellent about this exchange is that the agent understood the customer’s request and immediately offered a solution: send the watch back and we will fix it for free. It may seem simple, but everything the customer needs – the solution, as well as instructions for next steps – are made clear. This prevents unnecessary back and forth that only acts as a block on the road to resolution.

Pro Tip

SLAs that are too stringently time-based rather than resolution-oriented can be a detriment to efficient email resolutions. And if your agents don’t have access to account data, necessary context (such as prior cross-channel conversation histories), or permission to implement effective solutions, it can be easy to slip into an unnecessarily long, frustrating email exchange.

By conducting periodic audits of your email support, you can enforce response policy and see whether your agents are providing mindful support by referencing customer data or just trying to get the email out of the queue.

2. Prevent email from becoming snail mail

Even though email removes the pressure of instantaneous response, replies still need to be timely. According to Toister Performance Solutions, 88% of customers expect a response to their emails in one hour, and 30% expect a response in under 15 minutes.

But when you look at the reality of how most customer response teams are performing, it’s clear that the vast majority are missing the mark. According to SuperOffice, the average response time from respondents was around 12 hours – and that wasn’t taking into account the 62% that admitted they didn’t even respond to support emails at all.

When it comes to email support, the customer should dictate the overall speed of the conversation – it should never be hindered by an agent’s lack of timely responsiveness. Use fast email times as an opportunity to set your team apart, and keep a competitive response metric top of mind.

Key Tools

  • Tagging and filtering
  • Automatic routing
  • Auto follow-up
  • Canned messages
  • Reporting

The beauty of sending incoming emails through a ticketing system is that it makes workflow management much easier. Intuitive workflows don’t just make it easier for agents to solve problems – these tidy resolutions can also be accomplished much faster.

Tagging and filtering tickets allows teams to create a system that flags incoming emails based on inquiry type, inbound channel, and other criteria that fit your business. This helps you quickly sort through your support queue and establish better workflows, leading to faster resolution times. With tagging and filtering, you can organize tickets in a way that allows agents with relevant experience and departmental knowledge to handle higher-level requests, prioritizing your specialized labor where it’s most effective. This keeps all emails, no matter the difficulty, moving quickly.

But it’s not just about categorizing messages – distributing them quickly and effortlessly amongst agents is another key to keeping email exchanges quick. Automatic routing assigns email messages to agents or teams automatically, establishing instant and clear ownership of tickets and eliminating the need for managers to manually distribute requests based on their tags or even key words used in the subject.

If the initial routing criteria are not met, emails can be allocated based on secondary criteria, helping ensure that no emails fall through the cracks. For example, let’s say your incoming sales emails are set to automatically route to the last representative who corresponded with that customer. If that representative is unavailable, the email will be automatically routed according to a secondary rule so that another capable representative can quickly pick up where they left off.

Even over email, some issues are more time-sensitive than others. Although automatic routing removes the need for manual intervention, managers can enter into the system at any time to assign tickets priorities that go beyond the standard SLA times. By flagging certain high-prioritiy inquiries as “urgent,” you can highlight key requests that need to be tended to right away, and ensure that it gets done.

Not all issues are immediately solvable, but that doesn’t mean that customers will want to wait on a response. Auto follow-up allows you to send predefined messages automatically to customers, saving agents time and increasing efficiency. Auto follow-up can be used to communicate to a customer that their issue has been received, is being worked on, or that a particular agent is out of the office and a slight delay is expected. These messages keep customers in the loop automatically, with no action needed from a busy live agent.

Another point of consideration for increasing email efficiency is providing tools that can speed up the writing process for agents. Your agents are sending out hundreds to thousands of messages a day – just like with live chat, you can speed up the process and lower fatigue with canned messaging. This provides agents with a library of pre-written messages designed to target the most common use cases for your customers.

A star performance amongst your agents one day doesn’t mean much if there’s never a repeat. To send emails out quickly, you must be able to sustain operational momentum. Reporting helps you keep track of how your team is performing in terms of ticket and case management. The reporting tool instantly generates reports on performance-related variables such as how quickly tickets are being handled, which can be segmented by agent, department, and even email address.

This invaluable data can help you continue to experiment and innovate with email-handling protocol, and finding the most efficient system for your agents.

Pro Tip

Canned messages can help agents send out messages at lightning speed. However, there’s nothing more frustrating to a customer than receiving a canned message that doesn’t help move an issue forward, or that asks for information that the customer has already disclosed.

Train and encourage agents to read emails and canned messages carefully before hitting send, and remember that sometimes the most helpful response isn’t the fastest.

3. Make omnichannel customer support your bedrock

Email is a critical support channel – but it doesn’t mean that customers won’t change their mind about how they want to receive support, or that it is even the most efficient way for your team to offer a resolution. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, great email support means making customers aware of all their other support options.

By now we all know why email support is important: it’s a classic channel that customers return to intuitively, and it also may fit within the needs of particular customers. But to have the best optimized support channels means to take a cross-channel approach – which means making omnichannel customer support your bedrock.

Consider the following issues that speak to the urgent need to promote seamless cross- channel interactions via email:

  • – You’re slowing down live channels with poor email

Consider your team of agents, and how you’ve trained them to resolve issues on live chat. All of the metrics you’ve achieved have focused on lowering handle times, which is possible not because of email, but in spite of it. Oftentimes we don’t have agents that are dedicated to email, but rather, train agents to answer emails in between their service on  live channels like live chat. This poses an issue with resolution time, as it breaks up the flow of support on other channels.

  • – Customers need the freedom to change their

In order to be effective with email support, it’s important to consider the reasons your customers choose email in the first place. While some people naturally prefer it, it is also the case that it’s a matter of convenience in the moment, or that it’s the channel that first comes to mind. Sometimes it’s the only option when live channels are offline–but that doesn’t mean that people won’t be open to, or even want access to other support channels if presented with the option.

What if your support team could respond to an email with live chat, or follow-up a live chat with an email?

Consider the case of Jessica and the standing desk company above. If she had found herself with a free evening during her work retreat and if Mike, the agent, had suggested it, she might have chosen to hop on a live chat – expediting the conversation between the two and bringing them to a speedy resolution.

In order to keep the flow between channels and promote efficiency, cross-promote your live channels, and use an integrated live chat feature so that email messages can seamlessly transfer to live chat conversations.

Key Tools

  • Ticketing
  • Omnichannel Integration

An omnichannel platform with ticketing presents the options of live chat, social media, SMS, and email simultaneously. This makes customers aware of their communication options. If a customer chooses to send an offline message through the live chat window, a text message, or a note on Facebook Messenger for example, the Comm100 system automatically creates a ticket for follow-up. Chats can also be turned into tickets for future follow-up, keeping support between channels seamless for both customers and agents.

Pro Tip

One of the reasons that customers like email is a visible, referenceable history of interaction that they can look back at on their end. With live chat integration that includes email ticketing, chat transcripts can be sent by email to customers once they have wrapped up a chat.

By activating this feature for all users (or by sending email follow ups to certain live chat users such as those who rated a live chat interaction as being “very helpful”) you can give them a helpful summary of their issue resolution and put them at ease knowing that the company has documented history of their issue that wont disappear once the chat window is closed.

4. Use email as a relationship-building tool

Email is a blank slate for personalized content creation. With every email, you have an opportunity to craft and send individualized content to your customer that can both serve to resolve an issue and deploy content in a way most inbound marketing strategists can only dream of.

Inbound marketing is a marketing strategy that builds lasting relationships with customers through content that addresses their unique pain points. Often, this is deployed through content that can help guide customers through common issues      in their lives or industries. Usually, this looks like a blog post, eBook, report, or even podcast. But with email, there’s an opportunity to leverage any inbound marketing assets you may already have laying around.

Key Tools

  • Knowledge base
  • Real-time reporting

Agents can integrate knowledge base articles into support emails, encouraging customers to find further success with products or services. This can be done by training agents to recognize related customer pain points, which encourages brand loyalty.

While knowledge base articles have always been a staple of the agent toolkit, train your agents to know their way around all of your most helpful content, including blog posts, to directly supply marketing content to customers who might benefit from it most.

Nothing is worse than receiving unnecessary advice or a tone-deaf product push while the issue at hand goes unsolved. Be sure that any content that you include in emails is relevant and personalized to meet your customer’s needs by solving their problems.

Here is what an email that embeds helpful content might look like:

comm100 email customer service reply example

Building customer relationships through emails is not just about what you communicate, but how. To truly optimize your customer service emails, keep these tips in mind:

  • Take advantage of long-form Put your best writers and build a team around this kind of support, encouraging them to use efficiency tools like canned messaging and Agent Assist to get the job done.
  • Be as helpful as possible when assisting Explain the path to resolution step by step, and make sure to practice excellent content organization with short paragraphs and, when necessary, bullet points.
  • Always ask if there’s anything else you can help with. Is there any other way you can help after an issue is resolved? If appropriate, suggest a couple of options for how you can help customers engage with their product or service

Crafting the perfect email may seem daunting at first, and on days when the queue is bursting at the seams, it may fall at the wayside. Use real-time reporting to prioritize email workloads, so that crafting the perfect relationship-building email never comes at the price of efficiency, or the quality of support on your other channels.

Pro Tip

It’s easy to build relationships over email. That being said, the same can be done over live chat and other real-time channels, so long as you are proactively looking for an opportunity to provide value. Consider whether a customer could benefit from a complimentary report, shopping guide, or eBook sent over live chat via file share or even SMS.

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