Email customer support: Striking the right balance between personalization and automation

Posted November 3, 2016

The following contains excerpts from TELUS International’s white paper The workhorse of the contact center: Optimizing email for the modern customer service environment.” Download the free paper to find out how to make the most of your email support program.

Compared to phone, chat, mobile and social customer service, email is still the most-used service channel world-wide. But for big companies with millions of customers around the world with varied tastes, cultures and beliefs, it’s a constant struggle determining how to personalize email communication while maintaining efficiency and controlling costs.

Fortunately, automation and personalization are not mutually exclusive, and striking the right balance will lead to an efficient and effective email support program.

Best practices for email automation

Setting up automated email responses and workflows can help point customers in the right direction, and provide substantial time savings for agents. According to Len Markidan at Groove helpdesk software, a simple rule of thumb for increasing efficiency without sacrificing customer experience is to “automate processes, but not relationships.”

Overall, organizations should focus their automation efforts on event based, proactive emails. These initial, automated responses can be short, conversational and designed to solve simple issues before customers reach a member of the support team. First Contact Resolution (FCR) is often the most important email support KPI, and best-in-class service organizations are currently producing an FCR rate of 80-90 percent.

Companies formulating their approach to automating email for customer service should consider the following best practices:

  • Common reply templates – Companies that deal frequently with product returns, for example, should have an easily accessible template containing instructions on how to return an item along with the return policy. This will give agents time to add a bit of personalization (and personality) instead of manually typing out each step in the return process.
  • Process rules – Rather than having agents manually sift through and route individual emails to the right person for providing support, set up automated routing rules that generate a high probability of sending it to the proper agent. Some companies even use text analytics to spot long-term email trends and use keywords in conjunction with routing rules.
  • Intelligent inputs – Some email systems now have the option to automate responses using artificial intelligence based on the initial inquiry. Beyond an initial touch, these intelligent inputs can be effective in resolving simple service issues with a single, automated response. Work with your email provider to see what options are available at the enterprise level, and monitor progress of machine learning in this area.

Expert tips for effective personalization

For all the benefits automation provides, it unfortunately is not a holistic solution for email support. Customers don’t just want an automated response within minutes of logging an issue, but also a personalized one. Based on our research and insights from customer service experts, here are some best practices for effectively personalizing email:

  • Be human – Emails should be friendly in nature, not scripted and robotic. Customers want the convenience of email but still expect a human element. Agents should utilize email templates, but should also add a personal touch so that the customer knows there is a real person on the other end.
  • Acknowledge the problem – Make sure the customer knows the agent understands the issue right from the start. Summarize the problem so that everyone is on the same page, and make sure all agents are trained to quickly communicate potential solutions.
  • Offer solutions – Beyond simply acknowledging the issue, offer a solution right away. If possible, offer two or three solutions so that the customer has a choice and feels empowered. Try to solve both the customers’ stated – and unstated – needs in one resolution.
  • Be concise – Present information in the email so that the name, contact information, transaction details and summary of the issue don’t take too much time to read.
  • Leave the door open – Let the customer know they have the option to continue the conversation. Avoid simply resolving the issue or concern and then sending a “goodbye” email. Rather, let the customer know that there is always someone available for anything else they may need.

The challenge in today’s world is not simply to automate, but to do so in a way that maintains personalization and enhances the customer experience. Striking the right balance between the two is one of the many requirements of a world-class email support program. For more expert tips, download the free white paper.

Optimizing email for the modern customer service environment

Find out how to make the most of your email support program

Download white paper

Contact an outsourcing expert Contact an
outsourcing expert

Let us answer your questions, provide more details, or share our industry expertise.

Get in touch

Did you know?

TELUS International handles over 200 million BPO transactions annually via voice, email, chat, social media and back-office support.