Despite the growth of new channels, email is still a vital part of the customer service mix. Consumers like the fact that email provides an audit trail, is convenient and allows them to send emails in their own time, rather than having to respond instantly as on the phone or social media.
With the growth in smartphones and tablets, you don’t even need to be in front of your computer to send or respond to email. Many interactions that begin on other channels (such as social media) escalate to email because of its flexibility and privacy. It is therefore no surprise that email usage is up – recent figures from Experian found that volume had grown by 11.2% when you compare Q4 2013 and the same period in 2012. Recognising this trend, 40% of marketers plan to increase their spend on email platforms this year.
However the growth in email causes potential issues for customer service teams. The sheer volume of incoming messages can cause delays in responding, particularly as emails contain unstructured data that takes time to read and understand. At the same time customer expectations are rising – they want an answer within minutes and hours, not days and weeks. Fail to provide one and they may well email again, adding to the backlog, or move to a more expensive channel, such as the telephone, to get an answer.
Fortunately linguistic technology can help companies to manage the email mountain, while increasing efficiency at the same time. Linguistics, the scientific study of language, is able to better understand the context of unstructured data, delivering benefits for companies in three key areas:
1 Improved efficiency and customer engagement
Using linguistics enables customer service systems to understand the meaning of questions asked in incoming emails. Rather than just looking at individual keywords (such as ‘delivery’ or ‘cancellation’), it understands the context of what is being said, and then acts on it. This could be routing the email to the best department or agent, or automatically suggesting a relevant answer for the agent to personalise and send. This increases productivity as agents can handle more emails per hour, while at the same time improving the quality and consistency of the response that customers receive.
2 Improving data accuracy
Customers want a joined-up response, whatever channel they contact you on. However many organisations have data gaps in their records, such as missing phone numbers or Twitter handles, meaning they find it hard to deliver an integrated response. How do you know it is the same John Smith contacting you by email that spoke to you last week by phone? Linguistics lets you extract information freely provided by customers within incoming emails (such as in the signature) and cross-reference/update the master customer record. This gives a more cohesive view of the customer, refining the multichannel service you can provide.
3 Improving understanding
By looking at the context and language of the email linguistics lets you analyse the tone of the interaction quickly and easily. This can then be used to both prioritise and route the message, and for longer term analytics. For example an email from a customer threatening to cancel their contract unless their problem is immediately solved could be prioritised so that it is answered more quickly than normal. Equally, a message praising the service received could be routed to marketing in order to provide VIP offers or to ask the customer to take a survey. Analysing responses, such as terms used around specific products, gives a deeper insight into how customers actually feel about them, and measures how it is changing over time.
As we’ve seen, email usage is growing and customer expectations are rising fast. Therefore organisations need to look at ways of improving efficiency and taming the email channel – linguistics delivers an answer that provides tangible benefits, while improving the customer experience.