Posted by & filed under Customer service, Email general.

I used to work for a small publishing company as a copy editor and proofreader. Trying to move my way up in the company, I took more and more responsibility for one particular publication, and eventually got my name on the masthead as Assistant Editor. When the editor left, I even became Interim Editor for a few months. I still had all my regular responsibilities copy editing and proofreading our other publications, just with more work heaped on my shoulders and a fancy title (which, by the way, was not accompanied by a fancier paycheck).

photo by flickr user jenny downing

photo by flickr user jenny downing

When people sent email to editor@ourmagazine, I’m sure they assumed they were sending a message to somebody who’s sole job it was to attend to that magazine’s needs. And of course, that’s what we wanted them to think! It was a national magazine that was actually well regarded in it’s field, and it wouldn’t do to have readers knowing they were emailing a guy down in the proofreading pit when they had something to share with somebody they probably perceived as important.

A lot of small businesses find themselves in positions like this, where employees have to wear many hats to get through all the work that needs to be done. When one customer sends an email to your marketing department and another writes to your shipping department, neither needs to know that they’re corresponding with the same person. As long as they’re getting prompt, reliable service, they’re going to be happy, right?

To that end, you want to have email addresses that fit your customers’ needs. If they needed technical support, they probably would be suspicious sending an email to sales. Or if somebody wants to discuss a business development idea, would they want to send a query to a generic info@ address?

Now check out this page for NW Tattoo Magazine. It looks like they’re thinking like I’m thinking — different email addresses for the departments, like Merchandise, Reader Submissions, Artists, and Models, right? But hover over one of those addresses, and what do you see in the bottom left corner of your browser window? You’ll be sending an email to info@, not the address they’re displaying on the webpage, no matter which department you want to be writing to.

This seems like a bad idea to me. If I didn’t notice that discrepancy and just chose to cut and paste from their page into my email client, would my email even reach them (currently, all signs point to NO)? Why would they put those addresses on the page if they want mail going to a different address?

Probably because they want it to appear as though they have somebody who handles  Merchandise and somebody else who handles Artists, and so on, and not one account for all inquiries.

NW Tattoo is trying to create the impression of specialization within their organization And there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to do it, why not do it well?

I’m not saying that every business should make up a hundred email addresses to fit every possible customer need. But having the right email addresses can make a difference in how you are perceived by the people who want to contact you.

Posted by & filed under Customer service, Email general, Uncategorized.

Do you ever feel like everywhere you turn, there’s somebody or something waiting for your attention? You’ve got  multiple  email addresses —  some personal, some work related;  voicemail at home, on your cell phone, and on your work phone; actual physical mail at home and at work; a two-year-old wanting to push the garage door opener buttons every 15 minutes (or maybe that’s just me)…

A recent Lifehacker post called Reduce Your Inboxes to Streamline Your Workflow and Reduce Stress gave some decent suggestions for handing the amount of information coming at you from all these directions (though none addressed the toddler with the garage door obsession). This one caught my eye:

3. When possible merge inboxes together. Technology, thought it has given us more to be busy with, has also given us a myriad of ways to merge tools and tasks together and reduce our workload.

photo (adapted) by flickr user Derrick Coetzee

photo (adapted) by flickr user Derrick Coetzee

What a great idea.

If only you could have several email addresses coming into one mailbox. Gosh, that would be great. If the same team was replying to messages sent to different email addresses, imagine how helpful it would be if they could do it from one mailbox? That would awesome. It would be… it would be…

Email Center Pro!

Maybe you already get that Email Center Pro lets you manage multiple mailboxes from one location. But did you realize that you can have multiple email addresses feeding into the same mailbox?

Say, for instance, your customers send messages to you using sales@yourcompany, info@yourcompany, and support@yourcompany. You can create one mailbox, let’s just call it Customer Service, and route all those email addresses into that one box. Then, instead of you or your team logging in and out all day to check the three different addresses, they can just log into one place, and check one mailbox. Not having to hop around from one mailbox to another saves you time, which means your customers will be getting quicker responses. Everybody benefits.

Now if only Email Center Pro could figure out a diversion for my son…

Posted by & filed under Email general.

We’ve all got a lot of email to deal with, right? If you’re like me, some mornings you check your inbox and you think “There’s not enough coffee in the world to fuel my excursion into that mess.”

But would you pay somebody more than $2,750 to come to your office and teach you how to reduce the email influx?

I didn’t think so. But somebody does…

There’s a UK company  that offers email productivity training seminars for corporations. They say they teach your organization how to write emails and subject lines, how to reduce unnecessary emailing, etc, saving time and increasing productivity. Then they go away, and suddenly you and your coworkers are stress free because you’re all using the new techniques you’ve learned.

Now,  if you’re a huge corporation and you want to throw money at a problem and hope it goes away, this sounds like it could be a winner. I mean, increasing productivity by wasting less time on unnecessary tasks is swell. All you need to hope for is that everyone remembers and puts into action all the lessons learned in the seminar (good luck with that).

Oh, and you also have to hope that everyone outside of your organization either takes the same seminar or absorbs it by osmosis. Or maybe you don’t get email from customers and clients?

So what makes more sense: Paying to learn how to be slightly more productive in how you use a tool, or adopting a new tool that has the productivity measures built right in? I mean — you could pay somebody money to teach you how to cook all your meals over an open flame, or you could just get a microwave.

When you adopt a tool like Email Center Pro, you learn how to do things a little differently,  in the context of actually managing your email. You’re not just trying to manage the quantity you receive or the clarity of the subject lines, but the flow of your email itself.

Managing  your email means getting messages to the right person with no hassle. It means switching inboxes easily to handle multiple addresses with ease. It means noting emails for follow up by others, to reduce the amount of back-and-forth emailing you need to do to resolve issues. It’s saved searches, tagging for organization, metrics for measuring results…

Ultimately, it’s about being in control of your inbox. Not learning how to be better controlled by it.

Posted by & filed under Customer service, ECP Feature.

Sometimes customers email you, sometimes they call, sometimes they come to an online chat. Sometimes you call them… Do you treat each of these as isolated incidents?

image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/gifrancis/ / CC BY 2.0

You shouldn’t.

Tracking all your customer communication in one accessible archive is incredibly useful. Here’s a scenario for illustration:

A potential customer emails for information about your product. You respond, and then wait. A few weeks go by, and you decide to follow up with a phone call, and you offer her 10% off her purchase. She still isn’t sure she wants to move forward, so you send her a follow up email with some links that she’ll find useful. Later, she comes to an online chat because one of the links you sent her didn’t work (oops!).  She ends up buying the product for full price online, then emails requesting the discount.

That’s a lot of contact for one customer. Would you have a record of all those communications or remember every one of these touches yourself? Would any of your coworkers have access to any of this information to be able to satisfy the customer if you were not available?

If you use Email Center Pro, the answer is YES.

ECP allows you to create a Contact Card which contains all your customers information. Swell, you think — what email program doesn’t have that?

Okay, but do their Contact Cards log every touch with that contact? Every time they’ve come to a chat, every email they’ve sent you and you’ve sent them? Every phone call, complete with length of call and your notes about it?

The image above shows the history of recent actions with this customer. Clicking on the link in each item will bring up that specific communication — including the full call notes or the entire chat transcript. You can see everything you and the customer have discussed, all in one place.

And to top it off,  you can email, IM, or call (via Skype) directly from the Contact Card!

Yeah, I didn’t think the others let you do that.

Managing email and managing contacts go hand in hand. Being great at one while ignoring the other is like competing in a triathlon but not being able to swim. You’ll lose the race, and drown in the process.

Posted by & filed under Email general, Uncategorized.

Tempted to use all caps or colored text to get your point across in your next email? While the firing of a New Zealand woman for her stylistic choices was recently deemed unfair (with damages awarded to the aggro-emailer), there’s still a lesson to be learned by this story, reported by the New Zealand Herald.

According to her employer, ProCare Health:

[Vicki] Walker – who was fired in December 2007 after two years of employment – had caused disharmony in the workplace by using block capitals, bold typeface and red text in her emails.

Email is a notoriously bad medium for communicating emotions. Tone can be mistaken, sarcasm lost, intent unclear. So people resort to whatever tricks their text editor will allow — different colors for important points, bold or italics to stress a point, or the dreaded ALL CAPS to convey that they really mean it.

It is possible to abuse these devices, though.

In most cases, the overuse results in the message losing all meaning. If every third word in the email is red, how much weight is your reader really going to give that as a method of communicating emphasis?

I am a fan of the occasional use of block caps (stress on occasional — I would have made it all caps, but I didn’t want to upset anyone…)  to make it clear that the word in question is the important one of the bunch.  But most agree that an email in all caps is the equivalent of yelling at someone.

At worst, though, violating these email conventions is annoying. Repeat violations might warrant a chat. It might go something like this:

Supervisor: Hey Vicki, the block caps in your emails make people think you’re yelling at them.
Vicki: Oh, gosh. I was just trying to stress my point. I’ll stop.

It’s hard to imagine feeling like a coworker’s use of color in an email or a hyper-capitalized message is actually effecting your life on the job. And apparently, the New Zealand Employment Relations Authority agreed when they awarded Walker $17,000 for her unfair dismissal.

But the fact remains — it can be difficult to convey the tone or intent behind the words in your emails. If you get too crazy with the methods you try, you can alienate people.

So use red and ALL CAPS and bold sparingly.

Posted by & filed under ECP Feature, Email general.

Responding to emails quickly is a key to building good relationships and providing high quality customer service. If you’ve glanced at this blog before, you already know how strongly we feel about this.

At Palo Alto Software, we’re proud of how fast we respond to our customers.

That’s why we created our Response Time widget (the sample above is from our Contact Us page – click the link to see for yourself).  It’s not just to brag — though with 14 minute turn around time, we’d be entitled to do a little bragging —  but to clearly communicate with our customers that we know their time is valuable and we don’t intend to waste any of it.

Most Email Center Pro accounts can get this widget and the code necessary to display it on their website. The beauty of this badge is that it provides your customers with a realistic expectations. Whether it takes 30 minutes or three hours, at least they’ll have an idea of how long they’re going to wait to hear back from you.

Hopefully  they’ll be impressed by what your Response Time badge has to say, and by how quickly you respond to their message.

If you’re making good use of Email Center Pro, they probably will be.

Posted by & filed under ECP Feature, Email general, Uncategorized.

Tag. You’re It.

We all have our own ways of organizing our lives. I have developed a pretty useful pile system for organizing my desk and home. It might not make much sense to anyone else… in fact it probably looks like a great big mess. But based on the pile’s location, I not only know what’s in it, but where everything in it can be found. I can practically close my eyes and reach into a two foot high pile of clothes and pull out the exact black t-shirt I’m looking for.

Don’t judge me. My system works.

Lately, I’ve really  gotten into organizing my email. And not just in piles. I use tags extensively to help me find emails quickly, remember items that need my attention, and to keep my inbox tidy. The following Top 5  list is how I  personally use tags. There are definitely more productive ways to use tags, but I felt like writing more about the fun or personal ways they can be used.

  1. Keep a smile file
    We’ve created a Kudos tag that we apply to all the customer emails that come in thanking us for a job well done. When I’m having a rough day, sometimes just scrolling through all the praise can help get me back on track.
  2. Make a Follow Ups tag
    When I have  an email that doesn’t need my attention until a later date, I tag it Follow Up. Checking my Follow Up tag on a regular basis keeps me on top of things in a way that’s easier for me than scheduling on a calendar.
  3. Track the “Best Of”
    Sometimes we get really funny emails from customers. Usually the humor is inadvertent, but it’s still funny. I keep a Best Of tag going and it serves pretty much the same function as the Smile File.
  4. Multi tag
    I give emails multiple tags if I think it will help me find them. Say I have to follow up on an email about a specific product. I’ll tag it with the product name AND the follow up tag, so regardless of where I look for the email, I’ll find it. This alone makes tags way more useful than folders.
  5. Get tag happy
    A great tagging system is useless if you only do it sometimes. I’ve discovered that it’s better to overtag than undertag. You can always remove a tag from a message when you don’t need it anymore. But digging through your archive of thousands of emails for one specific message is not ever going to be an efficient way of finding anything. So remember to tag. Often.

Posted by & filed under Customer service, Partners, Uncategorized.

Unsolicited testimonials, like surprise chocolate cakes, are wonderful things indeed.

Here at Palo Alto Software, we were the beneficiaries of both last week. First, as a way of celebrating the integration between Email Center Pro and their service, our friends  over at FormSpring sent us a delicious chocolate cake from the best bakery in town.  The integration, which officially launched recently, allows you to use any FormSpring web form to collect submissions and automatically add contacts into your Email Center Pro account.

Check out Jason’s recent Business in General blog post about cake sending as a good business practice.

A few days later, this video testimonial was brought to our attention.  In it, Jennifer Haubein of Websites2Grow.com talks about her experience as a new user of Email Center Pro. She says

I can manage many multiple email addresses and delegate email to my team… Also, the template capability is huge for me.

Jason also wrote about the video and how a company goes about ‘soliciting’ unsolicited praise on the BIG blog.

So to sum up, the last week was marked by

  • A great new integration that makes Email Center Pro customer’s lives easier and more efficient
  • Glowing words from a satisfied user
  • Two blog posts by Jason
  • and Chocolate Cake!

What a week!

Posted by & filed under Email general, Uncategorized.

It’s a reality that has to be faced by all users of Web-based applications: there will come a time when your service will be disrupted.

This morning, Twitter experienced a denial-of-service attack  and was down for a few hours. Facebook and LiveJournal were both down for a while as well. At this writing, it wasn’t clear if there was a connection between the outages, and it’s hard to tell just how many people may have been affected. According to TechCrunch, 45 million people rely on Twitter as a communication platform, and Facebook’s stats page claims 120 million users log on at least once a day. So that’s a lot of people who couldn’t use their chosen method of communication.

I’m a fan of both Twitter and Facebook. But today’s outages point out a pretty serious flaw I see in the way social media works right now. If everyone is relying on the same application to communicate — NOBODY can communicate when things go wrong.

Now, all those Tweeters and Facebookers probably have email addresses that they can use for communication while the sites are down, and that speaks to the bigger picture for me. These networks can’t possibly really replace email. There was a lot of talk not so long ago about how email is obsolete and would be put out to pasture sooner rather than later. I think today’s event kind of shows how that’s just not going to be the case.

As long as there are numerous email providers and platforms and applications, mass outages shouldn’t happen to email like they will on social media sites. I’m comforted to know that my email contact list contains people using a slew of providers.  When everyone is logging in to one place to communicate, it just seems like a recipe for disaster.

If by “disaster” you mean the inability to send 140 character updates.

Posted by & filed under Customer service.

Email makes communicating easy. But sometimes that ease comes with a price. When it’s so simple and quick and automatic to fire off an email, it can be hard to remember that there is a human on the receiving end.

photo by flickr user NatalieMaynor

Every now and then, you’re going to have a customer who doesn’t like your product or  service, or who just had a bad day and uses you as a convenient venting outlet. In the old days, those customers might have gotten ranty in your store lobby or called you on the phone and yelled a little. But these days, because of the impersonal nature of email (no name, no face or voice cues to respond to), what should be a simple and valid customer complaint can get ugly and result in nothing but hard feelings on both ends.

The best way to avoid being flamed by the occasional angry emailer is to treat your email customer service like you would any in-person service. Be prompt. Be polite. Exceed expectations.

Basically, you want it to be clear that your company is made up of people dealing with people, not faceless agents responding to emails. Without sacrificing efficiency, you can create relationships with your customers via email that build over time. If there’s ever a reason for somebody to voice dissatisfaction with you or your company, a solid relationship will go a long way toward guaranteeing civility.

There are some simple ways to help achieve these results.

  • Be prompt. I can’t say it enough. Replying quickly to emails is a sure-fire way to create satisfied customers. You’ll be amazed at how many people take the time to write back with thanks because you provided fast service.
  • Say Hello and use the customer’s name. If the customer doesn’t sign their email, check your contacts or your CRM for their name. They’ll be impressed that you made the effort to know who they are. Thank the customer for taking the time to contact you.
  • Use carefully written templates to answer the most frequent questions. Not only will they save time, but they’ll also demonstrate to your team the general tone you expect all emails to carry.
  • Be thorough. Sometimes it takes a few readings to determine what somebody means in an email. Try to avoid responding with requests for more information. The more back and forth to get an issue resolved, the more frustrated everyone is.
  • Use a personal signature. Never send an email from The Customer Service Team or The Staff of My Company.  Include not only email addresses but phone numbers in the signature. But don’t go crazy with the contact information — when the signature gets too long, it just looks like clutter.

Finally, when all the pieces above are in place, there’s one final thing you should do whenever possible, to ensure that your customers will look forward to contacting you.

  • Exceed expectations. It’s really not that hard. Find ways to add value or information every time you reply to a customer email.  Tell them about complementary products or services you offer. Send them links to more information about the topic they emailed you about. Go the extra mile.

This might all sound like the basics of customer service. It is, but it’s also much more. It’s about providing a person-to-person experience.  Typing and texting and tweeting have replaced much of our face-to-face communication, so we would be well advised to remember that there are people on the other end of all of our devices. How you treat your customers has a lot to do with how they treat you in return.