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This is the first installment in the series,  “Email: A View From Above”. Stay tuned over the next three days while we take an unconventional look at what email has to offer. This communication channel is not entirely based on spam or marketing blasts…

When email is a big part of your business, coming up with a seamless, efficient work flow is tremendously important. If you have to reinvent the wheel each time an email comes in from a customer or contact, you risk stunting the overall process.

photo by flickr user ralphbijker

Let’s start with the basics: Do you know what’s going on with the email that’s sent to your business? If your company is like most these days, you have personal email addresses and a host of other addresses like info@, sales@ and marketing@. Who is responsible for responding to inquiries sent to those addresses? If you’re a supervisor, do you know when someone responds to those inquiries, or how they respond?

Businesses often treat their email work flow too much like their telephone protocol. A call comes into a central number and gets transferred to the appropriate party. Everyone has their own direct lines, but outside callers are usually funneled in through selected numbers.

This is good for phone calls, because if the ideal person is already on the phone, the operator can route the call to the next available person or put the caller on hold. Or, if the call is for a specific person who is unavailable, the call can go to voicemail.

It’s Email, Not a Phone Call

But email is different. For starters, the email equivalent of a phone operator is pointless. Email should help you streamline your operations, not bog you down with extra steps. Forwarding an email as you would transfer a phone call creates headers that have to be deleted, inboxes filled with redirected emails, and an extra opportunity for a lost email.

Another problem with this process is that it provides no accountability. After forwarding that email to the right person, do you just wash your hands of it — the forward it and forget it approach? And what if you do want to know how or when that message was managed? Do you have to send a follow up email? More work, more email = less efficiency.

The Vacation Dilemma

Personal email addresses like John@yourbusiness really should be separate from customer facing addresses like sales@yourbusiness. Then, if John is away from the office, customers still receive responses to their inquiries.

That said, if an email to sales@ stays in sales@, you still need a response process for your team. Does one person play the phone operator role, forwarding to John? That just creates the same problem — John responds, the customer replies, and again, John goes on vacation and the customer’s email goes unanswered.

Non-Solution Solutions

So you try several people having access to sales@. Now you have to keep track of who’s answered what. I’ve heard all kinds of ‘solutions’ to this dilemma — colored tags, multiple folders, checking and rechecking the sent folder. Many organizations even dedicate a workstation for customer facing email, with employees rotating at the email desk. None of this makes the process smoother for your team or more reliable for your customers. And none of it gives a manager any way of measuring results.

The Ideal Approach

In an perfect world, everyone would have access to all email pouring into those departmental addresses. The appropriate person would respond to every email with the correct response in a timely manner, and managers would be able to see those responses and even suggest the right response before it’s sent. And ultimately, customers would get a prompt answer — a correct answer — every time.

Be sure and check back tomorrow for the second post in this series: “Want to fail at Customer Service? Ignore Email”

3 Responses to “Company Work Flow a Problem? Check Your Email”

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