As methods and practices of dealing with customers changes due to the increasing reliance on the Internet for commerce and communication, the need for robust email support becomes essential for businesses large and small. There are very few customer interactions that occur in any business that don’t eventually involve digital communication of some kind, and customers have come to expect a level of engagement that can’t be ignored if companies want to stay afloat in the modern economy.

Customer Service Is More Than A Slogan

Anybody who deals with the public will tell you that customer service is important. But those are just words. What many don’t understand is that email support has become the primary customer service avenue. It’s the customers, not you, who ultimately decide how they want to be served by your business. You can offer customer service on your customer’s terms, or you won’t have any customers.

In most organizations, true customer service is regarded as an afterthought, treated as a cost center, and interactions with customers are treated as a liability. Organizations can easily adopt a fortress mentality, trying to hold the customers at bay while they look after what they consider their real business, which is producing some good or service. This is especially true of small businesses where one or only few people have to handle every aspect of their daily business. A minute spent dealing with customers is a minute not doing their other tasks, so they avoid it. That’s a mistake; and in today’s economy, it’s generally a fatal mistake.

How Email Support Systems Can Help

Customers expect many things from even the smallest businesses they do business with. Even a one-person shop is expected to have a robust web presence, reliable voice communication and messaging, and most of all, 24/7 communication via email. The key to understanding the opportunities and dangers of email communications, and setting up a proper email support system, is to first understand the concept of customer-centric service, instead of issue-centric service.

Issue-Centric Support Should Only Be Internal

Issue-centric email support systems are a form of the fortress mentality we mentioned earlier. It relies on documentation and a process completely divorced from any relationship with the person that generated it originally – the customer. Issue-centric email support is great for in-house communication. Problems move from desk to desk until they’re resolved, with everyone on the same team. The goal is to get the problem off your virtual desk as quickly as possible, and the feelings of everyone up and down the chain of custody of the support ticket are irrelevant.

Customer-Centric Support Is The Face You Show To The World

Customer-centric support looks at each interaction with a customer as an opportunity, not a cost. Every step of a properly run email support system in a customer-centric model attempts to increase engagement with the end user, not just make them go away. If the customer has a problem, that problem must be solved, the same as in an issue-centric system, but resolution of the problem must always be looked at as a means to an end, not the end. The end result is an engaged and satisfied customer.

New Customers Cost More

It costs up to seven times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one. A happy customer buys more, and leads to customer growth through referrals. A happy customer is a loyal customer. A loyal customer will stick by you while you work out problems, because they believe you when you tell them that you’re working on a resolution. A properly set-up and administered email support system is the only way to show your customer that you are working on a resolution. It’s absolutely essential in today’s marketplace.

A Good Plan Now Beats A Great Plan Later

Some small businesses resist setting up support and ticket email systems because they seem more impersonal than dealing with customers face to face, by phone, or through direct email correspondence. That’s a mistake. While you may have the intention of giving personal service to everyone in your email inbox, there’s no way you can achieve the 24/7 attention that dedicated support and ticket systems bring.

A customer will always be flattered that the owner of a business is interested in their problem, but aren’t willing to wait to get that level of service. They view interactions with senior personnel as only appropriate for problems that have escalated, and appreciate an immediate answer from email support, or even an automated answer, more than waiting longer for an answer from a more senior person. Most email inquiries are simply requests for information that can easily be handled immediately by a help desk.

Get Questions Into The Right Hands Immediately

A well-designed email support system will bring an added dimension to your customer relations: Preferred agent routing.

Preferred agent routing sends email support requests to the person most likely to produce a satisfactory result for the customer. Without it, the president of the company is giving driving directions while the sales department is fielding tech support inquiries. By understanding the needs of the customer, not only can problems be solved, but additional sales opportunities can present themselves. Solving the customer’s problems effectively and quickly can turn what was considered a cost center into a sales and marketing profit center.

 

Which Email Support/Ticket Systems Are Available?

There are many email/support ticket systems available for any size business, and properly used, they can pay for themselves with increased customer loyalty, engagement, and marketing and sales opportunities. Here are three of the better-known examples, all with very different approaches and scales:

 

os Ticket – osTicket is a popular open source ticket system that routes inquiries created through email, webforms, or phone calls into multi-user web-based customer support.

  • Free, open source, with available professional installation, training, and custom commercial support packages
  • Custom list fields
  • Rich text html for additional branding opportunities
  • Ticket filters to route tickets to correct departments
  • Agent Collision Avoidance locks tickets to stop multiple responses
  • Auto-responders for quick answers or to acknowledge receipt
  • Login-free online customer portal lets customers see responses to their queries

 

Zendesk – High profile and well regarded, Zendesk offers tiered services starting at $1 per agent per month for a ticketing portal with 3 agents, up to $195 per agent per month for their full suite of enterprise services. Zendesk has over 40,000 customers, including some of the most prominent businesses in the world. Enterprise Elite features include:

 

  • Unlimited agents
  • Knowledge base for self-service
  • Moderated community support
  • 24×7 email and phone support
  • Macros for pre-defined responses
  • Tickets customizable by customer type
  • Support in 14 languages
  • Native apps
  • Customer satisfaction surveys
  • Any time zone help
  • Covers all major social media channels
  • Live chat

 

Help Scout – Offered on the Freemium plan, Help Scout offers collaborated email support for up to three users on one mailbox, while allowing response emails to be personalized like a normal email. For small companies that require an “all hands on deck” approach to customer service, it’s a big improvement on multiple email accounts to deal with the public. Their standard plan cost $15 per user per month, and offers:

 

  • Unlimited mailboxes
  • Usage reports
  • Workflow analysis
  • Notes and delegation
  • Customer profiles for immediate preferred agent routing
  • Brandable docs