Ask an Inbox Expert is Front Page’s advice column for all things inbox. Got questions about how to improve your customer communication or internal collaboration? Tweet at us @FrontHQ to get advice from a pro!
Dear Inbox Expert,
We’re constantly trying to scale our customer success operations, but the biggest limiting factor is email! We just get way too many emails per CSM, and we can’t afford to increase our head count to keep portfolios manageable. Please help!
—Drowning in email
You’re absolutely right — the biggest pain we hear about from customer-facing teams is almost always email volume. And that email volume creates all sorts of cascading problems. It causes issues like who’s accountable for responding to what messages, which causes emails to be forwarded around, leading to even more emails. And because messages tend to be siloed by team, management can’t get visibility into these conversations.
So when you talk about scaling, there are really three interconnected issues you need to solve beyond just the overall volume:
Accountability: Who’s responsible for each inbound message?
Visibility: What’s the pathway of the customer through the organization?
Experience: How do we respond and resolve messages efficiently?
You can probably already see this isn’t just an operations problem, it’s an analytics problem. And most companies don’t really have metrics in their inbox systems. They’ll often start with a restructure or reorg to try to create some efficiency without really knowing where the friction is in their communications.
So my first piece of advice is to start to understand your email ecosystem before you start to scale, and that starts with metrics. Benchmarking the baseline state of your inbox is the first step to making any kind of measurable improvement. Unfortunately, if you’re just using regular Outlook or Gmail, you probably don’t have the right tools to do your job!
But if you do have that functionality in your inbox, here are three steps I’d give to addressing those three challenges of accountability, visibility, and actionability.
1. Assign messages to ensure accountability
The only way to efficiently scale a customer-facing organization is through teamwork. It takes a village to manage a growing customer base, but as your team grows, mix-ups and missed assignments get more common. Most teams solve for this by segmenting customers to create clear accountability. But they don’t often do that for their lines of communication.
Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, a message will get sent the first time to the person best-equipped to answer it. But even if it does, you’ll often need to forward it or copy it anyway to resolve the message. That just amplifies the number of emails you’re dealing with (and it’s why you’re probably drowning in them!). And on top of that, you lose clear accountability for the customer.
Practically, this looks like constantly checking your email to manually filter out which conversations you need to take accountability for versus other ones someone else is handling. And for team leads, it means you have to often tap in to micro-manage the flow of messages around your team which adds to your workload.
Assigning messages not only gives you a one-click way to reduce the number of copies and forwards, it helps you ensure accountability for every message — and more than that, it helps you track messages and individual contributors in your analytics.
2. Tag messages to gain visibility
We’re huge proponents of tagging at Front. It’s not just to help you sort and organize your inbox, though it definitely helps with that. If you think about each message as a data point, most companies are throwing away or ignoring huge troves of data by not tagging and tracking them.
Our customers use tags to understand what topics customers are emailing about most often, and then track performance and response time by topic. They also correlate topics and tags with which individual or account is sending the message, which gives a ton of insight into what’s on your most high-touch customers’ minds. Tags also help teams understand what the their bandwidth looks like and who is handling which types of conversations and how those conversations flow across teams.
Here’s a concrete example. Say you’re a CSM at a B2B tech company. You can use tags to classify messages as “feature requests” or “bugs” (you can even set this up to happen automatically!). More often than not, those get passed to a different team or escalated for a more technical response.
From there, you can track those requests and maintain visibility into how they’re being addressed so you can close the loop with your customer. And your management can track trends in messages across the account base using analytics.
3. Ensure great experiences with automation and analytics
I mentioned automation in the last section, and this is where you can really cut down on volume and save time. Response time is one of the key leading indicators for customer experience, but it’s resolution time that’s the real yardstick for success. How quickly can you go from your first message to closing the issue?
Tagging and assigning messages will drastically reduce your response and resolution times, especially once you start automating those actions. Front has a very robust rules engine that allows you to automate your most common processes. And Front’s analytics help you benchmark and track your improvements and time savings.
The last thing I’ll recommend is another simple trick in Front: add a CSAT survey to your signature to get invaluable CX data with every message you send — all without hardly any manual work.
To sum it all up, if you’re drowning in email, the first step is to know which direction is up! And that means getting started by evaluating metrics and gaining insight using inbox analytics.
Originally Published: 22 July 2021