Too Many Emails

By Heather Baldwin

Think you’re swamped by customer emails? Imagine being in Sierra Entertainment’s shoes. About a year or two ago, the computer gaming company was receiving 5,000 to 7,000 emails a day with only 64 customer service personnel to keep up with them all – an average of 80 to 110 emails per rep per day. “There was no way we could staff up to that, let alone work on solving people’s problems,” says Mike Bowman, customer service manager for Sierra. Consistently three or four weeks behind on answering those emails, the company at one point decided to commit the ultimate CRM crime. “Anything that was over a month old, we just deleted,” admits Bowman.

Fast forward to 2002 and, from a CRM perspective, Sierra is a different company after employing RightNow Technologies’ e-service solutions. Now, an overwhelming number of its customers are finding answers to questions on their own, meaning they can solve their own problems instantly via the Web rather than waiting for a customer service rep to get back to them.

Just how overwhelming has the shift been? After putting the knowledge base and technology in place, Sierra’s self-service rate skyrocketed from 8% to about 95%. Its Website gets about 40,000 hits a week and was up to 129,000 hits the week after Christmas. And the number of customer service techs answering emails has been slashed from 64 to five, driven by a sharp drop in email volume. “It’s surprising if we get 500 emails a day now,” says Bowman.

The key to Sierra’s e-service success, Bowman says, was shifting its mindset from “How do we auto-answer these 5,000 emails a day?” to “How do we reduce the number of incoming emails?” It’s all about getting people to help themselves. If your company is considering an e-service solution, he says, “do it with the mindset of stopping emails and sending people to self-help.”

The sense of immediate gratification customers get from solving their own problems is key to building solid customer relationships at almost any company, but particularly for a company like Sierra, which deals in the fast-paced world of computer games where players want answers now.

“Without RightNow,” Bowman says in hindsight, “our survival would have been questionable.”