Nearly every credit union provides an e-mail address for members to submit inquiries, but few handle e-mail communications with the same attentiveness given to voice communications. Why? The answer most often heard is that members don’t expect the same level of service or simply won’t rely on e-mail for issues requiring a prompt response. When you consider the cost of servicing member requests via telephone, an e-mail is almost always more cost-effective, efficient solution. The average cost of an e-mail is significantly lower than voice, and consequently, many organizations are taking a different viewpoint to e-mail.
Like many corporations, most credit unions accept e-mails into a central e-mail pond; fish them out and forward on for response. The e-mail typically comes into a centralized address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org , and at some predetermined frequency the e-mail is opened and reviewed. The service representative then triages the e-mail looking for those requiring an immediate response, and passes other messages to different staff members. The end result from the member's perspective may be far from satisfactory. If the member considered the issue to be important and they do not receive a prompt response, chances are they won’t choose to use e-mail for future inquiries. If the e-mail volume is high, this will create a greater chance of the response being slower - often creating a situation in which the member will first submit an inquiry via e-mail and then because of the delay, call in for a faster response. Now you must respond to two “issues” arriving across two channels. Both inquiries will cost you member service resources and potentially generate separate responses. This often happens because of the inability to link requests between communication channels or systems.
Many credit unions send an automatic acknowledgement notice for every e-mail received with a basic response of “Thank you for your inquiry...” going out to members. However, the acknowledgment means very little without formal logging of the inbound e-mail, expected or guaranteed response times defined or furthermore the ability to enforce adherence to these standards. Over time, this minimal level of response only serves to frustrate your members and dramatize the inefficiency of your member service operations.
If you accept that the channel of communication is not what’s important, but the member's inquiry, why not offer the same or comparable speed of response for all communication channels? To achieve this, all member communications should be viewed through a “universal queue” or a single view combining all channels of communication (voice, e-mail, Internet). The issue of how to respond to and manage e-mail communications while balancing against voice calls or other communications channels requires the queue activity to be consistently prioritized by member value or urgency of contact. A single view of any inbound interaction - regardless of channel - means prioritization occurs based on the member’s value to the organization or the issue for which they are contacting you. If e-mails are “read” automatically by the system, often using word or phrase identification, the communication received may be prioritized and routed accordingly. For instance, an e-mail regarding a potential fraud situation may have more importance than a typical account inquiry call, and therefore requires a prompt response.
If you take away one point from this article, know that the strategy for managing communications with members must be comprehensive. It should facilitate responsive and consistent communications between you and your members regardless of how members choose to contact you. Your member service operations should unify all communication channels so that no matter how a member contacts you, they can count on receiving the best possible service .
For more information on unified member service operations or Apropos for Credit Unions, register for a free online seminar “ Providing the Optimal Member Experience with Apropos for Credit Unions” or view a 7-minute flash presentation at www.apropos.com.