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Borders.com Automates E-Mail to Reduce Staffing Woes

Online retailer Borders.com has partially automated its e-mail response system in a move that has limited staffing increases at its Web-enabled contact centers.

The average daily number of e-mails from Borders.com customers to the company's two contact centers has increased more than 40 percent, from 700 to 1,000, since the automated response system was introduced six months ago. However, Borders.com has managed to keep staff increases to a minimum and has cut its average response time by one-third.

Within two months of installing the system, Borders.com achieved its goal of responding to 95 percent of all customer support e-mails within 24 hours of receiving them. The average response time decreased from between four and five minutes to between three and four minutes.

Borders.com hires temps to fill in during peak seasons when customer inquiry volume is high. However, after Borders.com began automating its e-mail responses, the need to hire large numbers of temps during the peak season — the holidays — was alleviated.

Borders.com — the Internet arm of Borders, Ann Arbor, MI, the brick-and-mortar book, music and video retail chain — is using a solution that analyzes incoming customer e-mails and automatically selects and returns a pre-scripted response. The system, designed by Brightware, San Rafael, CA, gets approval from an agent when the system is unsure whether the pre-scripted response it has selected is correct.

Before using the Brightware system, Borders used Microsoft Outlook for e-mail management. But the company soon learned that Outlook was not designed to serve a large-scale customer-contact operation.

The Brightware service uses a form of artificial intelligence that scans incoming e-mails and looks for keywords to determine what customers need. The service can pick from a selection of pre-written response e-mails and typically can get back to the customer within two hours.

When the solution is unsure which pre-written response to select, it forwards the customer e-mail to an agent. The solution suggests a pre-written response e-mail that the agent can approve with a click or can modify.

A high volume of inbound customer service e-mails is not necessarily a bad thing, said Brian Tuller, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Brightware.

If a company responds promptly and correctly, service e-mails are an opportunity to build stronger relationships with customers. Automating e-mail responses allows Borders.com to send consistent messages to consumers.

“Growth in e-mail is actually a positive thing,” Tuller said. “It shows that the rest of the business is functioning properly and driving people to the site.”

The Brightware solution also aids in work force management. The service divides incoming e-mails into queues according to subject. Borders.com contact center managers can assign agents who specialize in specific subjects to the appropriate queues or can switch agents between queues to help colleagues with burdensome workloads.

The service also has access to the Borders.com customer database, and it can identify high-value consumers and flag them as high priorities for response.

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