Customer service email - should it be managed by phone agents or digital agents?

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Email is one of the most traditional types of customer service channels and yet remains a major one still used in multiple situations. But in an evolving world where digital becomes more and more important, call centers become contact centers and a new breed of agents rises: digital agents. Who should then manage emails?

 Contact Center VS Call Center

What has changed?

The world of customer service is evolving rapidly. We moved from customer service to customer care, from call center to contact center, from ticketing to conversations and from omni-channel to omni-digital

Fundamentally, what has changed?

Consumers communication habits have shifted towards digital, companies have found ways to improve productivity and automate part of their daily routines and contact centers have deployed new touch points to reflect customers' evolution.

Phone support, which is still an important part of customer service, is no longer sufficient (read: is phone support dead?). People expect to engage with companies through a variety of digital channels, based on the context, the time of the day, the type of enquiry, the device available, and so on.

As a result, call center customer service representatives who used to do voice only have been transitioned to an hybrid role of voice + text and often manage phone + live-chat + email with a strong focus on productivity and reduced idle times.

In the same time, as new channels emerge, contact centers build new teams, often fragmented around specific technologies, to handle other digital sources: social media, messaging, communities, etc. With an omni-digital approach it becomes easier to regroup these channels and merge their technologies to provide a consistent customer experience across the board since everything is written. But what of email?

 Contact Center email

Email - a digital channel living in a traditional world

The reason why email is still living in between the call center and the contact center is that it is the oldest digital channel.

Call centers have a major flaw: during peak hours, they suffer spikes of incoming calls and have difficulties handling all of them. The agents are overwhelmed, the abandon rate rises and customers get upset. Outside busy hours, the agents can be idle with too few calls for too many agents. The productivity then drops and the cost of each call increases, which looks bad on the call center's report.

To prevent that, call centers have a solution: ask for their agents to handle written digital channels whenever they are not on the phone and therefore maximize their productivity, reduce idle times and do more with less.

When new digital channels emerged, these were regrouped together in contact centers focusing on digital and email often stayed behind as a productivity patch to improve call centers figures.

Does this approach still make sense today?

 Contct center email management

Voice and digital, different skills, different agents

All digital channels, including email, have something in common: there are written channels. Written channels require specific writing skills that are entirely different from speaking and listening skills.

Your best phone agent certainly has a reassuring and steady voice. He can keep his cool and handle angry yelling customers. He speaks clearly and displays empathy when customers are unsatisfied. He can easily understand people with weird accents or extremely low or high keys.
Does it mean he has good grammar? That he types fast on a keyboard? That his vocabulary and syntax are good? 
Not necessarily.
And while he is outstanding when it comes to phone, he may not be that amazing on written channels.

On the other hand, your best digital agent may know how to soothe people with well-written sentences. He may be able to clearly summarize complex situations and offer concrete solutions. He may know how to go straight to the point and solve problems faster than anyone else.
But does it mean he could handle a yelling customer? Would his skin be thick enough to go through multiple rounds of upset clients? Would his voice convey trust and comfort?

The skills required for both games are very different and while a soccer champion is rarely a fantastic tennis player, a great voice agent may not be a perfect digital agent.

As a written digital channel, email would fit better with a digital team than with a voice team using it as a productivity patch.

  Email management

The need for consistent customer experience

You are a consumer; we all are.

As consumers, we do not care about channels. The only thing that matters is the experience: we want seamless, simple and convenient customer experiences.
We do not care whether brands have an omni-channel strategy, we want them to have an omni-digital strategy. We want to be able to contact the brand through whatever channel is convenient for us at the time we have a question. It may be phone when we really need to talk to someone, it may be messaging when we're on the road, it may be live-chat during an e-commerce transaction or it may be email when the problem is fairly complex and long to explain. We expect to choose the channel that makes most sense for us (72% of consumers expect to reach agents via their channel of choice) and get a consistent customer experience regardless of the channel used (58% of consumers are frustrated with inconsistent experiences from channel to channel).

But what is the best way to provide such level of consistency across channels? How do you make sure your customers always enjoy the same level of service regardless of the channel used?

The answer is: with an omni-digital strategy. By regrouping all your digital channels, including email, managing them from the same platform, giving agents the ability to manage multiple channels simultaneously based on their skills and not on channels type, you create consistency and increase productivity all at once while satisfying your customers.

Better multi-tasking in a digital only environment

The last element to consider is the fact that, beyond pure skills, the brain has less difficulties switching from one task to the other when both tasks use the same sense. It is easier to switch from one call to the other or a message to the other than from one call to one message.

The huge advantage of digital is that it offers both synchronous and asynchronous written channels and customer service representatives can easily switch between multiple conversations, mixing synchronous live-chats with asynchronous messaging, social or email, without losing track of the conversation.

 Email backlog

The importance of consistent analytics

In a contact center, the activity is managed with metrics and KPIs that are essential to productivity. AHT, NPS, CSat, FCR, Abandon Rate and many other metrics drive the daily activity.

However, digital contact center and voice call centers have different metrics and different methods of calculation. While the abandon rate is essential for phone, it doesn't exist in the digital world for obvious reasons. Conversations happen differently and the figures that help you optimize your activity are not the same in the digital and vocal worlds.

Consequently, regrouping the email with the other digital channels makes great sense: you then can compare apples with apples and have a big picture of what is happening across all your channels.


All in all, if you must decide who should manage your emails between your voice team and your digital team, the logical choice is to regroup written channels on one side, and leave voice on the other.

What is your own experience? Why do you regroup or separate email with digital?


Julien Rio.


Last update: 2024-07-16 Tags:

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Julien Rio Digital Marketing