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How an Email Virtual Assistant Can Help Handle the Holiday Rush

By Special Guest
Shellie Vornhagen, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Client Services at Astute
December 02, 2020

In an unpredictable year, one thing is certain – holiday shopping will look a lot different than previous years. With some states already seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, many consumers will be doing their holiday shopping online this year. In fact, Deloitte expects holiday e-commerce sales to surge by 25% to 35% amounting to between $182 billion and $196 billion. An increase in online shopping also means more opportunity for handling mishaps, supply chain shortages, and extended shipping times due to high order volume and COVID-19 restrictions, creating a firestorm of challenges for customer service agents.

During the peak holiday shopping season, the backlog of unanswered customer emails can swell quickly. Although most businesses hire a flurry of seasonal employees and add hours for some agents, many organizations still struggle to maintain a high level of customer support during peak shopping periods. Automation is a must-have to manage unprecedented email volumes.

Save the Sale with a Quick Reply

Despite the disruptions to the industry, retailers' success (or failure) is still driven by the customer experience (CX). Research from Gartner has found that for 2020 and beyond, 81% of retailers still expect to be competing mostly or entirely based on CX. Satisfied customers become loyal customers when a business provides good customer service. Research shows that nearly 70% of people would spend more money with a company that has excellent customer service.

Good customer service includes email responsiveness. A recent HubSpot study found that 90% of customers expect an "immediate" response, which means 10 minutes or less. When it comes to e-commerce, replying immediately to a shopper’s question can mean the difference between an abandoned cart and a completed purchase. Customers want to feel important and cared for, and responding to emails efficiently can be an easy way to achieve that. It has become easier for customers to get in touch with companies, which makes it more challenging for companies to scale their customer service to meet this growing demand.

Manage Seasonal Spikes with Automation

Technology gives organizations the ability to handle unexpected email spikes, including on weekends and holidays. Email virtual assistants give organizations a huge leap forward in resolving customer issues more quickly and accurately – and satisfying customers faster. 

Unlike an auto-reply email that generates a passive, generic response, email virtual assistant technology proactively assists agents by providing a customized email response to the specific issue or issues described in the customer’s email. Email virtual assistants mimic live agent responses to preserve a human feel. Here’s how an email virtual assistant works:

  • Identifies problems, issues, or requests expressed in an email
  • Codes the problems, issues, or requests appropriately
  • Drafts an email, based on the best responses previously written by human agents
  • Uses a goodwill calculator to offer appropriate goodwill compensation, if applicable
  • Enters the queue for an agent to review, and edit if necessary, before sending

Email automation goes beyond generic auto-replies to deliver real resolutions to customers. It rises to the challenge of the large influx of support emails businesses are likely to receive during this holiday season – not to mention the inevitable slew of post-holiday returns and exchanges.

Cut Costs and Increase Productivity

Email automation allows businesses to create stability within their core team by improving the agent experience. Agents can spend more time handling important and sometimes difficult live customer interactions without worrying about emails building up. Dianna Booher, CEO of Booher Research Institute, calculated that the cost of time spent on emails can be as much as $30,000 per year per agent. The average cost for agents to process emails is $5.50 per email. With automation, emails can be processed for only $1.50 per email. If an organization uses automation to process 10,000 emails per month, it will save $40,000 per month.

There’s no time to waste as three in 10 consumers say they expect to start their holiday shopping earlier than usual this year, according to a study by Coresight Research. Virtual email assistants can process inbound emails and craft highly accurate responses quickly and effectively, drastically reducing the time and cost associated with customer email management. Agents only have to spend one minute reviewing and approving a response, instead of five minutes or more processing incoming requests and drafting email responses. Technologies like email process automation enable businesses to flex to meet demand, adding elasticity while reducing costs.

Are you ready to start shopping for a solution to your email backlog problem? Meet EVA.

Shellie Vornhagen is Senior Vice President of Marketing and Client Services at Astute. To learn about Astute’s customer engagement solutions, please visit

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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