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Build Your Skills: The e-mail doctor is in

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If you are receiving mountains of customer e-mail, an intelligent e-mail response system may be the key to answering all of them effectively and keeping your customers satisfied.

An intelligent system can analyze, sort, and answer e-mail inquiries automatically, using a library of responses that coordinate with the subject or attitude of the e-mail.

In this interview, V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai or “Dr. E-mail,” founder and CEO of EchoMail Corporation , formerly General Interactive, Inc., discusses what lies beneath EchoMail, the corporation’s intelligent e-mail suite, and why CRM solutions benefit from intelligent e-mail analysis.

TechRepublic: Your approach to e-mail and electronic messages is much different than that of the general public. How did this different view develop?

Shiva: Our approach to e-mail is not coming from the Web and [it’s not about] getting on the Web and CRM bandwagon. We look at e-mail very scientifically and we look at e-mail communication no different than we look at other forms of communications, from speech recognition to handwriting recognition.

We’re really solid, hard-core technologists, not people who said, “Let’s go build a CRM application because we know there is money to be made there.” We came from an environment where e-mail is a type of digital matter. Behind an e-mail is a lot of psychographic, demographic data, and that is the approach we took. So, from day one we were building methodologies to elicit data out of that digital matter.

People don’t have time to read all of their e-mail. You have to figure out intelligent ways of ascertaining what’s inside that e-mail without having to read it. So that’s sort of the background we came from: intelligent analysis.

About EchoMail Corporation
EchoMail Corporation’s product line centers around the EchoMail suite. EchoMail allows companies to manage customer e-mail by intelligently routing and responding to e-mails automatically, without human involvement.

The science behind the technology
TechRepublic: Your approach to intelligence analysis is rooted in what form of science?

Shiva: Our background is more rooted in mechanics, physics, and science, not from a CRM approach.

In the physics area, we came from a nondestructive evaluation. People use it in ultrasonics. You don’t have to open up a mom anymore to figure out what’s going on with the baby. You use ultrasound. You send a wave in, and based on the wave that you get back, you can put together an image.

TechRepublic: How does EchoMail handle each segment of an information wave?

Shiva: If you look at wave analysis, the way people have done any type of signal analysis or wave analysis, you use various techniques. First you have to do what’s called feature extraction [from a wave]. Then you have to do some type of clustering, and then once it’s clustered you do some type of learning. So you can apply it to anything. An EKG signal, that’s a wave.

The approach we’ve taken is fundamentally to figure out what’s in an e-mail as best we can and to help human beings really handle the more important ones. It’s sort of the 80/20 rule.

Everyone in CRM talks [about the] 80/20 rule, where 20 percent of your customers are really the high value ones who really want to put more effort out, and that’s where our technology really helps. So we’re saving companies millions of dollars every year through the use of our technology.

The CRM connection
TechRepublic: How does EchoMail improve customer relationship management (CRM)?

Shiva:
  • First of all, it delivers e-mail to the right employee at the right time and if that employee is inundated with e-mail, we have our automation, which reduces the amount of work. We also answer e-mails consistently. So at the end of the day, it helps a company to get back to their customers in real time.
  • Second, it enables them to make sure that e-mail is answered in a quality way.
  • Third, it enables them to reduce their cost of answering e-mail significantly.
  • Fourth, we enable our clients through the workflow to also meet their compliance needs. The system helps people integrate compliance laws. E-mail is also starting to be a legal mechanism that can be useful in courts. If you look at our clients: Hancock, Geico, or Allstate, they are very scared of even sending back e-mail. Our system is the only system that also lets them follow legal compliance.

How do you get the name, "Dr. E-mail?"
Shiva developed a prize-winning e-mail system as a high school student in 1979. Later, as a student at MIT, Shiva studied artificial intelligence and pattern recognition research.
“When I came to MIT, I had already built a lot of stuff. In fact, one of the first MIT articles that came out, [MIT has their own magazine] they put out this article and said there are two interesting students in the freshman class, one built a solar car and another built an e-mail system. So people started calling me ‘Dr. E-mail,’” Shiva said.
The name has stuck.


The intelligent response
TechRepublic: EchoMail is designed to provide an intelligent response to the customer. How does this take place?

Shiva: After we do the analysis, our goal is to analyze the hell out of an e-mail. Once we do that, then it becomes trivial to figure out how you want to categorize it, route it, or respond to it. We can talk right to a knowledge library that’s pre-existing in the company, and based on the analysis, we’ll actually put together a response. We also provide a library where people can put in their own knowledge.

For example, someone sends an e-mail saying, “I want a job.” Your company may already have a standard response for how you respond to job requests. We’ll categorize the job request. Then, the way you respond to a job request may be different than another company. That’s the response that you’ve loaded up and we’ll automatically get that, put on a header, footer, and send it out.

TechRepublic: EchoMail reads e-mail and determines the attitude of that e-mail. Give an example.

Shiva: We convert e-mail to a signal. It’s not just any words. Someone may send an e-mail saying you’re “da bomb.” Most systems could think someone is trying to bomb them, but “da bomb” is actually something positive. So the system learns from that as people correct it.

TechRepublic: In your opinion, can e-mail replace the element of human interaction that occurs in the telephone call through a call center?

Shiva: We’re looking at different end-to-end solutions for e-mail management. There are companies out there saying, “Let’s blend all this stuff together.” I think it’s a very naive outlook. It shows a lack of understanding of the phone as well as e-mail. I don’t think one will replace the other. TV never replaced radio. They’re different means.

Phone is synchronous. You want to talk to someone when you’re ready and they have to be there. E-mail is asynchronous. They don’t have to be there. I can send you an e-mail and you can decide to answer that e-mail immediately or you can decide to answer that e-mail a week from now or two weeks from now based on how you want to think about it, sculpt it, etc.

The other thing is e-mail requires a lot more skill to answer. You have to be able to read, you have to be able to write, and you have to be able to grammar check and spell check. With phone conversation, you don’t need to know a lot of that. There are other rules, such as rules of etiquette, etc.

The e-mail response market
TechRepublic: Which market segment is EchoMail targeted to?

Shiva: The segments that we deliver to are solutions primarily to application service providers. So if you look at the market segments, it actually breaks up into four areas. One is the advertising area and direct marketing. Another is the infrastructure and hosting area. The third is more the data mining and storage, [the fourth is] data warehousing.

TechRepublic: Some intelligent e-mail competitors are starting to crop up. How do you perceive EchoMail still being competitive?

Shiva: First of all, we actually make money. Our competitors don’t. They fluctuate up and down with the stock market. We don’t plan on wanting to go public because we already have a lot of money in the bank. We can move a lot faster than our competitors. We continue to innovate and have the best product out there. We’re probably about two to three years ahead of all of our competitors, just from the raw technology standpoint.

Most of our competitors went after the dot-com business. We went after large enterprise clients who have more rigorous needs than a dot-com.

TechRepublic: Clients like J.C. Penney and Nike?

Shiva: Yeah, they have more technology needs. You have to work with their back-end database. You have to be a real CRM solution, not just in words alone.

TechRepublic: What has been EchoMail Corporation’s (General Interactive’s) impact on the intelligent e-mail management market?

Shiva: I think we’re the undisputed leader. That’s what we’ve been doing since 1992. We have state-of-the-art workflow, but we have merged that with state-of-the-art intelligence, so you get the best of both worlds and there’s nothing like that out there.

Other vendors who offer intelligent e-mail response software
Does your company have a mountain of customer e-mail to sort through?
Drop us a note or post a comment below about how you are dealing with responding to customer e-mails.

 

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