On levers, short and long - the unexpected impact of automated email routing software
“Give me a place to stand, and with a lever, I will move the whole world,” the Greek scientist Archimedes supposedly said.
Silicon Valley is full of Archimedeans. We love to talk about leverage. Leveraging our differentiators. Leveraging investments in technology and people. But not all levers are equal. As an executive, you have short levers that move a little. You have long ones that move a lot. And it’s harder than you might think to tell the difference.
I thought about this while reading an interview we recently did with one of our customers, Irish Life. It’s a distinguished company that came to us with a specific need: establishing an automated email routing software solution for their corporate division. They had a team of highly educated employees reading incoming emails and routing it to the right departments. They saw an opportunity to streamline the email routing process with Ushur’s SmartMail email routing software and put the triage staff onto higher-level tasks.
And that’s exactly what happened. We set up a pilot, trained our conversational AI, and put it to work. The benefits started rolling in immediately. Responses that used to take as much as 2.5 days to process were now routed in a blink of an eye. Total resources required to get the work done dropped 40%.
I’m not going to lie. It was a thrill. It never gets old seeing your product and people deliver.
But while the project’s success was exciting, it wasn’t exactly surprising. After all, it’s what we do every day. What stood out to me was that what might seem to outsiders a modest modernization of Irish Life’s back office, in fact, has huge impacts far beyond the initial scope of the project. It didn’t just improve Irish Life’s email routing. It inspired the company to take a fresh look at how it interacts with customers.
Ken Lynch, Head of Information Systems at Irish Life, explained that insurance companies tend to steer customer queries to portals on the Web. But after the success of the email routing automation project, Irish Life started thinking there might be a better way to reach out to customers. Maybe they could proactively gather information from customers using Ushur’s Invisible App.
Lynch said: “You need to think about how the customer wants to interact with you. Think of yourself, think of your mother, or one of your relatives, and how they would try to interact with big companies. What we’ve seen with Ushur is that it's all about customer ease.”
I take away two lessons. First, transformation doesn’t have to be extremely difficult. Anything that makes the customer’s experience better--even in the back office--has the potential to improve the entire business.
Second, automation can be an even longer lever than you think. Obviously, it helps you do more with less. But as Irish Life discovered, figuring out how to automate customer service forces you to think about what customers want. How do they like to communicate, when, and through what channels? Would they prefer a phone call from a human agent, with all the potential friction that comes with it (e.g. missed calls, or calls that reach customers when they don’t have information on hand)? Or might they prefer to handle routine interactions at their convenience, using digital methods?
It’s impossible to answer those questions without putting customers front and center, which is where we all know they’re supposed to be. This interview reminded me yet again that improving customer ease--as Irish Life memorably put it--might be the longest lever you have.
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