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Entrepeneur.com
Mike Hogan

…Entrepreneurs like Mike Faith, 39, are turning that into a key competitive advantage. Like other execs, the president and CEO of Headsets.com in San Francisco juggles some 200 e-mails per day. But e-mail is just a means to improve another form of communication he considers more vital to his mail order business: Customer phone calls. In an era when callers routinely get shuffled off to India or to an automated phone attendant, Faith's Customer service representatives are charged with keeping them coming back. Their compensation depends on it.

Faith uses technology only if it enhances the Customer’s experience. He likes his digital PBX's ability to pop up a Customer 's history so a rep can deliver quick, knowledgeable service. But he won’t let it identify big spenders: "We don't accept [that] there are different classes of Customers ."

Even at home, Faith monitors Customer calls into the three Headsets.com offices, getting anxious whenever even one caller is on hold. "It's someone waiting to give us money or someone who gave us money needing support, and neither should have to wait," Faith explains. "The occasional call in queue? OK, I guess. But it could easily become two or three, and that goes against our philosophy of extreme Customer service."

Let call flow slow down, and e-mail reminders start flowing from Faith's PC. Since adopting this strategy, Headsets.com's revenue run rate has quadrupled, and bonuses for reps have risen accordingly.

Whatever your preferred form, messaging will become a more critical application for your business. Your e-mail editor will be a transfer point for many message types, says Ferris, and the launching pad for a wide range of office tasks-sharing documents and lists, supply-chain management and work-flow management.

E-mail usage will also broaden out from office workers to the 45 percent of the work force not yet connected, predicts Radicati. That will favorably impact employee morale and productivity, but more messages require more bandwidth-not only from your LAN and Internet connections, but also you and your employees.

Ditto for network storage, which is probably already a nagging concern of your IT staff. Hard drives are cheap, but designing databases for quick access can be challenging. The higher the haystack, the harder it is to find a particular message in it; and you know better than to expect the courts to reduce your obligation to archive e-mail, IM and other message types anytime soon.

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