Imagine yourself as a customer. You just bought a new product thats giving you
problems. An e-mail address is given as the only means of contact. Having faith that this
company is different and will respond, you detail the problem via e-mail and give
everything from you account number to whats the best time you can be contacted.
Its five days later and your product is still giving problems. You then recall that
you sent an e-mail to the company and check to see if there was a response. Theres
none. Youre forced to call the company during business hours. When youre
finally able to contact them, you get a representative who is more interest in defending
his employees that solving your problem.
Weve all been there before. Situations like this are bound to change anyones perception of the company. The
recommendation to your friends will probably start off like, "If you have a lot of
experience with this type of product, maybe. Otherwise
" Without a doubt, the way a company handles customer e-mail is
critical to its success. On the other end, how does a supervisor control all aspects of
e-mail transmission? How does a supervisor deal with a customer who claims to have been
continually ignored, when in reality they are merely trying to exploit the company?
Another troubling situation can be the employee who simply deletes e-mail because they do
not want to deal with the workload.
Mustangs Internet Message Center (IMC) does for e-mail what automatic call
distributors (ACDs) do for phone calls. It is the liaison between your customers
e-mail and the employees assigned to handle them. And its a nosy one at that!
IMCs goal is efficiency through accountability. Simply put, no e-mail message is
transmitted without IMC knowing about it. Its routing and record-keeping functions are the
key tools that supervisors and administrators can use to ensure that e-mail transmissions
Customers contact a company via e-mail. IMC periodically connects to the companys e-mail server and polls for a specified
number of messages. At the same time, IMC sends automatic responses, along with a tracking number, to each
sender. This type of feedback immediately lets the customer know that their message was
received and aids in finding it (via the tracking number) if an emergency arises. IMC then
scans through the contents of the e-mail and determines which predefined pool to route the
message to by interfacing with any ActiveX scripting language. A company can have
predefined pools for any aspect of day-to-day business. For example, a pool could be set
up for every department. Each pool is also assigned a priority level. Employees, who are
assigned to these pools, use their interface to pull the next available message from the
pool. If an employee, or agent, is assigned to more than one pool, IMC determines which
message to send next based on a number of factors including the pools priority level
and the age of the messages. Agents then answer each response and forward it back to IMC,
which then forwards it back to the customer. Since all correspondence is stored in a
database, supervisors can gain a full accounting of any situation and thus make better
decisions regarding employee staffing and customers in general.
IMC also spares the webmaster from resorting to using hackneyed techniques to forward mail. This does a great job of totally eliminating
"e-mail in limbo." Mustangs software also saves e-mail from being routed
to employees who are on vacation. Getting access to e-mail in this situation means that the employees personal
e-mail would also be exposed.
Installation of the software was relatively easy. IMC did have a small problem locating
the SQL server, but not for long. The error was probably ours and was most likely due to
the password/user ID combo being incorrect. By far, the vast majority of our time was spent configuring the software.
Configuration was a lot smoother once we had a solid foundation of how IMC worked.
After the software was installed, we created an account on the e-mail server. Multiple
accounts (e-mail addresses) can be created with a pool assigned to each, or one account
can have multiple pools. For example, pools for tech support, general questions, and
opinions can be assigned to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and
email@example.com. The alternative is to create one mail account such as
firstname.lastname@example.org and assign each pool to the one account. Each pool is assigned a
priority level and agents. The priority level is one of the factors used to determine the
routing schemes IMC uses. We then defined the agents. The agents are simply the employees
assigned to answer customer e-mail. IMC identifies an agent by first and last names,
e-mail address, and password. The supervisor can determine whether or not the
agent is active to take e-mail (maybe the employee to be created is on vacation) and
whether or not the agent can run the monitor. The monitor, (Figure 3), allows real-time
viewing of all e-mail correspondence. One can also specify whether or not customer replies
are routed back to the same agent and the amount of time that should elapse before replies
are routed to another agent. We decided to place IMC Service and Microsoft SQL Server on
the same machine, although for real-world applications, Mustang recommends that the two be
Although documentation is not easy with a product such as this, Mustang did a
respectable job. Although a little on the lean side, instructions on installation are
enough to help you get the job done. On the down side, Mustang does not include
Troubleshooting or Frequently Asked Questions sections. This, unfortunately, forced us to
depend on customer service a great deal more than we would have liked to. Most of the
problems we encountered had quick fixes. In the future, Mustang should make sure to
include sections such as these.
IMC has five distinct components, which are:
- IMC Service.
- IMC Agent.
- IMC Monitor.
- IMC Reports.
- IMC Setup.
IMC Service is the "brains" of the operation. The enterprise edition works in
conjunction with any SMTP/POP3 e-mail server and Microsoft SQL Server.
Again, its nice that the different components do not have to reside on the same
machine. For example, one machine can be dedicated to SQL Server, another to incoming
responses, and still a third to outgoing responses. This can dramatically increase the performance of the overall system. This is actually
a necessity for e-mail servers that handle large volumes of mail.
IMC Agent is a simple program that allows employees to log on to the various pools and
send or receive e-mail.
IMC Monitor does just that. It is a real time interface that allows authorized
individuals to view detailed information concerning all e-mail correspondence.
IMC Reports works in conjunction with Microsoft SQL Server and your Web browser to
create and display detailed reports. As Figure 4 illustrates, IMC provides an interface
where users can specify numerous features for the reports they create. Administrators have control over a number of variables including what type of reports to create, the days the report should cover, and
whether or not the report should be appended to an existing report. One can also specify
whether or not IMC should place the resulting report in a file and/or run the web browser
for viewing purposes.
IMC Setup is the main interface for configuring the software and is where we spent the
majority of our time. It allows supervisors to do anything from creating pools to
determining which e-mail server to poll from. As Figure 6 shows, scripts can be added to a
pool, so that IMC can route e-mail based on its contents. This is a critical timesaving
feature in the case where one mail account has more than one pool assigned to it. For
example, the system administrator of company XYZ may want to set up a mail account as
email@example.com. The administrator then realizes that there should probably be a
general questions section for each department in the company. As stated previously, the
administrator could then create a separate pool for each department and associate each one
with firstname.lastname@example.org. IMC can then route the message to the correct pool by using
any ActiveX scripting language to parse the subject header or e-mail contents and match it
with the pools predefined keywords.
There are numerous tweaking features available with IMC through the setup program.
Supervisors have the flexibility of determining just how many messages IMC takes with each
poll of the e-mail server as well as the frequency of the polls. This feature ensures that
pools are not empty (while e-mail is waiting in the server) nor that IMC is bogged down
with the task of constantly polling the e-mail server. Again, features, such as incoming
and outgoing faxes, can be installed on separate machines to further improve performance.
One can also use IMC Setup to delete databases after a pre-defined number of days. Through
IMC Setup, one can also set the priority level of the pools and the threshold levels.
These are two of the factors that IMC uses to determine which e-mail message to send next.
Overall, configuration was a time-consuming process, through no fault of Mustang. The
complexity is due to the fact that IMC has anticipated just about every e-mail scenario
and pro vides a solution for it. Routing e-mail may seem easy in concept, but there are a
number of bases that have to be covered. Users will be delighted about the number of
Since we were only testing functionality, we installed IMC Service and Microsoft SQL
Server on the same machine. The operating system was Windows NT 4.0. Two of our engineers
were set up as agents and we persuaded colleagues to e-mail IMC via
email@example.com. To our surprise, IMC was not receiving any of the e-mail
messages. The error was ours and was due to the fact that the address for the e-mail
server was entered incorrectly. After the change was made, IMC was able to connect to the server and poll for messages.
At this point an automatic response was sent to the sender along with a tracking number.
We were able to tailor the responses with general response templates. It was
interesting to note that the tracking number was a combination of the three initials used
to define the pool the message was routed to, the year, date, and message number.
On the agents side, the IMC Agent Display Box shows the pools that the agent is
connected to, the total number of messages in each pool, the number already designated for
the agent, and the oldest message. We toggled IMC to deliver the next message
using the Get Next button and waited a few moments as it was delivered to Microsoft
Outlook. Its nice that the agent doesnt have to learn a new e-mail interface
and can deal with messages in the usual manner. IMC sends the message to the agent by
changing the To: portion to the agents email address and the From: part of the email
to a generic reply address of IMC. In our example, the reply address was changed to
firstname.lastname@example.org. This caused problems because we wanted to keep both incoming
and outgoing addresses the same. The problem was that IMC was not receiving the responses.
IMCs technical support department informed us that keeping the names the same was
not possible. The reply e-mail address can be anything as long as its not the same as the
incoming address. This required us to create another account on our e-mail server for the
new reply address, which wasnt a problem. Sure enough, IMC was able to accept
agents responses and forward them to the original sender. Its worth noting
that IMC assigned any replies from the customer back to the agent who dealt with the
We were especially impressed with the records that IMC logged. When the software is
installed, it creates a database where detailed records are stored among various tables.
We were then able to create an extensive number of records using IMC Reports.
The software keeps a record of every conceivable variable including number of messages
taken, messages answered, messages open, average response time, time online, time ready,
time responding, and time idle. Employees beware! We were also able to configure IMC to keep a record of the actual
e-mail messages, including all responses. This gives supervisors more than enough
information to determine how to staff departments and handle customers questions and
complaints. As stated previously, we were able to view the reports using our Web browser
(Internet Explorer 4.0) which we thought was a nice touch. Since the information is so
extensive, it would have been hard to fit everything on one page. Key data is in hypertext
format. Clicking on it brought up additional information just as would happen if one were
surfing the Internet.
IMC can route e-mail messages to pools based on scripting, so we decided to put that to
the test. We assigned two pools to email@example.com, General Questions and Tech
Support. IMC gave us the option of using the Script Wizard or creating scripts ourselves.
Using the Script Wizard, one has the option of using a keyword search or a more specific
message search. We assigned keywords to the two pools and found the routing capabilities
worked, as one would expect. Whenever an e-mail message contained the words
"technical," "tech," or "support," the message was routed to
the technical support pool. However, when the message contained the words
"general," "question," or "questions," it was routed to the
general support pool. Whenever IMC did not find a keyword or was confused, it routed the
message to the default pool for the mail account (technical support).
We did have problems running IMC Service as a service under Windows NT 4.0. The problem
seemed to be due to the fact that when IMC Service is run as a service it can not get
through firewalls to log on to the e-mail server. We stopped the service and ran the
application by double clicking on it and had no problems. Mustang is aware of the problem
and is actively seeking a solution.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
The complaints we had with Mustangs Internet Message Center were few. The biggest
knock we had against it pertained to the documentation. As stated before, it would be very
helpful if Troubleshooting and Frequently Asked Questions sections were added. It would
probably take a Herculean effort but it would also be nice if configuration was easier.
The funny thing is everything makes perfectly good sense once its configured! Again,
Mustang needs to correct the one bug that we found, so that IMC can run as a service and
get around firewalls
IMC is a definite "must have" software package. It has functionality to
monitor and record just about every conceivable variable with regard to e-mail
correspondence. We were especially impressed with its utilization of a Web browser to view
records. Overall, software such as this is sure to become the standard very quickly, and
as such we are proud to award our Editors Choice honors to Mustang Software's
Internet Message Center.