Dipping Your Toes in the CRM Waters With Visnetic MailFlow

Visnetic MailFlow: Mail-server-based CRM program with modest price point and limited scope

Visnetic MailFlow from Deerfield.com is a type of customer relationship management (CRM) program designed to turn customer email into a business advantage. In essence, MailFlow is a database- driven email routing and tracking system that adds “intelligence” to the process of collecting, distributing, answering, and tracking customer messages.

Designed with small and midsize businesses in mind, the improvements in version 2.0 make MailFlow effective, yet low cost and relatively easy to implement.

We must note upfront, however, that MailFlow works best for sales and product support, as it does not undertake financial or transaction tracking like more general CRM software does.

We set up MailFlow keeping in mind that most of its users will probably not have a lot of specific expertise in mail systems. Our expectations were rewarded, as we found that MailFlow does not require much technical expertise.

The MailFlow server collects email from almost any source, including dial-up service providers and internal mail servers. It requires two additional pieces of software: a Web server and a database server. MailFlow will work with Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS 5.0 or greater); however, if preferred, a copy of Visnetic Website Pro 3.1 is also available. Although MailFlow ships with Microsoft’s MSDE (Microsoft Data Engine), we recommend using SQL Server (version 7 or 2000) for all but the most low-volume implementations. Assuming the required software is already in place, MailFlow should take only a few minutes to install.

Configuration shouldn’t be taken lightly, however. Considerable thought and planning should go into how the program will be used and especially how employees will be brought online. Training and adaptation of business procedures will probably be required. The database is the heart of MailFlow’s sophistication. It’s where the messages, tracking tickets, response logs, and standardized reply messages are stored. Therefore, what goes into the database should be thought out in advance. This is particularly true for routing rules and boiler plate messages that reflect company policy.

MailFlow collects email, creates a tracking ticket for each message (a ticket covers responses as well), and then routes the message to pre-assigned mailboxes (e.g., sales@ or info@), where it can be picked up and managed by employees through connecting to MailFlow with a standard Web browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher). When appropriate, MailFlow can generate automatic responses, such as a message receipt. Agents handling the email responses can draw on personalized dictionaries (new in 2.0), and standardized phrasing. This helps enterprises create a more uniform quality of responses.

We found that the improved user interface for processing email (including spell-checking, alerts, and history review) made a difference in usability of this version.

Security for mail operations is reasonably thorough and includes password-controlled access and SSL encryption of messages. MailFlow also supports anti-virus checking through a Visnetic plug-in (an add-on product), but it does not handle spam filtering or other forms of content management. This might be a reason to invest in a local mail server (e.g., Visnetic Mail Server) or spam blocking software, or both.

For smaller businesses, the tracking and reporting features of MailFlow should be the most rewarding. Enhanced in version 2.0, tracking tickets can now be searched in several ways and more than 20 reports can be used to analyze email volumes, types, responses, and other statistical information. These features can go a long way to help tune and improve the email responses. There is a strong management aspect to MailFlow that can help find ways to make email handling more efficient for the company and at the same time make it better for their customers.

Unlike the “big” CRM programs (e.g., Siebel and SAP), Visnetic MailFlow is relatively limited in its scope (email) but very modest in price. It’s a good place to start with CRM. It’s also a good choice for smaller enterprises that have — or would like to have — a strong flow of email traffic from customers and would like to take advantage of it.

Pros: A good way to get into CRM with minimal investment
Cons: Limited mail content filtering and categorizing capabilities

Reviewed by: Nelson King
Original Review Date: 6/11/2003
Original Review Version: 2.0

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