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Dr. E-mail’s Corporate Brain

“With around 100 billion e-mail messages flashing through the ether each year, there is clearly plenty of money to be made handling them, and Dr. E-mail’s practice is seeing heated competition (see “Companies Answering E-mail” on p. 47). According to International Data Corp.’s Mark Levitt, General Interactive now controls an estimated 22 percent of the automated e-mail response market, with revenues in the neighborhood of $17 million (see bottom: “Companies Answering E-mail”). But the firm’s principal rival, Brightware, has been burning up the track and is now tops in revenues. And Kana Communications, which raised $50 million in an initial public offering (IPO) last fall, boasts the largest number of clients overall. Shiva says an IPO may also be in the offing for General Interactive.

In the long run, the most successful e-mail managers could be phone giants such as Nortel Networks, GTE and Lucent Technologies. The latter handles 150 million voice mail boxes at 150,000 locations in 90 countries, and owns 24 percent of the $175 million world market in “unified messaging”-the ability to access phone, fax and e-mail messages from any number of devices on any network. Donna Fluss, an analyst with the Gartner Group, says the winners in e-mail response will be those who can integrate e-mail with call centers and paper mail. From the customer’s viewpoint, “if I send an e-mail and telephone, and find the channels aren’t integrated, that’s hard for me.” To the company, “value increases exponentially as [e-mail] is integrated into the service environment,” she adds.

Although stakes for big retailers trying to gain market share online could not be higher, many have barely started to figure out the medium. Taylor’s survey of 1,000 companies’ online efforts found in 1999 that 60 percent did not even have e-mail addresses on their sites. Taylor believes that is because “their boards don’t have people who understand the medium and their IT departments are disempowered.”

In his office over Sage’s grocery, Dr. E-mail tells of his own experiences educating these giant firms about how, taken together, EchoMail’s capabilities to route, respond to and reach out by e-mail actually consititute an “RMOS,” or Relationship Management Operating System. The RMOS is Dr. E-mail’s latest pitch. Think of it, he says, as a synchronized, real-time corporate nerve center for winning and keeping today’s impatient online customers-one that tracks what they are are buying and thinking, and helps a company respond to their changing needs.

When a TV monitor in the room refuses to play a video Shiva wants to show, he grabs a blue felt marker and rushes to the whiteboard, drawing and talking at once. Each company has two parts, like a human brain, he explains. The blue marker draws lobe-like shapes, a large one on the right, a smaller on the left-the brain of an Ur-company drifting through the whiteboard of 21st century cyberspace.

“Here are customers coming in from outside,” says Shiva, flicking the pen to make streaks pointing at the blue brain. “They have contact with marketing, the creative people, the customer care people, PR-like the right brain over here. Here in the left brain are all the rational parts-order fulfillment, manufacturing, finance, legal-all that stuff.” He sticks half of corporate America in the lobe, double outlining it.

While some companies are very good at left brain, rational tasks, they don’t do outreach well. Others excel at intuitive and creative right brain tasks such as PR and branding, but fumble the back office work. E-commerce, experienced through the medium of e-mail, Shiva argues, is so swift and volatile it will force companies to make the two sides of their brains work together as never before, in order to communicate with the world in a way that builds trust and loyalty. Hatching big blue crosses between the lobes, Shiva shows the RMOS knitting together corporate divisions just as the fibers of the corpus callosum link the hemispheres of the human brain. “We’re at the convergence of a bunch of old industrial experience, new media, art and technology, traditional sales and information technology,” says Shiva. “That’s the way future companies will be built.”

And not just companies. He pushes across the table a clipping from The Boston Globe announcing that the U.S. Senate has signed up for EchoMail. “As far as the Senate is concerned, ‘Dr. E-mail’ is In,” reads the headline. One day soon, perhaps, those bland, generic “Dear Constituent” replies will be replaced by rapid-fire e-mail as helpful and accountable as any from Citibank or JCPenney.

If those replies are good enough-that is, if they seem human in their look and feel-will we mind that we were answered by a machine?

Companies Answering E-mail

Leaders in the electronic customer relationship management (CRM) industry are selling software to automatically read, route and reply to messages.

Company
location/founded/statusURLHighlightBrightware
(Novato, Calif.) 1995, privatewww.brightware.comLeads the intelligent e-mail field with an estimated $18 million in revenue.eGain
(Sunnyvale, Calif.) 1997, publicwww.egain.comClients include America Online, Petopia and WebMD.HNC Software
(San Diego, Calif.) 1986, publicwww.ehnc.comAptex subsidiary sells SelectResponse automatic e-mail response software.General Interactive
(Cambridge, Mass.) 1994, privatewww.interactive.comSpecializes in intelligent e-mail response and creative design for direct marketing.Kana Communications
(Palo Alto, Calif.) 1996, publicwww.kana.comKana’s stock market value jumps to $170 million the day of its September 1999 IPO.Lucent Technologies
(Murray Hill, N.J.) 1995, publicwww.lucent.comPiloting CRM Central 2000 system for handling e-mail, voice, fax and paper mail.Mustang.com
(Bakersfield, Calif.) 1986, publicwww.mustang.comSoftware autoanswers e-mail and can prioritize message traffic.Nortel Networks
(Brampton, Ont.) 1895, publicwww.nortelnetworks.comNow testing Symposium Web Response Server for routing e-mail to call center agents.

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