We are all aware that the primary purpose of emails is to exchange information. We also know that one reason we use email is because we can search it. “When did I buy this? Who enquired about that? However, other than search for specific words and phrases, we make little use of the massive archive of information it contains.
What emails can tell us
Take something as simple as counting the emails sent and received over a given period. That alone tells you a lot about someone’s pattern of behaviour. You will send a lot of work-related emails during the working week and a lot of personal emails during the evenings and weekends. Or would you? Someone exchanging personal emails during the working week is maybe not devoting as much time as they should to work. Someone exchanging work emails in the evenings and weekends is perhaps working too hard. But perhaps they are contacting someone in a different timezone? You get the picture?
An invasion of privacy?
That all sounds a bit Big Brother at the individual level, but once you blur it across several members of staff, you don’t need to be pointing the finger to see that things are not happening as efficiently as they should.
Our general obsession with privacy has meant that email inboxes have become sacrosanct and that information we should be sharing remains private. But by looking at the historic email patterns of several, perhaps hundreds, of employees we can gain valuable information without compromising privacy.
As we have seen, something as simple as viewing the distribution of emails over time can be very revealing. Yet if we combine this information with other data, we can get valuable insights into business processes. For example, enquiries and sales will also follow patterns. We may expect them to happen during working hours but often they do not. More significantly, if we compare the distribution of emails and, say, sales we may see a pattern such as a peak in emails is followed by a peak in sales – a month later.
All businesses are looking for a correlation between their sales prospecting activities and actual sales made. If they can discover this, then they can focus on the time it takes to make a sale and, more important, the strategy necessary to close a sale. And all that information is there in every employees email inbox, which is mostly ignored.
The tip of the iceberg?
I say all, but of course, email is only one form of communication. Phone calls are another, and their content, if transcribed, can be just as important and revealing as emails.
So before spending thousands on new marketing strategies, think about the value sitting in your existing email archives. Remember that companies such as Google make their living by selling information extracted from your anonymised Gmails, Google documents and web activity. Better you should keep that value for your own company.