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Antidote For The Email Ills

Monday, November 1, 1999
The first time V. A. Shiva heard the words “electronic mail,” he thought the term had something to do with passing electricity through letter paper. That was in 1979. Twenty years later, Shiva, who is known to his colleagues as “Dr. Email,” may know more about his namesake than anyone else in the field. With a state-of-the-art technology known as EchoMail, Shiva’s company, General Interactive, provides real-time messaging and relationship marketing solutions for bigtime customers from Calvin Klein to Nike to the US government.
Listen to Your E

EchoMail automatically reads, classifies, routes, tracks and centrally manages incoming email to a Web site, using 19 different methods to analyze the language of a message. The system can determine the context of a question, the attitude of the sender, what kind of customer the sender is, then either route or respond to the message accordingly.

According to Shiva, who serves as General Interactive’s president and CEO, the goal of EchoMail is to build brand loyalty in real-time. “Listening and responding to the people who buy your products builds brand loyalty, and that helps you to grow your business,” says Shiva. “Managers and executives struggling to transform their companies into knowledge-based, networked organizations need to understand their customers.”

Or, their constituents. The US Senate came to General Interactive in 1998, looking for a way to handle the deluge of email their offices were receiving, which was greater in some offices than the volume of paper mail. “When we started this project 18 months ago, we were getting 20,000 emails on average per day,” says Steve Walker, branch manager of the Web and technology assessment division of the US Senate. “During the impeachment trial we were getting up to 500,000 per day – an increase of 2500 percent. Now it’s leveled off again at around 50,000 to 60,000 per day, but we knew we needed a system that could handle all that volume – we knew we were going to peak from time to time.”

Though several companies offer similar solutions to the email problem, such as Egain and Tana, the US Senate found that General Interactive was the only company whose technology was advanced enough to handle the volume that they anticipated. The US Senate is currently working with General Interactive to customize EchoMail for their offices’ needs and will install the system in trial offices within the next few months. “People here are going to tiptoe into this,” says Walker. “Eventually everyone will have to accept some kind of automation, but right now, it’s tricky, because if one email is responded to inappropriately, it can cost you big politically.”

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