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Case Study: Palo Alto Software

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Noah Parsons

Chief Operations Officer

Noah Parsons, currently Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Palo Alto Software, was previously co-founder and co-owner of an entrepreneurial business that eventually became Palo Alto Software in the UK. That company was founded in London in 2001 and was purchased by the parent company in 2002. Currently Noah focuses on developing new products and managing both Internet and retail sales channels.

Noah previously was founder and co-director of a successful internet consulting company based in the Silicon Valley, with a focus on Web usability, interaction design, and business strategy. Noah had been Director of Production at Epinions.com (since absorbed into the eBay network) and Senior Producer at Yahoo!, managing the profitable classifieds section of the Yahoo! site network.

To begin, I'd love to know why Palo Alto Software built Email Center Pro?

We went through the classic build vs. buy decision when we were looking at tools to improve our communication with customers and partners. We had built a very basic Web-based email product, which we all called "the email center." About five years ago we knew that we either had to find a new solution, or rebuild the basic solution we were using, as our sales volume went up and we needed a more stable way to communicate via email with our customers and partners. At that time we researched the marketplace and just did not find anything that provided the features we needed. There were customer service help desk options that provided the ability to "ticket," and there were large CRM solutions that provided too many features we did not need at too high of a monthly cost.

So we turned back to our basic email center and re-vamped. We added more of the features we needed, such as the ability to add internal notes to an email, and the ability to assign emails to a certain person. We also rebuilt the system to make sure that it could handle enterprise level email, and of course was secure and redundantly back-up.

What made you think that Email Center Pro may be a good product, not just a solution for Palo Alto Software?

As we revamped our solution we realized that there was a market for a simple, yet powerful company email system to deal with all the generic email address (such as info@ or sales@) that often times multiple people want to have access to. As we talked to other small businesses and explained our solution everyone wanted it. The idea that you can go to one secure Web-based product and have access to all your company (not personal - generic company email boxes) mail, and better yet, you can make sure that all customer, partner, client etc. email is answered in a timely matter by one person is incredibly appealing to most small businesses.

How many people have been in a position where an email comes into an info@ email address, and gets sent to several people. Everyone is interested in the particular mail and simultaneously answers the mail, and the customer gets several answers and usually with several different responses.

Or how about the common situation when one person is in charge of all the info@ emails that come into a company. That person gets sick, or goes on a vacation, and everyone forgets that she is the one getting those emails. Five business days later, and 10 lost leads later, someone remembers and has to call the sick or vacationing employee to get her email password to get into her Outlook email to answer all the info@ emails.

Were you using another product before or were you managing your emails through personal mail clients like Outlook or Gmail? Was the transition difficult?

As I mentioned, we have had our own solution for quite some time. But it was not until about five years ago when we rebuilt our system that we had the features we needed to transition ALL generic company email to Email Center Pro. Before then we had three people getting our marketing@ emails, and two people getting our busdev@ emails, and another three people getting our productfeedback@ emails. It has been such a wonderful change to have all those emails going to one place where all employees who need to/want to can access the emails, where we can use shared templates to answer them, and where any manager can look at any time and make sure that the emails related to their team are getting responded to quickly, and correctly. It has improved our work flow, our internal communications, and best of all our interaction with our customers and business partners.

How are you using Email Center Pro? What are you using it for?

Palo Alto Software uses Email Center Pro to handle ALL of our generic email. We have over fifteen mail boxes, including: help@paloalto.com, support@paloalto.com, sales@paloalto.com, productfeedback@paloalto.com, marketing@paloalto.com, academics@paloalto.com, resellers@paloalto.com, etc. Setting these email addresses up in Email Center Pro gives us flexibility, accountability and the best part, improved customer communication. At any time I can login into the email center and see how many emails are in our help@ email box. Or after a very busy promotion, our CEO can login into Email Center Pro and help answer some of the customer emails. At any given time I can see what people are emailing us in our productfeeedback@ inbox, and can talk to an employee who I feel may not have given a customer the best response. Our customers get very timely responses, and as managers we can all login and make sure that our staff is responding to ALL emails in a timely fashion.

How does it allow you to improve your customer service?

Our employees can use the templates that we have created and can request information from anyone in the company to create more specialized templates if they find they need them. We don't use artificial intelligence, but instead give our employees the tools to be smart, logical humans, and to choose and edit the appropriate templates when appropriate. All of our customers get responses written by human beings, and not robots.

The tools we have created in Email Center Pro allow us to always respond to our customers within twenty four business hours. Everyone can help answer emails when we get swamped, and using the collaboration tools (such as the internal notes features) we can work together to make sure that our customers receive all the specific information each one requests.

Beyond answering customer emails, how else does Palo Alto Software use Email Center Pro?

We feel like we have a simple, easy to use, yet powerful way to share and manage all of our company email. Everyone still gets their own emails (noah@, joe@ etc.) into whatever client they prefer. Most people in our office use Microsoft Outlook for their personal company email. But when it comes to the generic email boxes everyone is thrilled to no longer have those coming into their personal email.

Our alerts feature allows anyone to set alerts and be notified to their personal email address when an email is assigned to them, or an email comes into a particular email box. For instance, I have alerts set up to email me whenever there is an email in the productsuggestions@ box. I want to know what people say about our products - I just don't want to have the burden of always answering every email. I know that my product team will answer the email, but I can jump in and answer any one that I want. We have even come to use Email Center Pro to handle certain email addresses associated with the writing and blog work our president does. Our social media manager has a specific email address for Tim [Berry, Palo Alto Software President] for people who are requesting Tim write for, or speak at, special events. That way she can discard those that are not real opportunities and bring to his attention only those that make sense. It allows her to be in the loop, and helps make sure tim isn't overloaded with a lot of irrelevant email (which happens when you blog a lot).

Thanks so much for your time and insight.

You're welcome!

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