Did You Know? How to take advantage of a well crafted Auto-Response

As I think back to my time working with correspondence, and even my time as a ski patroller and soccer coach, one of the main themes that always stuck out was the importance of responding quickly to inquiries (or in the case of my brief patroller career, injuries) and setting appropriate expectations.

A constituent writing to your office, just like someone hurting on a ski slope, wants to have a quick response and wants to know that their correspondence has not fallen into a black hole.  Too often Congressional offices ignore this imperative and take days and sometimes even weeks to respond to constituent questions.  Of course, sometimes it DOES take days (or even weeks) to get an answer to a constituent question, especially at this time of year when everything is coming fast (or maybe you are a new office and have to create an entire library from scratch!). Questions also often involve controversial issues or are just plain complicated.  That’s where an auto-response can turn an interaction that is confusing and frustrating for the constituent into one that makes sense and leaves them with an overall positive impression of your office.

What makes an effective Auto-reply? It needs to accomplish two basic tasks: acknowledge that the constituent’s message was received and let them know when they will receive a thorough response later–Bonus points if you can also provide some relevant information on the constituent’s topic.  Be sure to NOT set expectations that you can’t meet.  If it might take up to a month to respond then say that, even if you would really like to get that down to one or two weeks.  No one will be upset if you respond earlier than they are expecting.

Let me show you a quick example I wrote based on some effective auto-responses I’ve seen used.

autoresponse1

If you want to fully utilize our product functionality, you can also set up different auto-responses to correspond to what topic the constituent selects on the website. If you’re interested in finding out more about that, please contact support@iconstituent.com and we can help you with the setup.

Still reading this?  Wow, I think you need a reward for making it this far down.  Check out this picture that has absolutely nothing to do with auto-replies!

DustyPic1

Now that we have a good response what do we need to do to add it to the system?  I’m glad you asked!

First, let’s add the letter to the system.  An auto-response is a bit different from a normal letter, though, so you will need to have administrator access.  Find the wrench icon in the upper right and click on the System Tables option. If you don’t see it then you probably don’t have access and will need to give us a call at 202-355-9339 or email our support at support@iconstituent.com.

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Find the e-mail template link on the left and then select the “new template” option.  Auto-responses are actually considered templates so that is what we will be creating.

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Simply change the type to Auto-reply and enter your response text in the editor.

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To put your Auto Response in place, you will need to add it to the correct import profile.  That’s just a fancy way of saying that we need to make sure we are responding only to the e-mails which come in from the website.  The mail system can receive messages from several sources, and in order to keep those straight each source has a different import profile.

To access them, you will again need administrator access, just click on the wrench icon again and then select “Import Channels.”

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Then find and select the import channel labeled “Form Mail”.

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Scroll down to the Auto Response section, and you will see the newly created option.  Just select it, press save, and viola!  You’re almost done.

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Don’t forget to send in a test message so you can make sure the final product is perfect! If you have any issues with these steps, please do not hesitate to contact our support team at 202-355-9339 OR support@iconstituent.com.

Thanks for sticking with me and please let me know if you found this informative, have suggestions for future topics or just want to say Hi!  Just e-mail our team at support@iconstituent.com or you can give our main line a call at 202-355-9355 and someone will get you to me.

Until next time,
-Aaron

 

Introduction to our new “Did you Know” Segment

Hi, I’m Aaron, iConstituent’s resident product expert and client relationship manager.  To kick off 2017 and the 115th Congress, I’d like to introduce our new, recurring feature “Did you know?” This segment will highlight product features that don’t get the attention they deserve.

So first, let me introduce myself and share a little about my background.  Before I ended up in Washington D.C. and at iConstituent, I was just a young guy living in the great state of Ohio trying to figure out what to do with my life.  I did everything from coaching soccer to being an instructor and patroller at our local ski hill (yes, Ohio DOES have ski hills – although “valley” may be a more accurate term).  Once I figured out my career aspirations were in politics, I ditched my goggles and headed for DC. I quickly found an internship on the Hill, that turned into a three year stint as a Legislative Correspondent, and I haven’t looked back since.  Of course, as we all know politics can be fickle, and after my Member lost an election I ended up working with iConstituent.  Here I’ve done everything from answering the phones to working as our resident product expert and managing our relationships in the Senate. Through all of that I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned as a ski patroller and soccer coach, and some of those lessons even apply when responding to constituent mail!

Please click on the links below to view our different “Did You Know?” sections.  If you have some ideas or feedback please drop me a line in the comments below this or any other section, or feel free to send me an e-mail at aaron.stowers@iconstituent.com.

Until next time,

-Aaron

Check out the articles below:

Did You Know?  How to take advantage of a well crafted Auto-Response

Bonus: ski bum picture!

 

SkiImage1Cropped

We name Jeff Green as CTO!

our_team_jeffgreenWe today announced Jeff Green as Chief Technology Officer.  

Green is a founding member of iConstituent and lives in Venice, CA.

According to Zain Khan, this fall, “Jeff led a listening tour where he really stripped down our product and learned what our customers needed to better connect people and government,”. “Jeff as CTO means that we will continue to lead through technical innovation utilizing intuitive software to increase government efficiency and effectiveness. Our customers save hundreds of hours a year on casework and correspondence.”

Before joining iConstituent, Green was an e-commerce and online music pioneer, working on some of the first artists’ websites, including a web store for the band Bad Religion.

Green said he chose a path in internet technologies because they level the playing field and allow you to create something unique for the world. He brings that same drive to his technology leadership at iConstituent. “There is no turning back, this is your family, the product your baby. That’s always been my mentality,” Green said. “You get an idea and you have to follow your idea.”

Green has led technology evolution at iConstituent from its roots as an email newsletter software, through development of a core CRM solution for government officials and agencies.

We were the first company to provide email newsletters to legislators on Capitol Hill and our integrated solutions include websites, constituent contact data services, telephone town halls, and hardware concierge services for Congressional offices.

We recently announced new Email Threading features for our flagship CRM product, as well as social media analytics features with our eNewsletter Plus pro.

With Jeff’s steady leadership we’re more prepared than ever to partner with thousands of state, local, and federal government clientele to help them save thousands of dollars, and modernize their communications technologies  and connect with an always-online public.

We announce Per-Seat Licensing for Gov’t. CRM, saving customers thousands!

Today we announced a new subscription pricing solution with variable seat licensing.

“We’re happy to be strong advocates for per-user pricing instead of flat rates, along with leading business SaaS products,” said CEO Zain Khan. “Our customers are innovators and they expect to pay for use. The market is moving away from one-size-fits all pricing plans to plans that provide flexibility and the ability to better manage overhead. Most offices can save several thousand dollars a year by paying for licenses they’re actually using instead of flat rates.”

Per Khan, our growing roster of government customers across the U.S. have a wide range of adoption of software products, with some using automation only in constituent services, and others embracing CRM tools for communications and policy work as well. The company recently released a suite of tools for digital communicators in government through the iConstituent eNewsletter Plus product.

“We work with a wide range of agencies and… legislative bodies,” Khan said. “They all share similar needs and challenges — and clear per-user pricing helps them get the most out of our software at the best possible price.”

Our government CRM includes features for issue tracking – such as a new Email Threading feature that brings all correspondence related to a constituent case into one place – as well as a basic e-newsletter and tools for sorting incoming email. Users say they save hundreds of hours a year by taking advantage of our product’s ability to automatically group incoming emails by content – such as sorting petition responses – and attaching the appropriate tailored response to each constituent.

Jeff Green, CTO, said customer feedback has continued to push the company further. “We were the first company to bring constituent e-newsletters to the Capitol back in 2003 – but being first only matters if you keep that edge,” Green said. “Along with better incoming email handling in their CRM, one big change our customers asked for is flexible pricing. The new plans make it easier for folks to get started, and for us to grow together.”

We upgraded our CRM features, interface, and doubled productivity!

We just announced a major upgrade to our CRM product, based on research with government customers throughout the U.S.

Our CRM release 1.4 product puts email interactions at the center of constituent casework with email threading that organizes communications throughout an office.

Common issues for our customers include helping veterans get their benefits, assisting immigrants’ families with complex legal issues, and ensuring those eligible for public benefits receive care.

“Government offices manage hundreds or thousands of emails a day – and organizing those communications into critical case files can make logistics the focus, instead of helping the public,” said CTO Jeff Green. “Our customers tell us that managed workflows double their productivity, and solving email efficiencies was the greatest thing we could do to create a surge in results for constituents.”

Aaron Stowers, support and product manager, said our new CRM 1.4 product now supports features of desktop email such as attachments and multiple addressees, as well as the added bonus of merge fields that allow caseworkers to reuse workflows critical to complex cases.

Our CRM 1.4 product organizes all the notes from a case into a simple interface where phone calls, in-person visits, and email interactions all tell a constituent’s story for anyone in the office to review.

“Our goal is to totally replace the pink notepad where constituent staff have traditionally jotted case notes,” Stowers said. “…CRM does that.”

Our research shows that while the overall CRM market is growing by 12 percent a year, many government offices still use a mix of paper files and written notes alongside legacy IT systems and desktop email. “This is faster – everything in one place, with search.” Stowers said.

Our CRM 1.4 product works seamlessly with government email providers such as Outlook, but each email is automatically associated with related notes and case journals.

Green said the new product also includes features that make digital government easier across the board, including:

  • HTML letters for case management
  • A streamlined design for adding phone notes to a constituent record
  • Custom handwritten signature blocks for all office staff
  • Improved workflow tracking for case notes, and
  • A robust incoming casework viewer

“Our customers have already resolved more than 1.3 million cases for constituents,” Green said. “The new government CRM will save local, state and federal governments thousands of hours of work.”

Are you prepared for the inauguration?

“Inauguration Ticket Madness” as it’s sometimes referred to in these parts is just around the corner. The truth is it can become overwhelming, especially if you don’t have a plan. Never fear! Your friends at iConstituent are here to help you undertake this huge project.

Managing expectations:

Stick to one method for accepting submissions: Having one clear method for accepting ticket requests lightens the burden immensely. Pointing everyone requesting tickets to your web form ensures that you get all of the important information you need in one place and that you don’t lose track of any requests.

Cut-off date: Set a clear cut-off date for accepting requests. This allows you and your staff time to process everything and time to provide timely notifications to requesters.

Notification date: Just as important as setting a cut-off date is setting a public notification date – and sticking to it. This should limit the calls to your office, and will keep everyone on staff on message.

Processing the requests:

Using the CRM: Web form submissions can be directed into your iConstituent CRM platform, which makes tracking requests a breeze. These submissions can automatically be routed to the appropriate staffer and assigned an Inauguration code for easy retrieval. Filtered folders can be created to track processed and unprocessed requests. The added benefit is that this method keeps all of your constituent data in one place.

A shared Outlook Mailbox: If you choose, our hardware team can create a shared mailbox that requests are sent to and you can manage them from there, creating subfolders for processed and unprocessed. Another option is to export the mailbox periodically to a spreadsheet and deal with the requests there.

Other strategy considerations:

What are the rules? Will you allow requests from outside of the district? If so, will they have lower priority than constituents? Will requests be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, or will they be randomized and selected from there? How will constituents pick them up? How will you identify your VIPs and manage their requests?

We can help you!

We’ve got three pre-created options for your inauguration form along with informative language and an FAQ. All you’ll need to do is choose one of them and we’ll add it to your website. For more information on this, email our web team at support@iconstituent.com.

Start Mailing Like a Pro

Our E-Newsletter Best Practices “Start Mailing Like a Pro” meeting on Friday, 6/17 presented some great tips for improving your mailing effectiveness and engagement. Each  month we see hundreds of e-newsletters being sent out from the Constituent Gateway. We have been able to see what works well, what doesn’t and what types of e-newsletters generate the most interactions. This session included information regarding optimizing your content for delivery, maintaining good data, monitoring delivery, and strategizing your mailing campaign.

Keith Matthews, our Customer Advocate, presented information on establishing a strong communications plan.

  1. Determine your long range communication goals.
  2. Pinpoint a specific target with a set deadline.
  3. Build a strategy to get you to that target.
  4. Evaluate results and refine your strategy.

He also discussed some best practices related to building your content and increasing your engagement such as the ratio of text to images, including surveys, and the importance of linking to your own website whenever possible.

Aaron Stowers, our Senate Program Manager, finished off the presentation with tips on list building through various channels, and a discussion of the importance of being delivery conscious.

  1. Look for opportunities to build your lists everywhere – through district events, your CRM platform, and telephone town halls.
  2. Be aware that maintaining good data is essential to email deliverability.
  3. Be delivery conscious when creating your content by using our delivery checklist.

Check out our slide show here for more details and exmples: Start Mailing Like a Pro Presentation

Federal government officials & entities can now dial mobile phones for telephone town halls.

NEW DECLARATORY RULING

Federal government officials & entities can now dial mobile phones for telephone town halls.

Breaking News: The FCC issues Declaratory Ruling authorizing federal government officials and entities like you to reach thousands more constituents on their mobile phones. The ruling released today allows the 47% mobile-only constituent demographic to receive automated phone calls to organize telephone town hall events for federal official business purposes. A copy of the ruling can be found here.

ICONSTITUENT CAN HELP YOU REACT TO THIS RULING RIGHT AWAY:

  • Learn how to invite mobile phone users to a telephone town hall meeting
  • Get a free assessment of your mobile phone data needs
  • Learn how many new numbers we can add to your data base

We’ll work with you to create a custom mobile communications strategy in just days – or even hours.

Call us at (202) 355-9355 and mention the FCC Declaratory Ruling to get your free consultation.

E-Mail Address: Sales@iConstituent.com.

When constituents talk back

Since the advent of broadcast communication, damage control has been a top priority for public figures and elected officials. Unfortunately, what has evolved is a status quo of ersatz communication. Public demand to see behind the curtain of bureaucracy is often met with ambiguity, evasive maneuvers, and open-ended statements that have elevated the science of saying nothing into a highly paid art form. But smoke-and-mirror doubletalk doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did, because the truth always speaks for itself.

Consequently, contemporary social media networking has given birth to a Renaissance in public relations. The millennial generation will not settle for less than authentic communication. Taylor Huckaby, a communications officer for BART, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system administration, has proven it.

This month, BART has been plagued with delays caused by an electrical problem. Frustrated commuters, accustomed to silence from stuffed-shirt public relations officials, took to social media in droves to give BART a piece of their mind. Huckaby did not sit by in silence, and he did not try to smooth things over with a silver tongue – he was real with them.  He explained that San Francisco’s public transit system has reached the limits of its design lifespan, and that the ongoing maintenance of miles of rails, tunnels and power cables on a shoestring budget was a Herculean task that he and his colleagues were doing their best to manage. He told the citizens on Twitter that, however unsatisfactory the level of service they were getting might be, it was better than they had a right to expect.

The people of San Francisco did not organize a lynch mob and march for City Hall. They understood what Huckaby had to say. They stopped complaining and began talking about solutions.

Public infrastructure all over the country is in a similar state of disrepair, including what used to be the best and brightest our nation had to offer: Washington DC’s now-troubled Metro transit system.  When Metro opened in 1976, it was more than a testament to cutting edge scientific achievement; it was a reflection of American soul, and our collective desire to make the human condition better for everyone.

In the ‘70s, our forebears aspired to become The Great Society, and they worked together to achieve it by replacing the infrastructure that was crumbling in their day. We have come full circle, and the lessons from our transit systems should be cause for reflection. If we want to see a better tomorrow, we have to invest in it now.

For the last fourteen years, iConstituent has empowered people like you to communicate authentically with your public about the important work of government. We offer multiple solutions, including superb data and customer relations management, telephone town hall meeting organization, and 24/7 IT hardware support.  You can rely on us to turn your digital infrastructure into an open and engaging communications suite that will resonate with your constituents.  And we’re working daily to improve the products you use to serve the public. If you have any needs we can help with, just call: (202) 355-9355.

Did you miss it?

Posted by Becky Baylor; Help Desk Support Manager

Last week, we presented "Signal CRM: What's Next?" to Signal CRM users in DC to highlight the new efficient mail processing features that will be available in Signal 1.3, which is currently being rolled out to offices. Our staff will be reaching out to offices on an individual basis to schedule your upgrade date.

This was an informative session providing a detailed breakdown of the features, as well as highlighting a few developments on the way. Everyone will be upgraded to Signal 1.3 over the next few weeks, so if you work with mail processing or are simply curious about the changes, this is a session you definitely don't want to miss.

If you didn't get a chance to participate in last week's session, don't worry, we've got you covered! "Signal CRM: What's Next?" will be presented via webinar every Tuesday for the next several weeks to coincide with the rollout. Click the button below to sign up!

Other resources include our previous post: "Signal 1.3 Is on It's Way!" and our Help Center article "What's New in Signal 1.3?" If you have any additional questions, please email support@iconstituent.com