Who answers general customer e-mail at your company? Usually the person who drew short straw, and they're not happy about it. Yet few interactions with potential customers pay bigger dividends than properly responding to those taking the time to ask a question about your product or service. HostedSupport wants to take the pain out of the process, improve the quality of your responses and promises to do so for only a few dollars per month.Ah, you say, I already have an autoresponder function on my e-mail. That's nice, but HostedSupport goes far beyond sending the same generic form letter to every customer query. Do you believe auto-generated e-mail that says, "Your business is valuable to us and we will respond quickly," after you have already waited two days for an answer? Neither do I.Retail customers won't wait two days for a human to get around to answering mail sent to the general "email@example.com" mailbox. Auction fanatics on eBay won't wait 2 minutes, which is why HostedSupport made a deal with eBay to integrate its service into the "Ask the seller a question" form on eBay auctions.Let's say you run continuing auctions on eBay to keep your inventory turning, as do hundreds of thousands of your competing retailers. Someone must monitor e-mail near the end of each auction to answer questions quickly enough to keep an interested prospect bidding. If you have dozens of auctions running at once, as many eBay retailers do, the personnel hours stack up and spill over into overtime quickly. Worse, the person answering the e-mail must have detailed knowledge of all the products, meaning one of your experienced employees can't escape the inbox to do any other work.HostedSupport realized that questions fall into the 80\/20 rule: 80% of e-mail asks standard questions that can be answered by intelligent forms response, but 20% require a real person. So they built a knowledge base application that parses the e-mail questions for certain words and phrases. Those words, built into your company's individual knowledge base, trigger a response you predefine.Say your company sells blue widgets for left-handed computers. Many of your e-mails ask questions like "What colors are available?" and "Do you support right-handed computers?" HostedSupport sees words like "color" and "red" and "green" and immediately responds with your predefined color preference e-mail in response, where you say only blue widgets are available. Ditto for type of computer. If an e-mail mentions right-handed or left-handed, another response e-mail explaining why only left-handed computers are supported arrives in that customer's inbox within minutes (often less than 1 minute).HostedSupport provides new customers with a wizard to help answer common questions and get a feel for the system. In about 20 minutes, your e-mail volume needing human response will drop by at least half, and often four of five questions will be handled automatically.You can get a free account with 10 entries in your knowledge base or move up to the $49.95- or $79.95-per-month options with many more questions and answers defined and other time-saving features. If you're registered with eBay, the tracks are greased for easy use of HostedSupport, and the forms on your eBay auction page can feed directly to HostedSupport.More than just retailers sign up for HostedSupport. Their customer list includes real estate agents, lawyers and even entertainment Web sites (E! Online).If your inbox or form database fills up with the same types of questions over and over, HostedSupport may be worth a look. Answering e-mail intelligently and automatically beats paying employees to type the same answer over and over, and it certainly beats you having to answer the e-mails personally.PS: if you're reading this in newsletter form, check out the changes we're making in the Network World Small and Medium Business area. New format, new information, and new chances for feedback, so come join the party.