My Best Email Support Tricks and Tips

Email Support Tips & Tricks from an expertEvery support pro looks for ways to make themselves more efficient with cases. Things like using the right tools or knowing the right shortcuts can make the difference between a clear email inbox and one overflowing with cases. You know, the little things you do that make you such a kickass at helping customers.

For the past three years, I’ve been part of the support team at Basecamp. In a typical day, I’ll handle 75 to 100 email cases with customers. Here are some of my best email tips I’ve learned along the way.

Snippets Save Time

First, snippets are not the same as automatic canned responses. Canned responses are impersonal. They take away the trust the customer has with you. They break an already fragile relationship. Your customer is in the midst of a problem and you didn’t even read their email.

But snippets are something that can help you and the customer save a ton of time. With snippets, a person actually reads the email, understands what’s going on, and then replies back quicker than having to compose that email from scratch.

I use Text Expander to plug-in the bulk of a reply quickly to them. I still take the time to customize it with their name, anything that catches my eye (cheering for my fellow Auburn fans that write us), and such.  By using a snippet, I can get them detailed information without having to spend time retyping everything with each new email.

For instance, when I don’t have a customer’s name, I use the snippet “`ht” to trigger “Hey there!” I use snippets even down to days of the week and months. Instead of typing out September, just put that as a snippet with “xm9.” Every few seconds you save adds up.

Lots of support apps will have some sort of macro/snippet tool built into it. The reason why I don’t use those is because your support app will probably be down at some point. Most online apps have downtime every now and then. Let’s just prepare for the worst and say it’ll happen to you.

When your support app goes down, you can at least still reply to emails directly in your email inbox. But all those snippets won’t be available to you if they’re locked up inside your support app.

Or what if you decide to change to a different support app? I bet those snippets won’t transfer over.

Having a specific snippet app like TextExpander keeps you going if either of those things ever happens.

Develop Good Back-end Integrations

Every email has some sort of customer context around it. You might get an email from Jane Doe like this:

Hey there! I’m locked out of my account. Can you help me out?

You’re left to figure out who Jane is, where her account is, and then maybe you can figure out what’s going on.

Here at Basecamp, we have an internal tool that lets us pull up data on a customer to give us that context. When Jane emails me, I can see what accounts she’s part of, if she has phone verification enabled, and her current billing status. I’ve got all that right inside the support app we use. Instead of having to click around on some internal site with all that data, I can get it at a glance right inside their email.

I know what you’re thinking – “But Chase, I’ve already got all that kind of data inside our internal site. Why do I need to pull it into my support app?” It’s all about speed. Having it inside the support app itself, you’ll be able to glance over at it whenever you need to. That’ll eliminate clicking over to your other site and searching around for the info there.

Like with text snippets, it saves a few clicks and few minutes each time. When you’re answering emails all day, that saved time adds up!

Let Customers Help with Context

Along with that context from your internal tools, it’s helpful to get the right information from your customers directly.  Most customers don’t really know what you need to help them. That’s why they either overload you with information you don’t need or make it so short you have to ask for more info. Either option just serves to slow you down a bit.

You need to tell them what you need.

I tell customers to think of it as those old stories where you focus on the five w’s – who, what, when, where, and why. Who’s this happening to? What’s happening? Where and when did it happen? That way you can figure out the why behind what’s going on.

When customers know what you’re looking for, they’ll give it to you in the first email.

The best place to do all this is on your ticket form. Tell them exactly what you need from them right when they’re initiating contact. That’ll help slim down the number of emails back and forth just to get the context right.

Sometimes Videos are Faster

For more complex problems or situations that require multiple steps, I use videos with my reply. This allows the customer to see exactly what they need to do. Plus, it’s often faster to record a quick screencast over typing out a ton of steps.

The trick here is to use a screencast tool that’s readily available when you need it. For me, I use Screenflow. It’s a little overkill but it’s drop dead easy. I always have it open and can trigger a screencast with a keyboard shortcut. From there, drag and drop the finished file right into the email to attach it.

Now you know a few of my tricks with support emails. What are your best tips and tricks?


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4 Comments

  • Carl T. Holscher Reply

    My snippets are at work even here.

    I use “Z” as my trigger character so everything starts with Z.

    zname is my full name.
    zphone is my phone number.
    zmail is my email address.
    zadd is my full address.

    I have zdphone and zdmail for my work since I work at the Department of…

    About the 50th time I mistypes Thank You I turned that into zty.
    I also deploy zgm and zga for Good Morning and Good Afternoon.

    I also have a snippet that fill in an entire page to book closed captioning for events I run since most of the information is the same. (Shout out to Caption Colorado! Those guys seriously rock!)

    I’ve also made snippets for new account and password reset emails that automatically add the user name using the clipboard.

    I <3 TextExpander on the Mac at home and Breevy (http://www.16software.com/breevy/) on Windows at work. And yes, they sync snippets to each other.

    • Chase Clemons Reply

      Nice ones Carl! I never would’ve even thought about using them to fill out an entire page like the event booking. That’ll come in handy for sure.

      • Carl T. Holscher Reply

        Thanks Chase!
        I’ve found some creative uses for it over the years.
        The trackback below goes to the post I wrote for it, inspired by this post.
        Thank you for the inspiration!

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