How to support customers with Gmail (and not suck at it)

We love Gmail. We love hearing from customers, we love the notification mails we get, and we are paranoid enough to love “undo send”. But it still breaks our hearts when we hear a small business down the street lose out on customer support, because they’re too stuck up with their email. Of course, Gmail was not meant to support customers. Down the road, you’re eventually going to need an actual customer support software.

“But then, big Kahuna”, I can hear you say. “I don’t want to pay for a support software right now, and Gmail is actually free!”.

Alright. But if you’re going to use Gmail for your customer support, at least do it right!Twitter Icon And we’re going to help you get there. So we sat ourselves down in a nice big circle, drew a warm fire, and stormed out some cool hacks and tips you should know if you want to use Gmail to support customers.

Use Stars to manage priorities, statuses and workflows

All support emails are equal. But some are just more equal than the rest Twitter Icon. Some emails require the expertise of a specific person in your team. And some are just super high priority which means you need to get working on them right away.

Gmail lets you “star” emails and differentiate the most important ones from the rest. It’s a great idea to color code emails by priority (high priority issues get a red star, and the least priorities get a blue).

You can also use a bunch of other icons to tag an email as a general question or problem report, and even, mark it’s status as resolved. The best part is, you can search through your inbox by these stars and pull out relevant emails too.

Icon

Where to use

How to search for them

Blue_star_gmail

Low priority (nobody dies)

has:blue-star (or l:^ss_sb)

Yellow_star_Gmail

Medium priority (Kind of regular)

has:yellow-star (or l:^ss_sy)

Red_star_Gmail

High priority (need to fix quick)

has:red-star (or l:^ss_sr)

 Orange_star_Gmail

Urgent priority (heads will roll)

has:orange-star (or l:^ss_so)

Green_star_Gmail

FCR (Got this one, baby)

has:green-star (or l:^ss_sg)

Purple_star_Gmail

Rockstar customer

has:purple-star (or l:^ss_sp)

Red_bang_Gmail

Expert opinion (can’t do this alone)

has:red-bang (or l:^ss_cr)

Yellow_bang_Gmail

Bug report (for the devs)

has:yellow-bang (or l:^ss_cy)

Blue_info_Gmail

Problem (should call this guy tomorrow)

has:blue-info (or l:^ss_cb)

Orange_guillermet_Gmail

Waiting on customer (Need more info)

has:orange-guillemet (or l:^ss_co)

Purple_question_Gmail

Question (how do I turn this on)

has:purple-question (or l:^ss_cp)

Green_check_Gmail

Resolved (finally!)

has:green-check (or l:^ss_cg)

Bubble critical issues to the top with Priority Inbox

The biggest problem with simply relying on Gmail for all your customer support is not knowing what to work on next. Support solutions let you prioritize issues, include SLA policies and sort tickets based on when a response is due.

While you still won’t be able to get that degree of prioritization out of your mailbox, the priority inbox in Gmail gives you the next best thing – a curated list of attention worthy emails that you should work on first. The Priority Inbox makes sure that the unread, starred and important conversations get more visibility by bubbling them to the top.

Save time with Canned Responses and One-click Bulk Replies

Customer support is, most often, a repetitive job. That means you end up typing the same replies to a whole dozen emails every day. Of course, you could copy your replies and paste them into each email. Or, you could enable the “Canned Responses” addon from Gmail Labs, and add your pre-typed replies in one click.

Gmail's canned responses

But what if you have a whole pile of similar queries coming in? Sometimes, even opening each email and inserting a canned response can be a total drain. While Gmail won’t let you shoot your replies in bulk, the “Batch Reply for Gmail” Chrome extension does the job.

Of course, that’s still a far cry from the functionality you get with a proper customer support solution. For example, since you can’t add dynamic content (like Hi <customer name>) into your Responses, you’d still have to customize your replies a bit before sending. But that’s still a big time saver.

Get Organised with Labels and filters

When the world moved from filing cabinets to computers, email somehow got stuck in the middle. That’s not a big problem when it comes to daily communication. But unless you are a champ at keeping things organized, your mail threads can become a customer support nightmare.

It’s easy for a single (albeit important) support query to get lost under the dozen emails from the top bank in Elbonia promising you a gazzilion dollars. Plus, there’s just zero visibility into what problems keep cropping up over and over again, and which areas in your support you should immediately focus on.

Labels and filters in Gmail offer a great way to categorize issues and throw them into specific problem buckets. Create filters to segregate your email as soon as it pops into your inbox by applying a Label to it. You can also perform a multitude of actions with Filters – star emails from your high rollers, apply labels, mark as important. You could even create a rule to automatically send canned responses with your bank account details when you get an email from the Elbonian royalty… but why would you?!Twitter Icon

Undo instead of “Oops”

The second biggest mistake you could do, in customer support, is not answer a customer’s query. The biggest mistake is send them the wrong answer instead. There is nothing worse than losing face (and probably a paying customer), because you addressed the wrong email to the wrong person. Unfortunately, the greatest pieces of wisdom usually strike only 5 seconds after you hit the send buttonTwitter Icon. Gmail gives you 30 seconds to get remorseful and undo your sins before they hit your customer’s mailbox with the Undo Send option. Even if you are super confident of your replying capabilities, it might just be a good idea to have this option enabled. You know, just in case.

Bonus: Get the Complete Gmail Survival Gear

Of course, Gmail was built for transactional conversations, not customer support. Eventually you will need to move to a full-blown customer support solution. But until then, these hacks and tips should help you stay afloat.

a. Schedule replies, reminders and emails with Boomerang
b. Manage customers inside Gmail with Streak.com
c. Use Attachments.me to share screens, documents and files
d. Boost Fast Resolutions with The Email Game

Still using Gmail for supporting customers? Or have another cool Gmail hack you use? We’d love to hear the tips, tricks and techniques you use to stay on top of your support.

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  • KRCraft

    Solid and well stated advice for SMBs with a fun voice as an added bonus. And so easy to relate to as they’ve all felt those pains during growth. Bet more than a few email ‘pros’ can learn from this piece, too.

    Very happy to pass this one along. Fresh thoughts!

    • freshdesk

      Thank you!

    • freshdesk

      Thank you !

  • http://www.delegationconvention.com/ Mario Stevenson

    I don’t even go that far. I have three categories !Action !Archive and !Waiting on. !Action has two sub-categories:
    !Action/Calendar for calendar updates
    !Action/REVIEW REQUIRED for all new e-mail.
    !Archive for e-mail I’m saving and want to find it in Gmail (using Gmail archive will sometimes lose the e-mail, but use them both)
    !Waiting on has two sub-categories:
    !Waiting on/Follow-up for e-mail waiting for a response
    !Waiting on/Tracked e-mail for e-mail with tracers.

    Of course each has an assigned color. There you have it, everything is tagged so as it arrives.