In my previous post, Creating a Better Customer Service Workflow: Part 1 – The Problem, I gave an overview of the issues we’ve begun to face as we’ve introduced multiple people into our customer service workflow.
As you can see from the graphic above, our solution was simply Gmail. Well, a pimped out version of Google Apps Gmail that takes advantages of all of the unique features that Gmail has to offer in a manner that actually turns it into a pretty awesome customer service system for a small team. This solution sort of came about by accident. Since we use Google Apps Gmail on a regular basis, we’re always discussing all of the new features. One day Mike suggested that the combination of those would make for a pretty good customer service system. After some discussion, we all agreed, and we decided to give it a try.
How It Works
I’ve never been a fan of Gmail’s conversation view. In my personal Gmail, and in my Google Apps Gmail, I turn it off. However, for customer service, having these threaded conversations is ideal. This is the number one feature that makes Gmail an appealing customer service platform. It looks very similar to a ticketing system on the back end without having all of the downsides of a ticketing system I mentioned in the previous post.
Under our Google Apps account, we created support emails for our major sites, so detailedimage.support, lockerpulse.support, and sportslizard.support. Since we recently upgraded to the premiere business version of Google Apps, each of these accounts costs $50/year. We then routed all of our customer service emails to these new customer service addresses.
Stepping back for a second, the main downside of a shared inbox is that it can get messy if everyone isn’t on the same page. We made three simple rules: 1) every support email must have a minimum of two labels, one for the type of inquiry and one for the team member who is assigned the email, 2) emails should stay in the inbox until they are answered and then archived, and 3) if you’re passing an email to another person you should label it with their name, move it to the inbox, and mark it as unread.
Gmail has two features that make this super easy – address aliases and filters. We use address aliases to “tag” incoming messages from our contact form. For example, if someone picks “website issues” from the dropdown, the email will be sent to detailedimage.support+technical. Used in conjunction with filters, this allows us to automatically label every single incoming message with the type of inquiry and the person that should answer it. For instance, that email would be labeled “Site Issues” and “Team/Adam” because I handle all of the website issues.
This is absolutely huge. If I log in and there are 10 messages, I don’t need to look at all 10, only the ones that are labeled with my name. Given that there’s not a ton of overlap in our areas of expertise (I won’t be answering detailing questions, just like Greg won’t be answering technical questions), it would be a huge waste of time for someone to have to do this manually.
The last critical piece of the puzzle is Gmail delegation. Gmail allows you to grant other people access to your account to answer email on your behalf (like, say, a secretary). We took each support email account and granted access to each individual’s Pure Adapt account, making it super simple to switch between inboxes (remember, one of our goals was to not add complexity to our routine, and logging in and out of several Gmail accounts all day long qualifies as that). I’m the only one who answers questions on all three sites, so here’s what delegation looks like for me:
When you send an email, it says that it’s from “Detailed Image Support (sent by [user])”, where [user] is the sender’s individual Pure Adapt email address. This lets us search by sender. For instance, if we want to get a quick look at all of the sent messages by a new customer service employee, to check for quality or quantity or response time, we can.
As an aside, because of this new system we have all stopped using the Thunderbird mail client and moved to using Gmail directly in the browser. It was a long time coming. Thunderbird served us well for years, long before we were on Google Apps, but the time had finally come to ditch it and move to the browser. Gmail is arguably a higher functioning email client than anything available on the desktop.
The primary advantages of using a system like this is that it solves all of the problems I mentioned last post. We can all see, search, and reply-to everyone else’s email. If someone goes on vacation, someone else can just step right in and pick up the slack. There’s never an issue of a customer contacting us twice in two different locations.
This also compliments with our internal “User History” system well. The system allows us to look up and modify everything someone has done on our site. We can search by all sorts of criteria, like name, email, user ID, order number, tracking number, etc. One of the bits of information that gets displayed is their inquires through our contact form, along with a corresponding request number, making it simple to then take that number and search it in Gmail to find the ensuing exchange. Down the road, I may integrate these two things further so that the entire conversation is available to view in their User History, but for now it seems to work really well. With a few clicks you can literally find out everything you need to know about a customer.
It also should be noted that the setup time for this was a huge advantage. Less than a day of time total on my end to configure everything, document it all, and then have a meeting to kick it all off. Compared with the setup time on a ticketing system, or the development time of a custom system, this was a breeze. Gmail is also a familiar interface for all of us, and it’s likely to be a familiar interface for our future employees, which will help cut down on the learning curve.
For what it’s worth, as we all move towards using mobile phones and tablets as complimentary email devices, Gmail is very well supported. Not something we really took into consideration, but it is nice to not have to worry about our ticketing system not having a mobile website/app for every platform out there. Gmail works well across the board. I know for me, it’s easy to switch back and forth between accounts on my Android phone.
Like with any system, there are some limitations. Here are the big ones to me:
- Lack of stats. Even though we can search by user, and in Gmail you can see all of your account activity, we don’t have access to the types of stats most ticketing systems do. It would be nice to break things down by user, like average response time, number of requests handled, and overall time spent answering questions per day/week/month.
- 10 person limit. You can delegate a Gmail inbox to up to 10 people. Not a big deal for us for a long time, but it’s a downside for sure when you talk about system scalability.
- Conversation grouping isn’t perfect. If the subjects match, Gmail tends to group it into a conversation, even if it’s from a different sender. This has forced us to take any generic subject line like “Detailed Image Tracking Information” and change it to “Detailed Image Tracking Information. Order #12345” to avoid this. Kind of a pain, but not a huge deal.
- No labs support. Gmail labs features don’t work when you’re in a shared inbox, whether you configure them in your account or in the master account. There are a few labs features I’d like to use, but we can’t.
That’s basically it. All in all, a relatively simple solution to what was becoming a big problem for us. We’ve been using it for about a month now and it’s been a huge improvement.
In my next post I’m going to discuss how we use synchronized text expansion to speed up our response time.