Some jobs are best for robots. Customer support is not one of them.
The phrase "Support Automation" brings cold "interactions" to mind. There's no empathy in automated "thank you for writing" emails. And that phone recording with promises that "your call is important to us" never really makes anyone feel important.
And yet, if you work in customer support, you would welcome a robot's helping hand.
Each incoming support ticket involves a customer and a problem. The support team needs to figure out if that customer has interacted with the company before, what their problem is, and whether it can be solved with an existing help document or if it needs a custom solution.
Finding that information on your own is time-consuming and tedious—something perfect for automation.
We think you should hire a robot to help with your customer support—but you should hire it for the right job. Get it to help you gather data on your customers, figure out their problems, route their tickets to the correct person, and make sure problems get fixed. Leave the interactions to us humans.
That's the secret behind the great support that Trello, HubSpot, and hundreds of other teams offer their customers. They've hired a robot to help their team offer more personalized support. Here's an inside look at how they do it.
It all starts with your customer support app, the place where emails, Tweets, chat messages and more come in from customers. Just like your personal email inbox, your customer support app's team inbox is likely to become a cluttered mess unless you're careful.
There's nothing more discouraging than seeing an inbox full of unanswered messages. That's why most customer support apps include tools to help you manage messages.
Filters are one of the handiest tools in any customer support app. Instead of letting every message show up in one inbox, filters automatically sort messages based on their content, subject, sender and more.
"It's important to automate as much support as you can," says Trello support agent Emily Chapman. "Not in terms of responses, but in terms of autotagging, moving cases into appropriate folders or buckets, and reducing the amount of manual monitoring required."
Filters are the best way to make your support inbox smarter. They can move technical tickets into a folder for your technical support team, or automatically get rid of spam messages. Filters can even add extra data to tickets, like tags or urgency ratings, depending on how much time has passed since the ticket was received.
Connor Riley, co-founder of coffee subscription service MistoBox, uses the filters in Desk to organize his inbox. "You can do just about anything with Desk's rules and filters without a line of code," he says.
No matter which customer support app you're using, filters will help you eliminate tedious tasks from your workflow.
When you spend all day typing, saving a few clicks can make a huge difference in your efficiency. That's where keyboard shortcuts shine. They keep your fingers on the keyboard, so you're primed to answer tickets.
Keyboard shortcuts are Zapier CEO Wade Foster's favorite trick for doing customer support faster. Help Scout, the support app Zapier uses, includes keyboard shortcuts for starting a reply, sending a message, setting a ticket's status, jumping to a specific folder, and more.
Take the time to learn the keyboard shortcuts in your support tool. If a keyboard shortcut shaves just 15 seconds off answering a ticket, that'll add up to 4 hours saved for every thousand questions you answer.
The entire goal of good support automation is to give each customer more personal attention. But some questions really only need to be answered once.
That's where saved replies—which may be called common replies, templates, or macros depending on your app—come in. You can write a reply to a common question once, then reuse it in your answers with a click. Depending on your customer support app, you may be able to use your knowledge base articles in a reply, or can include the customer's name or other info with variables to save more time.
Great support still requires a personal touch, so don't go overboard with pre-written replies (at least customize your message a bit). But for common questions, they're a powerful tool that gets your customers the info they need faster.
Now it's time to reach beyond your support app's baked-in features. Here's how you can bring in tickets from all of your apps, notify your team of new tickets, assign issues to the right team member, pull in customer data, solve problems automatically, build new support tools, and much more.
Support tickets come from everywhere: email, phone calls, chat, Twitter, and Facebook are all fair game.
Bringing all those tickets into one place is an obvious way to simplify support. Instead of checking a dozen inboxes, there'll be a central location for every support message.
Your customer support tool might already include integrations with social networks that pull in any questions automatically. If not, Zapier can help.
Internally at Zapier, we use a Twitter to Mailgun Zap to turn Twitter mentions into emails that come into our Help Scout inbox, using filters to keep common tweets out. The appFigures team does something similar, connecting chat app Olark with their Reamaze customer support inbox to see chats and emails together.
"Because we leverage Zapier to funnel all channels into a single place, we can communicate using notes, use custom member profiles, and follow up with the member directly from a single thread," says appFigures co-founder Ariel Michaeli.
Forms are another great way to gather questions from customers. You can make a form, put it on your website or inside your app, then use Zapier to route the questions into a help desk.
The Konseptly team uses Zapier to connect their Typeform form to their SupportBee support inbox, while the Kairos team relies on a Wufoo form they've connected to Groove with Zapier—which also sends Slack notifications to let them know when new tickets come in.
Konseptly also uses their form to log support entries into Insightly CRM, to help them gather as much info as possible with each new support ticket. As Konseptly CEO Steffen Engman said, "It's hard to say how much time the integrations have saved in total, but as the company grows in terms of employees, the amount of time saved grows as well."
You could even use Zapier to build a customized support inbox. For example, the Estimote team receives all of their business inquires in a Gmail inbox while working to close deals in SalesforceIQ. But it wasn't working as well as they wanted.
"Managing hundreds of daily inquiries across numerous team members with Gmail alone just wouldn't allow us to scale as quickly," says Estimote business operations manager Roshan Prakash. So they connected Gmail to both SalesforceIQ and Front—a collaborative email inbox—using Zapier. That way, their emails automatically moved to the correct inbox.
"Zapier helps us connect multiple business-critical tools, streamline processes, and deliver great customer experiences along the way," says Prakash.
"When I think about building an efficient support workflow, it always starts with solving problems for the customer."
Building a new product inside a company is a challenging endeavor—one that's bound to create confusing support challenges. That's one of the things that makes Sam Awezec's job difficult as product specialist of HubSpot's new Sidekick email tracking tool.
To make sure his team can answer tickets as quickly as possible, Awezec uses Zapier to add customer data to each request automatically. "Every new ticket in Zendesk triggers a Zap to HubSpot," says Awezec. "We then sync back as much information on the customer as we wish to have." That info tells his team how long someone's been a user, if they have a paid account, whether they've ever received a marketing email, or if they're currently in a beta program.
They can then use that data in HubSpot to see if a beta feature is causing more support tickets, or if new users seem to be having more trouble. "As our product adapts and expands, Zapier gives us the ability to quickly and easy update relevant information in our support software without the assistance of a developer," says Awezec.
You can even integrate your website directly with your customer support tool using Zapier. The MistoBox team uses Mixpanel's webhooks and Zapier's Desk integration to gather data on customers before they even send in support tickets.
"We use Mixpanel webhooks to trigger cases and set various customer fields in Desk, and use these fields to prioritize inbound cases," says MistoBox cofounder Connor Riley. "It allows us to get back to our most valuable or at-risk customers faster."
This extra customer data directly affects MistoBox's bottom line. "It can be the difference between a new and lost customer, and often times we find out about web issues and bugs through support cases first," Riley says.
Chances are you're going to get some support tickets in a language no one on your team understands.
Google Translate is the easy solution. Just copy and paste the message into Google Translate, and it'll give you a rough translation. If you use Google Chrome, it'll recognize the foreign language in a ticket and offer to translate it without any extra steps.
For a more reliable translation, the Trello team turned to Unbabel. "We provide international support by using Unbabel to translate from English," says Trello's Chapman. "We have a Zap that lets us know when Unbabel emails us back with the completed translation." That helps them provide personalized support, no matter where a customer is from.
"Communication between team members is key to fast and effective service."
You could keep you customer support inbox open all day and still miss new tickets. That's why so many teams rely on a team chat app like Slack or HipChat to help manage their support queue. It doesn't need to be anything fancy—just a simple way to make sure everyone sees each new support ticket.
The Small Farm Central team, for instance, posts every new support ticket to HipChat. That way, as founder Simon Huntley said, "we can respond quickly and assign them to the appropriate team member. It is pretty simple, but it is a big win for us."
Amy Choi's team at Heyzap does something similar with UserVoice and Slack. Each new support ticket they receive is added to their
#Support channel in Slack. Then, they triage new support tickets each morning, discuss difficult issues, and assign questions to the correct team member.
"This allows us to view and discuss every request in real time without opening additional windows, loop in relevant people outside of the support team, and properly allocate to the correct team member," Choi says. "Some of the more complex tickets need some discussion before we can assign, and Slack is a much better avenue for this than UserVoice."
And since the Heyzap team already spends the day in Slack, no support ticket goes unseen. "It also allows us to catch emergency tickets faster, since not all of us have UserVoice open all the time," Choi says.
You can even use your team chat app to create a support workflow that ensures customers get an answer as quickly as you've promised. The Trello team uses a Help Scout-to-Slack integration to get notified when a user who pays for an enterprise plan has a problem. "That's how we make sure they get immediate help," says Trello support agent Emily Chapman.
Slack also helps the Trello team keep track of escalated tickets. "If we tag something as on fire in Help Scout, it will trigger a ping in a Slack channel," Chapman says. Their Zaps make up an entire support-escalation workflow in Slack, preventing any ticket from falling through the cracks.
"Basically our Zaps help us see very important info as quickly as possible, so we can go deal with it as appropriate in Help Scout," Chapman says.
"I like to use Zapier for tasks that require constant record keeping and monitoring."
Blazing-fast support is important, but you should also monitor the underlying causes behind your support tickets. If 10 people write in about the same bug, that bug needs to be squished stat.
Disqus is an app designed to help people comment and discuss their thoughts, but the Disqus team still needs some extra help making sure they don't miss critical bugs. For that, they have a Zapier integration that posts new issues to a dedicated Slack channel.
"I like to use Zapier for tasks that require constant record keeping and monitoring," says Disqus product support manager Daniel Matteson. And this integration, he says, "gives me a place to pop into periodically to keep an eye out for any new and unknown issues that need fixing."
You might also want to monitor your customer support app (even the best ones have outages). At Zapier, we use a Twitter integration to watch the Help Scout Twitter account, which then notifies us on Slack whenever Help Scout has downtime. It's a tiny thing that keeps our support team in the know.
Or, your team may need to dive deeper into a support ticket, perhaps doing extra work or solving a problem before you can reply to the user. The doctorSIM team uses Trello for that, sending complicated tickets from Zendesk to Trello to make sure they're followed up on.
You could do the same thing with your team's project management or to-do list app, turning tickets into tasks that won't be forgotten in your support inbox.
Most customer support still needs to be done by hand, with a friendly, human answer to solve problems. But some problems can be tackled automatically. Build an integration that solves those, and you'll free up even more of your team's time—something the Sidekick team at HubSpot has done brilliantly.
"When a user signs up for our free product, we send them a confirmation email," says Sam Awezec, Sidekick product manager at HubSpot. "However, inevitably some people do not receive this email. Any support team would strive to get these resolved as quickly as possible, but at best there would still be a 20- to 30-minute delay behind the request for a new confirmation link."
To avoid that delay, the HubSpot team turned to Zapier. "When a new ticket comes in that mentions anything related to getting setup or confirmation, it triggers a Zap to HubSpot," Awezec says. "If this person is a new user with a pending confirmation email, then another zap syncs back to Zendesk and automatically sends a new confirmation email.
"First and foremost this solves a problem for the customer, since time to value when you are trying a new product is very short—so even waiting 30 minutes for our team to send you a confirmation link can be a bit long.
"When we use Zapier, the customer always receives an email within 5 minutes and in turn this also reduces pressure on our team," Awezec says.
Some of the most repetitive emails your support team needs to send can be automatically taken care of, leaving them with the tickets that need a personal touch.
"You can never have enough information on a customer, so set up zaps to capture everything in your CRM."
It's not enough to have detailed data on each customer in your support tickets. To optimize your support workflow and make sure you're improving support over time, you'll also need to track each of your customer interactions and log data about every ticket.
The Plivo team uses Zapier to save a record of each customer support interaction to their CRM, so everyone can track customer interactions. "This way, our sales and account management team can be on top of every customer interaction," says product marketing lead Lucy Zhao. "You can never have enough information on a customer, so set up Zaps to capture everything in your CRM."
If your customers often send file attachments along with support tickets, you might also want a safe place to store them. That's why the doctorSIM team connected Zendesk to Dropbox. "Tickets with attachments are sent to Zapier, then stripped, classified, saved to Dropbox, and we're notified via email," says CEO Hugo Meana. With over 20,000 tickets coming in each month, Meana says, "doing this manually would be impossible."
Or, you could connect your help desk to reporting tools for deeper insights into your tickets. Track each new support ticket on a team dashboard, perhaps, or build your own reporting tools with a database or spreadsheet.
At Zapier, we've connected Help Scout to a MySQL database to log tickets based on their tags. That helps us see what topics generate the most questions, and where we could improve our help documentation.
"Zapier is a great tool for getting new workflows up and running with minimal effort."
Sometimes that one feature you need simply doesn't exist. Your support tool doesn't include it, there's no 3rd-party option, and your only choice is to get a developer to build it for you.
Or, you could use a Zap to make your own feature without coding. That's how the Disqus team built their first abuse report feature, without using any developer time.
"We knew we wanted to use a survey format in order to get all the abuse report information we needed in order to investigate, but we also wanted to use Desk to process the completed surveys," says Disqus product support manager Daniel Matteson. "Zapier allowed us to automatically create new emails in Desk every time a new survey was submitted in Wufoo. Pretty soon, we were receiving hundreds of reports per month from users that needed our attention, right in Desk.
"Zapier provided an easy way for us to quickly route abuse reports so we were able to focus on handling them and learning more about the challenges many Disqus users face every day."
Disqus' first spam reporting tool was also built using Zapier and a Wufoo form. "Zapier provided us a quick and easy way to get this spam data into a Google sheet, allowing us to start taking bulk action on these reports," Matteson says. "We've since developed more tools to help on this front, but coming up with that first workflow in Zapier gave us a head start."
Whatever new tool you need to add to your support workflow, Zapier can help you prototype and build a working version with a form, spreadsheet, database, or any other app you're already using. Without any coding, you can make your own customer support tools that'll help your team be more productive.
There are so many things you could automate in support, tricks that would save you time and give you more data on your customers. But don't automate for automation's sake: do it with a purpose. Build things that solve problems for your support team; things that actually help you personalize your support and close tickets faster.
"When I think about building an efficient support workflow, it always starts with solving problems for the customer," says HubSpot's Sam Awezec. "If you come at any problem with this mentality, then you will build out processes that make your customer happy and in turn help the team at the same time."
And you likely won't hit on the perfect balance the first time, which is why Kairos' Cole Calistra says to "Experiment and try different things."
"What you come up with at the beginning is not likely to be the optimal workflow," Cole says, "but it's easy enough to change and rework it in a few clicks that you can set it up a variety of different ways without much effort."
Whether you master keyboard shortcuts, discover more about each customer, or build a brand-new tool to assist with support, each test is a step towards offering the very best support possible. And your customers will love how your support gets faster over time.
An efficient customer support app is a great tool to have on hand—but macros and automations alone won't keep your support team from being overwhelmed with questions and tickets. In the next chapter, we'll look at how to build a successful help center and fill it with useful documentation, so your customers can help themselves and solve problems on their own.
The Best Live Chat Apps for Customer Support
How to Build an Effective Support Knowledge Base: Everything You Need to Know about Documentation
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