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Email support

Email support has been in the game longer than most of the other channels, outside of the phone, and has remained a main staple for providing support since its introduction in the ‘90s. Email is dynamic in that it can be used for solving quick one-off issues, or it can be used to delve deeper into a question or bug.

Email support

Many companies start with either phone or email as their main source of support since those are the two that have traditionally been used, and are assumed to be the most familiar to customers. This is starting to change with all of the research coming out about millennials preferring live chat and social media messaging over other platforms for support. Depending on the company and what product or service they’re selling, they may skip right over email and phone, and go straight to chat.

That being said, email does have a lot of value. Here are some great metrics for email support:

  • Forrester Research found that 41% of consumers expect an email response within six hours. Only 36% of retailers actually respond that quickly. 14% never respond at all.
  • STELLAService conducted a 2011 survey to identify the best email response times from the top 100 Internet e-tailers. Office Depot led the pack with an impressive average reply time of 48 minutes, but even the slowest was under 18 hours. It’s a best practice to try to hit under 24.
  • Pew Research discovered 92% of online adults use email, with 61% using it on an average day.

For every amazing thing about a channel, there are usually at least a few things that aren’t so excellent, and email is no different.

Pros & Cons

Excellent for a first channel when opening up support at a small or just-starting company.

Fairly limited in terms of where you can offer it and how seamless you can make it. While you can provide an email address, you aren’t able to create the email and take the work out of the process, like you are with other platforms.

A great form of support for asynchronous communication — this is especially important for things like debugging or troubleshooting that can’t be done instantly, or close-to-instantly.

Not great for if you need to give someone a step-by-step walkthrough as they are doing something.

Simple and straightforward to set up and maintain.

Less feature-full in terms of tracking information, reporting, and other “fancier” features, like screen sharing, that other support channels offer.

Useful for tools that allow for scaling: saved replies, autoresponders, automated SLA workflows, and more can help level up your team without needing more people.

Limited in functionality to the point where, if this is your sole point of contact and you have an outage, it may be difficult to respond to everyone who has an issue at once.

Doesn’t require any additional installation on the customer’s side, and allows your employees to work from wherever they are.

The asynchronicity makes it difficult to build deep or meaningful relationships with customers, so it might not be the best if you have a customer success or sales team that needs to do that. There’s no real-time method of communication.

Email makes it easy to follow-up on past or outdated conversations.

Email can mean your customers wait a little bit longer than they might have normally so that they can get a proper response.

So, now that you know the pros and cons of using email support versus leaving it behind, let’s talk about how you can knock every message you write out of the park.

Tips on email for companies

  • Send an autoreply to let them know you’ve got their email. Even if you don’t respond to a customer right away, it’s important to let them know that you’ve received their message and will get back to them eventually. Without an autoresponder to notify them of this, your customer might be left wondering if their email made it into your queue or just fell into an internet black hole. You can also use an autoresponder to let customers know of your office hours or any holidays that your team may be enjoying, potentially leading to a delay in response time. Being open and upfront about these things is usually the best policy and allows you to build trust with your customers.
  • Be honest. If a customer emails in about something, be transparent and give them a straightforward answer. For example: a feature request that you know you’re never going to make. While it can be painful to have hard conversations where you tell people “no,” it’s a better experience for them to know ahead of time, rather than trying to create a workaround for something that may never happen. You also avoid a large burden for your support team by bypassing a customer that was probably not the best fit for your product.
  • Use saved replies, and make sure they’re up to date. Saved replies can be lifesavers when it comes to scaling up your support team. Create them for every situation that you see somewhat frequently, and make sure that you have a clean way of communicating when a new one is created to all of your support team. Great examples of uses for saved replies are feature request replies, if you have a large outage, or if there’s a new feature out and lots of people are asking questions about it. If your team also uses similar troubleshooting steps when talking to customers, such as clearing out your browser cache, that’s another excellent example of a saved reply that could save time and energy. Lastly, once you’ve created saved replies, make sure there’s a plan for updating them when things change. Nothing grinds a customer’s gears more than getting the wrong information from a customer support person.
  • Pay attention to your metrics. Often, companies will look at face-level metrics and not dig in too deeply to what’s happening with their customer support team. Rather than focusing solely on response time or CSAT, try to look at two metrics together, or metrics that go a little bit deeper. For example, you could look and see how lowering your first response time boosts your CSAT rating, or you could look at your first contact resolution ratio (how often you solve the customer’s issues on the first try) and see how you might work to lower it. Looking at these more in-depth metrics will give you valuable insight into your customer behavior.
  • Let your agents personalize their emails. Lots of companies come up with a tone and style guide — having that kind of alignment is amazing! But, it’s valuable to let your team know that they are entitled to have their own personality when writing to your customers. No customer — except for maybe occasionally an enterprise customer — wants to talk to a scripted robot. By empowering your team members to have their own personality with customers, you allow them to cultivate relationships with every email they write. Of course, people should still respect the tone that a customer uses, and tone themselves down if they sense that a customer might get frustrated, or is easily discouraged. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later.
  • Make a defined “support style” and align it with your brand. So many different brands have different styles of support. For example, Buffer’s is incredibly cheerful and optimistic. Shinesty is naughty and a little bit flirtatious. For each different company, a different brand “tone” is going to be better. So, once you’ve made brand guidelines for your company, your support style should follow. Communicate with your support team members when your marketing team has created brand guidelines, and give them the empowerment to go about defining what the support style is for themselves, as long as it aligns with the brand as a whole.

Tips on email for support agents

  • Use proper formatting that will make your email easier to read. Most email tools nowadays will offer you the full run of formatting. With any updated tool, you should be able to do things like bold, italicize and underline, but you should also be able to make ordered and unordered lists, create tables, and insert various types of images and functions into your emails. Use these to your advantage: use tons of bullets points or ordered lists to depict steps in a process that you need a customer to take. Use bold or italic lettering to truly emphasize things that you need your customer to focus on. Using these tools will help your customer get the picture the first time they talk to you, which is a win for both parties!
  • Greet them and thank them. With every email, greet your customers kindly, and thank them for reaching out. Then, at the end of the email, invite them to message back, and bid them a fond farewell. For your introduction, for example, you might say “Hey there! Thanks so much for emailing about this — that’s a great question.” and for your close, you could say “I hope that helps, but please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns.” Customizing this for your own tone is the best practice, so use something that sounds natural to you. Some other greetings that we’ve used are “Ahoy,” “Hi!” and “Hello.” They all work equally well as long as they match the rest of the tone of the email.
  • Use snippets for quicker responses. Snippets are like a slightly smaller version of saved replies, and they are personal to you. Create snippets for things that you say all the time TextExpander
  • Mirror their behavior. In support, just like if you’re dancing, you try to follow your partner’s lead. If your customer emails in and they seem like they are a bit more somber or maybe even frustrated, drop your own tone down to slightly mirror their own. If you go into the interaction being boisterous and silly, it might have the potential to make them even more frustrated, and that’s no good! Try to match the behavior and tone of whoever is talking to you. If the customer is using exclamation points all over the place and sending GIFs, go ahead and be reciprocal, but if they’re reaching out and saying they need a refund because their business has closed, it may not be the time for that great GIF you’ve been saving.

Suggested Tools

Email is a fairly straightforward channel, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be feature bereft. The best email tools have a ton of robust features that make their product useful both for the individual agents using it, and the company trying to gain customer insights out of it.

One such product is Help Scout. Help Scout has been serving the market of SMBs and startups for years, and does an excellent job of both improving on their core product, and adding new features (like chat!) to their product lineup. They have a series of robust integrations that can be used to build context around a conversation, and their product feels like you’re using Gmail or another personal email client. It’s easy for the agents to use and comforting for the people receiving messages from them. If you’re keen to learn more about the features of Help Scout, you can do so here.

A second option for this is GrooveHQ. This is a straightforward and simple helpdesk with few bells and whistles. It allows customer support representatives to focus on what matters most: the customer. It looks just like a Gmail inbox, and is strictly used for email support. While there are additional integrations that allow the feature set to expand, Groove does not offer chat or other channel support functionality. You can read more about Groove here.

Finally, Front is an excellent option for teams that use multiple channels and apps for support and want to bring them all into one space. It creates a dashboard where a support team member can see all of your different channels and what’s coming through on them, in order to maximize queue management. It’s excellent, too, for companies that have multiple teams working in the inbox such as sales, success or engineering. If you’re interested in learning more about Front, you can do so here.

Next Chapter
Phone support