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Doing Customer Support with Gmail

Most companies publish their email address to let customers contact them, and it's a very common way to provide support.

But you quickly discover that while Gmail is convenient - and everyone on the team knows how to use it - it lacks the kind of control you need to ensure high quality customer support.

Don't fret! This is where ActiveInbox can help…

Guarantee You Will Reply To Each Customer

Turn every customer email into a task by clicking Action. It'll then appear on your Action list, available from the top Review Bar (or our sidebar if you click the bottom-left cube).

If you want to make sure you reply in a certain time frame, give it a Due Date, and it'll appear on your Today list when it's due.

It's a good idea to add a To Do for each task. This has two benefits:

  • It's more instructive than the email subject (which you probably didn't write, and becomes less relevant as the conversation evolves), and is displayed prominently next to each task in your Action list.
  • It saves you time when the customer replies, and you have to remember what the task was about and what you must do next.

ActiveInbox also makes it easy to write better replies to customers, by showing you previous conversations and outstanding tasks every time you reply. When you open the compose/reply box, you'll see a number in a speech bubble and possibly a number in a blue container, which are the number of previous conversations and outstanding tasks respectively. Click on it to see the emails in a popup.

Delegating Tasks Between Your Team

If you haven't already, set up Delegated Access to Gmail so you can all access the same Gmail account without sharing passwords.

The simplest approach is to create custom statuses for each user, which you do by creating labels beginning with !. E.g. for customer support agents Bob and Sue, you'd create !Bob Tasks and !Sue Tasks. ActiveInbox will then give you status buttons for each email that you can switch between.

Bob and Sue would then go into Bob Tasks and Sue Tasks respectively on the Review Bar.

Or they could go into the Today list, and click the 3-line menu icon, and Group By Status.

Ensure Nothing Is Overlooked

We suggest you maintain Inbox Zero - i.e. constantly check your inbox, discard anything that isn't important, reply in 2 minutes if you can, and add everything else to your task list - because an empty inbox means you've seen everything.

Prioritizing Tasks

In your task list, you can drag the most important tasks to the top (so you can work top to bottom).

If you want to group tasks into Priority Levels, you can create custom statuses.

If you're not part of a team, that would mean creating the status labels !L1 and !L2 (for Level 1 and Level 2 respectively), which ActiveInbox will detect and turn into status buttons.

If you are part of a team, you could create custom status labels for each person. E.g. !Bob L1 !Bob L2 !Sue L1 !Sue L2.

Understanding and Resolving Customer Issues

The next level up, after being certain you'll remember to reply to a customer, is to focus on the bigger picture of seeing and fixing issues.

The basic workflow is to create a project for each issue raised, add every related email to that project, discuss it in Gmail until it's well understood, resolve it, and then communicate back to everyone in the project.

When an issue comes in, create a project for it by clicking the Project dropdown in a conversation, and entering a name. Use a forward slash in the name to create sub projects (e.g. Issues/IssueX).

You can then view that project from the Projects section of the Review Bar (or even more conveniently, from our sidebar by clicking the cube in the bottom-left).

If you a working with a team, you can group the tasks in a project team member - just click the 3-line menu button and select Group By Status or Group By User.

Collect and Evolve Ideas

This is very similar to grouping issues above, but this time you'd create a project for each idea, and then discuss it.

Integrating Other Tools

We eventually want to recognise that while Gmail is perfect for discussing issues & ideas with the outside world, and then you'll want to put them in a tool designed to manage them (e.g. a bug tracker if you make software like us, or an idea board that can help you prioritize and evolve them).

We don't do this yet, but if you want a tool integrating with Gmail, please tell us on the forum.

An Advanced Approach to Priority Levels and Team Delegation

If you want a slightly more complex setup that uses less buttons (and thus lets you handle more users), you can just create simple statuses for each priority (e.g. !L1, !L2), and then add Users.

To tell ActiveInbox you want to add Users, go into Preferences, select 'Configure Label Types', and add a new label type with the name Users and the label prefix U/. (As a helpful example, Projects are also a Label Type, with the label prefix P/).

You'd then create labels in Gmail for each team member: e.g. U/Bob and U/Sue.

When creating a task, you'd apply the priority status, and then select a User to own it.

To see your task list, you can either:

  • Click L1 under the Tasks menu on the Review Bar, then group the tasks by User (click the 3-line menu icon on the right hand side).
  • Click the desired user under the Users menu on the Review Bar, and view all tasks for that user.