Automating Customer Support with Gmail

Agenda BadgeWhile I’ve grown the savvy apps team considerably this year, we’re still not a big shop (and never plan to be). So, when our latest in-house iOS app—Agenda—became a phenomenal bestselling app on the App Store, we weren’t immediately prepared for the onslaught of feature and support requests we received. For some context, in Agenda’s first month on the App Store, we processed just about a thousand emails.

Thankfully though, our experience with some of our other apps put us in a position to quickly deal with this significantly increased volume. Here’s how we did it.

1) In App Emails with App-Specific Subject Lines

In app emails are probably the best way to provide customers a way to get in touch with you. You’ll find that including this element in your apps will drastically increase customer contact with you (and that’s a good thing!). If you’re not doing this already (and many are), check out InAppSettingsKit.

Don’t stop with populating the in app email with your support email address only. Add two more elements. The first is a subject line that is app-specific. For Agenda, we use, “Agenda – Support Request.” I’ll discuss why adding the subject line is particularly useful momentarily.

The second item to add is diagnostic information for troubleshooting issues (hat tip to Dave Smith). We include the device type, device OS, and application version in the footer of the in app email. This information let’s you start assessing any issues right away and can reduce email volume by 50%.

Iapemail

2) Form Submissions with App-Specific Subject Lines

Some customers won’t use in app emails. Instead, they’ll visit your website to try to find help. That’s why on our Agenda website, we have a web form at the bottom of the page. This form also generates an email with the “Agenda – Support Request” subject line. Between these two channels, almost all Agenda emails being sent to us have the “Agenda – Support Request” subject line.

3) Gmail Canned Responses

A powerful feature of Gmail is “Canned Responses.” They allow common responses to be saved as drafts. That text can then be inserted quickly into any message. You can read more about Canned Responses on the Gmail blog or Lifehacker.

We have a canned response for every one of our popular support or feature requests. But we actually often don’t have to use them. What’s even more useful is the “master” canned response we have setup for any email sent to us with the “Agenda – Support Request” subject line.

4) Filters with a Canned Response

Combining the master canned response with a Gmail filter for the “Agenda – Support Request” subject line, most Agenda inquiries are answered without our interaction. Our canned response immediately gets customers a response from us, sets their expectations about turnaround time, includes some frequently asked questions (with a link to all of them on the Agenda website), and provides the release notes from the last update. After each release, we update all canned responses (as needed), including the master canned response with the latest release notes.

Mplsupport

The downside to this approach is twofold: 1) It’s slightly more impersonal. 2) Customers will receive the auto-response for additional inquiries. But for the 1-2 customers who complained about that, many, many more appreciated their questions being answered instantaneously.

Concluding Note

This solution is not perfect but it has allowed us to provide stellar customer support and answer almost all actual inquiries within our stated goal of 1-2 business days, even with the high volume of inquiries.

By focusing on real issues or requests, we’ve been able to better triage what bugs and features need to be addressed. While selectively inputting issues into our bug and feature tracking solution (Unfuddle), we also circumvented costly and complicated customer support solutions that really aren’t necessary for independent software developers.