Gmail as Help Desk System

For a growing startup, customer support is one of the most important things. You need to be talking to them to:

  • Keep them happy! Happy users talk to others about their experiences.
  • Gain insight into how your users are thinking and what they need.
  • Find out what is working, what is not work and what is confusing in your product.

We receive many support emails every day. We also have multiple people responsible for our products. That’s why I researched a lot about the helpdesk solutions and found out that they are too complex, confusing and difficult to maintain. Instead we have been using Gmail for many years and it worked well for us.

  • You can access to your Gmail account no matter where you are. It even works perfectly on my iphone. You get to access the same familiar user interface. There are features like labels, filters and canned responses that makes you wonder if Gmail team has designed it as a Help Desk solution.
  • There is no worry about installation or maintenance. It is also completely free. There are many cool tools that integrate with Gmail.
  • Gmail is amazingly fast and responsive for a web based application.
  • Gmail search works incredible well. It is also very fast and easy to use. You can browse your search results without re-doing your searches. It just works.
  • Gmail shows messages together in threads. It is very easy to keep track of what has been said and even print all conversation at once.
  • Gmail spam filter is excellent.
  • I don’t link automatic responses, but if you would like to send an automatic email to the customer saying something like “we have received your email and will be responding in 24 hours”. You can easily set that up using Vacation Responder feature.
  • If someone else is responding to a message, it will show up as “Draft” so you never have problem with multiple people responding to the same request.

Here are some best practices that worked well for us:

Keep Projects on Separate Accounts

We have separate gmail accounts for each product. All emails related to that product is sent to that account. You can either setup your accounts to redirect to the gmail account, or you can just get Gmail to pull emails from POP account in your server. Either way works fine.

So, how do you keep track of multiple gmail accounts? This is a minor problem. But there are solutions to that. If you have multiple browsers installed on your computer, you can keep them open at the same time. For example, I use both Firefox and Safari, so I usually keep separate Gmail accounts open on them. Another possible solution is to use Gmail Notifier Firefox Addon. I use it to switch between multiple Gmail accounts and see if there are any new messages on a particular account.

Keep Your Inbox Clean

It is important to keep your inbox as clean as possible. Use the Archive button. Use it a lot! You should process all new messages when you login. If something can be replied quickly or high priortity, reply it on the spot. Then archive it. If it is something that needs to wait for a while, I give it labels such as “TODAY”, “NEXTDAY”, “THISWEEK” and “THISMONTH”.

Always keeping your Inbox processed creates a sense of control. Once your inbox becomes larger than your screen or goes to the second page, you cannot see all of your emails at once and that is kind of stressful. If you haven’t read Getting Things Done already, I’d highly recommend it.

Use Labels Wisely

In addition to the labels like “TODAY” that describe the urgency, we also have labels for each user. So, if someone else thinks one of the emails can only be answered by me, he applies “Aytekin” label.

It is also important to give labels meaningful colors. “TODAY” label should probably be red while “THISMONTH” label can be light green. This way, instead of reading the labels, you can simply spot them from their colors.

We also have labels such as “testimonial” and “feature request” which makes it easier to keep track of other things you would like to come back in the future.

Use Canned Responses

On many occasions, you will have to answer same questions. Instead of explaining the same things again, you can use one of the canned response feature. It is available on the Gmail Labs. I actually use TextExpander and quite happy with it. So, you can always use a separate application, but I think Gmail’s own canned responses feature has an advantage. You can access it from any computer!

Keep Your Google Docs Close

I have been moving away from MS Office to Google Docs and I am pretty happy about it. If you are receiving documents from clients, it is a good idea to keep them on your Google Docs so that you can access them from anywhere. You can also have spreadsheet documents such “Features Requests”, “Bugs” and keep them on the same Gmail account.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • There has been a lot of reports of people getting locked out of their Gmail accounts. Unless you have a Premium account, you will get a very slow support and resolution.
  • On many occasions, you will receive emails email from multiple users with the same subject line. This causes Gmail to assume they belong to the same thread. This may cause some confusion if you are not careful.
  • When you send email from your own domain, some Outlook users see “On behalf of MyCompany Support” on the receiver. I don’t know why this is happening and how to solve. Maybe upgrading to Google Apps and doing all of your emails on them would solve it.
  • This would only work in small companies. We are a small company with 4 employees. Our employees even know root passwords for our servers, so it is not a problem to use the same gmail account. However, if you are any larger or if you have any trust issues, it is probably not a good idea.

This is probably not a unique idea. I am sure many small companies are doing this. According to Jason Fried in this video, 37Signals also uses Gmail for tech support. I also found another article on the subject. Are you also using Gmail for as a help desk solution? What has been experience?

9 Responses to “Gmail as Help Desk System”

  1. sam says:

    here is a very good gmail notifier which also works with google apps, you can use it to get email notifications instantly and deal the customers more efficiently http://gmailnotifier.net/

  2. Marc says:

    BTW, another good solution for multiple accounts is to use separate firefox profiles, one for each account you plan to access from a single machine.

  3. Hi Aytekin – I use GMail (via Google Apps) for support in just the same way, and I’m very happy with it. I can confirm that, yes, Google Apps does cure the “On behalf of” problem.

  4. Timi says:

    Nice post! We have a similar setup and use the iMacros firefox addon to manage all the different accounts: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/3863

  5. Oliver says:

    I love gmail for my personal mail.

    But for my business I much prefer Relenta. Have you tried it? It’s about as simple to use as a regular email program, but it has neat features like canned responses (with customer data like [NAME]), multiple departments (eliminates the multiple gmail accounts thing which sounds like a pain), etc…

  6. Aytekin says:

    Hi Oliver,
    No, I have not tried Relenta. But it definitely looks slick.

  7. Craig says:

    I spent a good 2 days looking at php based helpdesk solutions, I am glad I read this article and will move over to google apps and textexpander.

  8. Miklos Hollender says:

    I think you left out the most important feature of GMail: the +address

    Say your address is JRandomHacker@gmail.com.

    Now, you can ask your users to send e-mails to address like JRandomHacker+urgent@gmail.com, JRandomHacker+question@gmail.com, JRandomHacker+billing@gmail.com, and so on. And you will receive all of them just fine.

    But because they are different addresses, you can set up rules for them: automatically add a tag, forward etc.

    That simply rocks.

  9. help desk says:

    help desk…

    Your topic Ike Preparations at Architel – Architel Computer, Network … was interesting when I found it on Saturday searching for help desk as I also have articles and information posted on this subject. Thank You… Steve Noel Sr….

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