Customer Advocacy

The Customer Service Feedback Loop – Outlook Mobile’s 1st year

I went to The City today to check out the MORE Summit, put on by HelpShift. It was a bright, sunny day and it made me miss city life!

My favorite talk had to be the opener, “The State of Mobile” by Kevin Henrikson. He was co-founder at Acompli, which was eventually acquired by Outlook. He manages Outlook for iOS and Android– that is, they are striving to create something people on love on “non-Microsoft” mobile devices.

In the mobile world, you have complete control over what apps you download and use. With the desktop, your IT department might force you to use the Microsoft Suite, but that’s not the case when it comes to apps. The consumer has a choice, so it’s up to the team to create a product experience that sticks. Kevin shared one of the original Acompli tenants…. I didn’t take a photo or write it down verbatim, so I may be butchering it a bit!…

“Create a product that users love and IT departments trust”

While the IT department may pay the bills, he emphasized the importance of the general consumer side of things. Their happiness is key because if you can nail that side, the IT part is easy-peasy. The business requirements are given to you on a list:

  • Add XYZ requirement
  • Add other corporate feature here
  • We need to meet ABC security protocol

While these things may take time and effort, you know exactly what you need to build. It’s not so for the general consumer side; if we all knew how to build killer experiences, we’d have an app store full of glowing 5-star ratings 🙂

Despite the Mobile Outlook team being a small organization inside of a giant corporation, they operate much like a startup:

  • Goal is a 5-start app rating in the app store, on both iOS and Android
  • Ship on a tight 7-day release cycle. Sometimes they ship more!

    Outlook Mobile (iOS and Android team) weekly sprints
    Outlook Mobile (iOS and Android team) weekly sprints
  • Tag all support tickets by issue type for  better reporting.
  • Provide a constant feedback loop. Normalize trends by usage.

    The feedback loop. How all sorts of user feedback makes it into the product planning.
  • Tier 1, 2, and 3 support manage customer support tickets but they have engineers (what you might think of as a Tier 4 agents) answer tickets too. The volume at this level is tiny (maybe a few a week) but it allows engineering to directly feel the pain of the customer. They are also the same people that can get it fixed!
  • Take in customer ideas/ feature requests via a dedicated channel. It looks like they are using UserVoice for this and it makes customers feel like a part of the development process. It also deflects support tickets– win, win!
  • Offer a mobile support experience with a tool like Help Shift (who put on this event) or Intercom. Make it super easy for customers to start a conversation in-app. Also, provide in-app self-service content. Not only does it reduce friction but it keeps them in the app. If your content is good, they may not even have to create a ticket.

I loved seeing an actual model of what product development looks like in another organization. Getting support a “seat at the table” when it comes to the product development cycle is always a challenge and I never pass up an opportunity to learn about how others make it work.

My favorite customer service productivity tools

Ah 2016, a time for new beginnings, baby steps towards a better ME. I have many things I want to do “better” both in mind, body, soul, and even support-life 🙂 I am sure many of you have similar goals, so I hope sharing my favorite customer service productivity tools might help make you a speedier, more efficient rockstar!

Making a wish at the Hoi An Lantern Festival, Vietnam

Text Expander

Okay, for real though, I don’t know how I used to function without this! Most customer service folks are familiar with “macros” or “saved replies” that we use over & over again. While I definitely still use macros, they often sound cold, robotic and I get an icky feeling using them. Enter Text Expander

This tool allows you to create little “snippets” of frequently used text. Instead of writing the same thing again & again, you just type out a keyboard short cut (you make it up so it’s easy to remember). Once you type the short cut, BOOM, your snippet magically appears, saving you time, and your poor little hands.

I love Text Expander because instead of using a same old boring “saved reply,” I can use a mix of snippets to make each answer personal.

When you first download, it may seem like a lot of work to get started. I know when I first checked it out, I put off making the snippets for around six months. Sigh.

Once I got over the hump though, it became my #1 favorite support tool. It’s not even a support tool, per-se; it’s for anyone who could benefit from expanding text instead of repeating yourself all day, every day.

Example Snippets to get you started

My best tip for creating your short cuts is to make them memorable to you. Here are some of mine below:

Hi ->>> Thanks so much for reaching out.

Interest ->>> Thank you for your interest in ABC COMPANY.

iOS ->>> The ABC company app requires iOS 8.0 or later, compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. The app is optimized for iPhone 5, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus.

//We get questions about app compatibility all the time!//

Android ->>> We really want to create an amazing iOS experience before we start developing for other platforms. As such, we will only support iOS at launch, but we haven’t forgotten about our Android supporters.

Because we are a small team, constantly updating the app (with pretty major re-designs), we have chosen to focus on one platform at a time.

With that said, the team is aware of how much demand there is for it. Once we nail iOS, we’ll move on to other platforms. I’ve also added you to my own “Android list” so I can let you know if things change.

//People always want to know why we don’t have an Android app. This answer helps explain the thought process behind it//

Help ->>> Please let me know if I can help in any way!

Sorry ->>> I am very sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

Text Expander saved me 40 hours of typing in the last 6 months

Text Expander provides some neat stats about “how much time you’ve saved” by using their software. My mind is blown thinking about the fact that I could have spent four full business days of straight typing “frequently used” snippets. I found it so awesome that as soon as I hired our first team member, I got her on it too!

Since my shortcut names are often nemonic devices (that only make sense to me), I am thinking about starting a Github repository to share snippets with one another. That will be Phase 2 of our little Text Expander project, but wow, I’m such a fangirl!


On the support front lines, you often have to copy and paste a bajillion times a day. Jumpcut actually keeps a full clipboard history, so you can paste any of the last 50 things you “copied,” via the use of a keyboard shortcut.

Oh keyboard shortcuts. Noticing a trend here?

Google Mail Merge Add-On

When a support emergency strikes, of if you want to provide a “product update” to a sub-set of folks, you may be asked to email a list. Some of you folks are blessed with tools for this (yay!) but for those of you that think you have to do this all one-by-one, there is good news!

This Google Mail Merge Add-On has saved my butt a few times this year. Given, we have a email marketing tool, but for certain cases, I’d just rather do it quickly from my personal work email address.

You should really read the instructions on how to send personalized emails with Mail Merge in Gmail because it takes some getting used to. I promise you though, if you are ever tasked with “Hey email 200 people” about XYZ in the next hour, this will be a life saver. Your productive self shouldn’t have to do it manually.

Pen & Paper checklists

While our company uses Trello to stay organized, when it comes to my personal to-do lists, I’m old school like that. Try googling “pretty check lists” (I love pretty paper things), and there you go!

How to set up email auto-replies that are actually helpful

Have you ever emailed customer service and wondered:

Oh my gosh, did they actually get my email; maybe I should email again!?”

I recently emailed a yoga clothing company because my order confirmation had the wrong items listed and for a minute there, I panicked.

I should have sent the email from my personal Gmail rather than their “Contact Us form!

I thought, because this way, I’d have proof that I contacted them immediately. This was especially worrisome because they had a “no returns or exchanges” policy. It all worked out okay; the rep was awesome, but it took about a day of uncertainty until I got their reply.

This is when an “auto-reply” email comes into a play. It provides an opportunity to assure the customer you got their message; it’s not lost in some black hole, and you can even set expectations as to how long you’ll take to get back to them. It might even be an opportunity to point them to some resources in case it’s an issue that’s easily solved by having them read a blog post or Knowledge Base article.

I’ve been part of some young companies, and sadly, the support crew can’t always keep up! If you hit a really busy time, say, the holiday season when you work retail, you can write a blurb to let customers know that the wait time might be a little longer, but that you are working hard to reply to each and every single one.

I found myself managing support solo for a couple of months, and my first response time got to 48+ hours. Nowadays, people expect replies in under a day, so I set up email reply to relay the following:

Yes, I got your message

Thank you so much for taking the time to email Support. This is an automatic response, just to let you know that your message ({{}}) hit our inbox safely.

It’s going to take about X amount of time to get a response back.

We make every effort to get back to you as quickly as possible and we’re striving to keep our response time under 48 hours during our regular business hours, Monday-Friday 9AM-6PM PST.

I really appreciate you, but I am a human so I’m sorry that I’m a bit slow! I will respond to each and every message as quickly as I can.

Thank you again for bearing with us through the wait. You’ll get a personal email as quickly as humanly possible!

The example above is a bit more apologetic than something I might use now that we’ve gotten the first response time down to ~13 hours, and I might even tone it up again if our team was to be away for a long weekend. However, it alleviates the anxiety that the customer is forgotten, tells them what a “normal wait time” might be, and assures them you will be there to help soon!

BONUS: If you have a helpful Knowledge base, blog posts, or video resources, you might even link there, allowing the customer to help themselves.

In my #dreamworld, I’ll be as badass as at team at Basecamp, who I really admire and I can turn my auto-responder off! They really reflect my #goals and respond in TWO minutes (not days), no auto-responder needed. In the meantime though, I’ll be leaving it ON!

Talk about support #goals. The time at BaseCamp responds in 2 minutes!
Talk about support #goals. The time at BaseCamp responds in 2minutes!



Why the heck do you need a support ticketing system, and which one is right for you?

If you are a founder doing support, or still in the early days of customer service at your company– perhaps you’re replying to everyone straight from Gmail still– you may be curious about the benefits of a customer service ticketing system. Maybe you are wondering what the benefit is, or which one to pick? New ones are popping up all the time too.

Support happens across various channels, whether you like it or not. Pick a tool that can handle all the channels your customers need.

In the beginning, you may have just a few emails to manage (,, and You and your co-founders reply directly through email, you do your best to respond via Facebook, and you answer the occasional Tweet hours later.

As you acquire more & more customers, this is going to get more complex. You may add and You are getting more and more questions on social media. Can you just get them to email you instead? This is getting crazy; can’t the dang customer contact you through the right channel (i.e. the easiest one for you!?) Most of the times, the right answer is NO.

I’m a firm believe that the customer should be able to contact support from wherever they choose. Don’t you dare tell the customer, “uhhh I know you already told us the problem on Facebook, but you actually need to re-write this to us in an email or we can’t help.” You have the unique opportunity to stand out with world-class, personal service, so find a tool that can handle all the channels your customers like to use to get in touch– Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, your growing amount of email addresses, live chat, phone, etc.

Not only do customers want to be able to get an answer on from their channel of choice,
they expect a consistent experience. They want to be able to reach out on social media, live chat with you to troubleshoot (you should know the back story already– not ask them to repeat it), and you should remember them the next time they email. Let them start an interaction in one channel and complete it in another.

Welcome to the world of support software

Now, since you are still managing your support through email, I’m going to make the assumption that you are interested in a Hosted (SaaS) Solution, that you can just log into via the web, versus a time and resource intensive on-premise solution that you set up yourself (let’s be real, we mean your IT crew). Building your own help center is like starting a whole new side business, so unless you have significant resources and engineers to help you, it’s probably not the way to go. If you’ve been tasked with this and you have to set it up mostly yourself, look into some of the top solutions like Zendesk, HelpScout, Intercom, FreshDesk, or

The huge plus to using a SaaS tool is that you can login from anywhere, just like with your email address! The downside is that no solution is going to be a silver bullet. I’ve used Zendesk, HelpScout, and Intercom, and while in the end I chose Zendesk, there are definitely little annoyances with each tool. It’s about choosing the best overall one for you & your customers too, #obvious!

Time to shop. Creating your must-have feature list

Being that this is the first time you are setting up a help center, your needs are likely going to be on the simpler side– or maybe you are already planning big– all the more power to you, just keep it real! The folks at Fresh Desk did an amazing job creating an entire white paper on picking a ticketing system. I’m emending just piece of it here, which is about creating your feature list, but the whole paper is worth a read.

Guide to Choosing an Online Helpdesk

Do some support soul searching. What really matters here $ 🙂 ?

A major difference between the main players is pricing. This is a big thing to plan ahead for. Some plans (Intercom) charge per app user. If you plan to conquer the world an get to a bajillion users (I hate that word! — try community members), this may get pricey. On the other hand, Zendesk charges per agent. As our support team is getting more cross-functional, we have to loop in hardware, software, sales, and people for help– and it’s turning into a huge pain point. Collaboration with people that aren’t actual support agents is suddenly important, but buying accounts for a bunch of folks that might need to jump in to help once a month, if even, doesn’t make economic sense. You can’t predict the future, but try your best to pick a pricing model that will (fingers crossed) work for a year or two.

It’s also a really good idea to try each tool as a customer. Try using the in-app messaging on Intercom and see it in action. Search the Zendesk Knowledge base; do you like how it looks and works? Email the teams. Do they respond in a timely manner? Do their agents provide refreshingly good customer service. I just can’t trust a customer service company that doesn’t live and breathe good service; put them to the test.

Does using the Help Desk make you happy? This sounds silly, but your agents are going to live in this tool. Pick one that’s enjoyable and easy to use. If it’s not intuitively easy, make sure there are training sessions or resources. The goal here is to make life easier for both your agents and customers, so talk to the front-lines folks and ask their opinion too! Include them in the free trial/ testing stage.

Just my personal tidbit here- I actually used HelpScout at my first gig and it was a great tool for a newly founded CS team. It didn’t have the automations, triggers, and fancy stuff, but we didn’t need it at the time and the pricing didn’t break the bank.

I hope this gets some of you off plain email support, and if you have any comments about how you picked, what you use, or which is your favorite, I’d love to hear about it!

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