Email support

Can you imagine a world without email? It’s hard to believe we were there once, but the ease of access, speed, and widespread prevalence of email makes it one of the most popular ways for customers to interact with their favorite brands or engage customer support when they run into problems.

It’s easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed by the constant deluge of emails coming into your customer support team, particularly as your company gains momentum and scales its business upward. The good news is there are ways to approach email handling that will boost its impact and enhance your team’s efficiency.

Other customer support channels are gaining momentum, but email frequently ranks in customer surveys as the second most popular channels for support—next to the phone, which still commands the #1 spot. However, because many consumers will first turn to email to try to solve their issues before progressing to direct contact, it’s important to stay on top of the flow of incoming emails and adopt the right approach to get the most out of this critical support channel.

The challenges of email support

In order to harness the power of proper email handling, it’s worth first getting a feel for the main challenges that can arise from this particular channel.

For starters, the ongoing task of checking, responding to, tracking, and juggling a constant influx of day-to-day emails can be a major time sink for your customer service team. Depending on your volume of daily support request, it can take hours to get caught up and respond to emails each day. If you don’t have a dedicated team member tasked with fielding and directing emails, it can steal a lot of focus away from your agents’ other critical tasks and hamper productivity in other areas.

Email volume can fluctuate from one day to the next, but as your company grows it’s only likely to increase. Watch out for signs that email volume is outstripping your team’s capacity to keep up with it. If you have a small customer service team, it’s not hard to get behind and become stifled by a steady barrage. The potential for burnout and stress-induced error increases the more your team gets pushed to the edge.

Beyond keeping on top of the volume of emails, replying to inquiries in a speedy manner is equally critical. Delayed response time can be a deal-breaker for today’s plugged-in, fast-paced customers. People want a solution to their problems quickly, and the longer they have to wait, the greater their frustration can become.

With these potential problems in mind, let’s look at how to avoid common email handling pitfalls so your team can excel at keeping your valuable customers happy.

Organization and efficiency

When juggling a heavy volume of email support tickets, the value of maximizing your team’s levels of organization and efficiency cannot be overstated. Your ultimate goal should always be to wrap-up the workday with inbox zero and a slew of satisfied customers in your wake—not a pile of unanswered emails and disgruntled customers that threatens to spill over into tomorrow’s workload.

That’s why anything you can do as a team to tighten up your operation and streamline any tasks that can be whittled down to a more efficient approach will benefit your brand in a big way.

A small team that works well together and delegates duties effectively can handle email volume up to a certain point. But as your operation scales upward and the number of customers you service increases, you may see your daily email ticket volume spike dramatically. That’s when it will become vital to use helpful tools and software to further streamline the process, allowing your team to juggle more without having to throw more agents into the mix.

Your choice of email handling software, its email handling features, and how you make use of its functionality can have a major impact on optimizing your overall speed and effectiveness.

Getting the most out of your email handling software

There’s only so far a small support team can go before a growing company customer base becomes overwhelming to handle using just a bare-bones email account.

Switching to more robust CRM software solution and integrating your email before your company’s support ticket volume hits critical mass is vital. It gives your team an opportunity to really get to know the ins and outs of your program of choice, whether you choose Zendesk, Salesforce, or any other popular CRM program.

Knowing the quirks and perks of your company’s CRM software and how its special functions are best applied to email can be tremendously valuable to your team. If you don’t have an intimate knowledge of your software’s most powerful features, you’re potentially missing out on serious time and energy savings.

Automation, use of macros, and programmable triggers can help save time throughout the sales cycle, and many programs have added functions for collecting data, funneling tickets to the right team members, and centralizing the entire workflow to streamline how your team collaborates—all features that will help you scale.

Most good CRM software is packed with useful features that consolidate the number of steps it takes to track, respond, and log email tickets, so it’s worth getting everyone on your team properly trained and up to speed on the most helpful aspects of whatever toolset you prefer.

Tricks for getting the most out of email

Software isn’t everything, of course. The other key piece of the puzzle is your team’s overall approach to email. Here are some tips for optimizing your email support routine so your team can get the job done efficiently and effectively without getting sucked into a time vortex.

1. Schedule consistent times for checking

Unless you have a dedicated agent who’s focused on keeping up with support emails, it makes a lot of sense to set specific times of day to dig into the inbox. As a general rule, checking at 9:00 a.m., noon, and 4:00 p.m. works well because it keeps you on task in the downtime and ensures there aren’t more than a few hours between email responses. This helps prevent email tickets from spilling into other important time-sensitive tasks that are already on your team’s plate.

Alternately, you can also stagger email checking times and duties across a few team members, so the incoming stream is covered throughout the day without bogging down individual agents for their entire workday.

2. Limit each email checking session

Once team members dive into an email response session, it helps if they set a time limit to help move things along. When that time is up, they can shift gears to another task and return to unchecked emails during the next session. By limiting the amount of time dedicated to processing email in a given session, team members can stay focused and avoid getting burned out on days when inquiries are more challenging to deal with.

3. Short is the new long

It’s always a good idea keep responses tightly written and info packed. If you have pre-generated external troubleshooting resources—like a Q&A, forum, or video library—your team can dramatically shorten email length by including specific links, when applicable. The less time it takes to help a customer, as long as the job is being done well, the more time your team will have to get through other emails. It’s all about finding the right balance between effectiveness and speed.

4. Automate but add a human touch

Using pre-programmed text macros or drawing from a bank of pre-written answers can speed up email interactions significantly. If you use automated responses, however, write them up so they have personality—even including a touch of lightheartedness and humor if it’s appropriate. And, if you’re copy-and-pasting chunks of pre-created content to save time, take an extra few seconds to personalize the message or add a nice note to humanize the interaction.

5. Set a max inbox count benchmark

Another handy trick to help boost the email process and maintain forward momentum is to set a goal for the maximum number of emails to keep in the support ticket inbox at any given time. That benchmark could be as small as 20 or as big as 200, depending on the size of your company and your average ticket load—set a goal that fits your circumstances.

Setting up an optimized system to maximize your team’s email handling prowess takes a little time and effort, but implementing a few helpful strategies and looking closely at how your company approaches this important channel can help stop you from getting snagged on common challenges.

Get the Upwork guide for tips on building a world-class distributed customer support team. Then, get started and post a job today!