Article

Email support software 101: A beginner’s guide

Email support software can help reduce response times and streamline customer service. Here’s how to choose the right solution for your business.

By Sarah Olson, Staff Writer

Published March 5, 2020
Last updated July 19, 2021

Despite our cultural obsession with achieving inbox zero, most people still appreciate the ability to email customer service whenever they have a problem. In the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report, 49 percent of customers said email was among their favorite customer support channels, second only to phone.

Because email support channels are so popular, shared customer service email accounts tend to fill up quickly, causing chaos for support teams that have multiple users in the same account. Overwhelmed email support channels lead to slower response times, missed messages, and duplicative efforts—all of which reduce customer satisfaction.

Keeping your support emails under control is essential to providing a good customer experience. As your business grows, you may consider adding a software platform to help agents manage their inbox. A robust email support solution can provide automated workflows, real-time collaboration, and performance analytics that help elevate the customer experience over email.

How does email support software work?

Email management software streamlines your customer service inbox into a single interface where you can organize, manage, and track messages in real-time across your entire support team.

Customer emails appear in agents’ workstations as support tickets, which can be addressed directly by the individual agent or be categorized and assigned to the appropriate parties. The platform updates in real-time, so you don’t have to worry about two agents responding to the same ticket (one of the common pitfalls of homegrown remedies, like a shared Microsoft Outlook account or Google Groups).

Once a support agent reviews a customer email, they can respond with preloaded email templates, also known as macros. Macros are pre-written responses that agents can use to quickly reply to a common query. They’re also customizable, allowing agents to edit and personalize a scripted response before sending it to the customer.

There are several scenarios in which agents might turn to a support email template, including:

  • Confirming receipt: It’s generally considered a best practice to let a customer know you’ve received their support email, even if you can’t resolve the issue right away. An immediate reply that says, “Thank you for your message, our support team is reviewing it now and will be in touch soon,” lets customers know that they’re not being ignored.

    With email support software, you can automatically trigger these types of confirmation emails. Or, your agents can use customizable macros to provide a more personalized confirmation. For example, an agent might include a unique ETA for when each ticket will be handled. Whether the issue can be resolved within the next hour or the next business day, customers tend to be more patient when they’re given a timetable.

  • Answering FAQs: Support agents spend a lot of their day answering the same questions over and over again. But with macros, agents can address these common queries with just a couple of clicks. Template emails can contain detailed explanations and links to relevant knowledge base articles that provide even more info for customers.

    These “shortcuts” ensure customers receive quick responses to frequently asked questions. They also free up agents to work on more complex support tickets, meaning faster resolutions for customers with thorny issues. Plus, your support agents will appreciate having an easy way to quickly complete mundane tasks—the boredom that comes from repetitive work drives a lot of turnover in the customer support field.

You can also use automated support emails to send follow-up notes to customers who go silent in the middle of an exchange. Support teams can even create a template for sending carefully worded apologies to unhappy customers.

Of course, some issues are too sensitive or complicated to be addressed with a scripted response. In certain cases, support agents will want to write their replies from scratch. But for more common types of exchanges, macros are significant time-savers. And because they’re customizable, you can personalize every email by addressing the customer by name, acknowledging specific details, or adding a light personal touch. Customer interactions with support are more meaningful when they feel human, so go ahead and add those emojis.

Keeping your support emails under control is essential to providing a good customer experience.

Email support software allows you to track trends in messages, too, so you can make improvements. For example, say you’re getting a lot of emails asking how to reset a password. You could then publish a customer self-service article answering that question in detail on your help center, enabling customers to easily and swiftly resolve their own issue.

You can also use your email support software to measure customer sentiment. After a ticket has been resolved, you can trigger an automatic customer satisfaction (CSAT) email asking the customer if they had a good or bad experience. CSAT survey data will help you gauge the success of your customer service team (as well as individual agent performance) and determine where improvements need to be made.

What are the advantages of using customer service email management software?

Improved efficiency, personalized service, and greater visibility are just some of the benefits of adopting an email support solution to grow your business. Email support software will also allow you to:

  • Save time

    A robust support tool with automated workflows will save your team valuable time. For example, an automatic trigger in Zendesk’s customer support software allows you to send an initial confirmation of receipt for all email support tickets. These workflows enable your team to focus on issue resolution. Additionally, macros let agents send support emails quickly, helping them tear through backlogs and avoid burnout.

  • Customize your agent workspace

    Instead of adjusting your process to fit the tool, adjust the tool to fit your process. If you choose Zendesk for email management, your agents can customize their support environment based on use case or channel—no coding required. There are hundreds of apps in the Zendesk Marketplace that can be integrated into the agent workspace, including free email campaign apps like Mailchimp.

  • Understand context

    With support software, incoming tickets can be categorized based on a number of factors—product, department, priority, and more. These inputs provide valuable context for your team, enabling agents to offer relevant support that improves customer satisfaction. Zendesk’s agent workspace even has a handy “essentials card” that shows the customer’s name, contact info, status, interaction history, and other important details.

  • Add a personal touch

    Just because you’re using an email support tool doesn’t mean you can’t personalize your customer support emails. Adding little details—like emojis, humor, or slang—can help humanize your brand. Support software helps you manage email more efficiently so you can provide that level of personalization at scale. Your agents will have the context they need to craft custom communications for all your customers, no matter how much you grow.

  • Never miss a support email

    When you’re using shared tools like Microsoft Office, customer support emails are bound to slip through the cracks. But email support software updates in real-time and keeps your entire team accountable to target response times or any service level agreements you set.

  • Track results with data

    By organizing and tagging emails when they first arrive in your queue, you’re effectively creating a treasure trove of customer support data. Your team can use these organization features to mine for insights about your customers and your service environment. These findings can inform staffing decisions or even influence product developments.

How can you ensure customer information stays secure within your email support software?

When you hear about big-name brands experiencing data breaches, you can’t help but wonder about the security of your own business’ email support software. These breaches diminish customer trust and carry hefty price tags—one study found that the average cost of a data breach is $3.86 million. For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), or those with fewer than 500 employees, the average cost is a potentially crippling $2.5 million.

Security is becoming a top priority, but that doesn’t make it any easier to implement, especially for those who aren’t tech savvy. When considering email support software tools, look for the following features that can help keep customer emails secure:

  1. Secure encryption of data

    In general, all customer and email support software should observe Transport Layer Security encryption protocols for data that moves between its servers and yours. That means providing the environment for secure, encrypted email when receiving servers allow it. Your support software should also enable you to redact sensitive information (like credit card numbers) so no one—not even your agents—will be able to see it.

  2. Agent and administrator security measures

    An email support solution should have security measures such as two-factor authentication, which requires users to enter a code that can be sent to their phone, in addition to their username and password. Administrators should also be able to enact security measures, including: setting IP address restrictions, managing the security level of user passwords, and setting defined roles to limit access to administrator functions.

  3. Third-party verification

    When vetting email support tools, ask the vendor if its security has been verified by a third party. This process, also known as third-party code attestation, demonstrates that an organization has met a certain set of security standards. It can entail an outside company conducting an audit or proving compliance with a set of standards established by an independent organization.

  4. A company culture that prioritizes security

    Your service providers should take data security as seriously as you do. If the above measures are in place, they probably have the right idea, but security should be an ongoing conversation. The right partner will understand why security is so important, and they will keep the exchange going long after they close the deal.

    Your customers are important—so is their data. You can’t afford to cut corners when it comes to the security of your customer support software.

[Related read: How to protect customer data]

Going beyond support emails

Email will likely always remain an essential customer service channel. Like phone support, email is a long-established medium that’s easily accessible and widely used. A consumer can email customer service whenever it’s convenient and then pick up the conversation again after a support agent has responded.

But the continued relevance of email support shouldn’t distract you from the growing importance of other, newer channels. For example, the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report found that Millennials and Zoomers were using messaging almost as much as email for customer support issues.

Even more youths flocked to messaging channels during the pandemic. According to our CX Trends Report 2021, over 30 percent of Millennials and Zoomers tried messaging support for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic—the biggest surge of any customer service channel.

Companies of all sizes have been quick to respond. Among the 40 percent of businesses that added a new support channel this year, 53 percent turned to messaging, including apps like WhatsApp, SMS/texting, and embedded messaging on their own websites.

Over 30 percent of Millennials and Zoomers tried messaging support for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic—the biggest surge of any customer service channel.

As your business continues to grow, expand your customer service environment to accommodate more than just email support. Adding new channels like messaging or live chat will help you satisfy the evolving CX preferences of Millennial and Gen Z customers.

Finding software that can connect and optimize all your support channels will empower you to provide omnichannel customer service, too. Your customers will be able to effortlessly connect with you wherever, however they want, and have one seamless experience—no matter what channel they’re using.

Zendesk is an omnichannel customer support software that scales with your business. The platform allows support agents to unify messages from every channel into a single conversation. So, a support ticket that starts as a messaging conversation can easily be answered with an email—or vice-versa.

No matter how many channels you adopt, your agents will have a single, intuitive user interface where they can respond to customer questions. And no matter which support channel they prefer, your customers will always find it easy to connect with you.

Omnichannel customer engagement made easy

Design a support experience that enables you to have natural conversations with your customers regardless of channel.