writing between the lines

There’s a school of thought out there in customer support that argues against the use of saved responses (also known as canned, boiler, or template responses).

The idea behind it is that nothing ensures individual attention being given to each and every customer better than actually requiring that. Saved responses provide a shortcut by giving you a template to copy paste and are basically the exact opposite of individual attention. That’s a pretty valid reason—we’ve all had that experience at least once where, after sending in a support ticket to a widely-used product, the response seemed pretty generic and felt like it didn’t quite match up with our question. As a customer, nothing is more annoying than going out of your way to ask for help, only to get a reply that isn’t quite relevant enough to what you were asking or didn’t answer all aspects of your problem. That’s a risk that’s always there if you’re using saved responses very liberally.

That said, there’s also the other side to this. Sometimes you roll out a minor aesthetic change that proves to be very unpopular or a new feature that accidentally breaks something else. Generally, customers will ask about a few specific problems on a much more regular basis. Whether you’re dealing with a giant influx of tickets over a new issue or a regular problem that crops up daily, your responses to all of these people will most likely be very similar. Taking the time to type out the exact same reply hundreds of times is not only extremely inefficient and incredibly repetitive, it uses up a significant amount of time that could be spent giving individual attention to those customers who have problems that need more time to solve. Saved responses are the most obvious and best way to save up that time.

So what do you do?

Prepare saved responses but don’t depend on them

This is essentially an attitude fix. Think of saved responses as a loose guideline for you to follow and make sure you adapt them to each customer every single time you use them. Acknowledge that they’re there to save you time, but don’t fall into the trap of copying over an entire email without at least writing one or two sentences in it. That will ensure you actually adapt it to each individual customer and should help you avoid the problem mentioned above, where you send a response that doesn’t address all issues mentioned in the support request. Better yet, copy over only parts of the saved response each time, like instructions that will be identical each time, and never a full response.

Accept that some degree of repetitiveness is part of the job

Some people are just not made for highly repetitive tasks and tend to run out of attention span or energy when forced to work on them. If that’s you, customer support might not be the best job for you because answering tickets will always be repetitive to a certain degree. People just tend to have the same issues over and over again.

If you notice it getting particularly bad at any specific time (see the giant influx of tickets following a deploy mentioned above), then just try to restructure the way you’re working on them. Take regular breaks, switch to working on something else for a while before getting back to it, and split up your time between different (preferably wholly different) aspects of the job. Don’t ever let the repetitiveness affect the quality of support you’re providing.

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