I am not really a huge fan of Formula 1 but there’s something about the pit stop that hammers home an important lesson about helpdesk solutions.
In my opinion Formula 1 pit crews represent absolute perfection in precision and teamwork.
If you have never watched a F1 pit stop here’s how it looks.
The driver brings his car to a stop at a precise spot from speeds of 300+ km/hr in a few seconds. In the next 5-7 seconds around 20 technicians will jack up both the front and the rear of the car, swap out all the wheels with new ones, top up the tank with fuel, clean the driver’s helmet visor, and then scoot out of the way as the car hurtles down the track.
Every car in a F1 race will make multiple pit stops as they whizz through the laps, and a podium finish often hinges on shaving off hundreds of seconds from the pit stops. The fastest pit stop is a little more than 2 seconds.
Now think about how long would it take if you take your car to the local mechanic to do the same thing? It would be easily 30 minutes, if not more.
When a customer raises a helpdesk query they expect something approaching the F1 pitstop treatment. But quite often, companies give them the local garage experience.
And this is bad for business.
Customer frustration with helpdesks
When you are running a company you don’t need to be a genius to know that not being able to respond promptly to customer queries will reflect badly on your bottom line.
But as this wonderful Help Scout post shows, some hard numbers are valuable for hammering home just how important customer service really is.
First, let’s look at the opportunity cost of dissatisfied customers.
You might as well flush down all that money you spent to acquire customers down the drain.
Now, let’s look at how many of these pissed off customers actually contact you.
Chew on that figure! 96% of dissatisfied customers don’t complain, and 91% unhappy customers will never make a second purchase.
And lastly, what if you wanted to go the extra way to make an angry customer happy?
These are just 3 of jaw-dropping stats that should hopefully underline how important it is to serve your customers better.
There are other stats in that article which illustrates how badly most companies are failing to meet customer service expectations.
But the blame doesn’t rest solely on the humans. Poor choice of tools also contributes to the malaise.
Therefore it’s frustrating when these bad experiences occur not because the customer service agents were lackadaisical, but because the software they were using could not keep up with best practices and ideal workflows.
We felt that same sense of frustration with customer service tools in our company.
Our facepalm moments with helpdesk software
We use to run an integration service which is connecting cloud based applications.
We have quite a few paying customers and like any other business, we have to field and answer customer queries daily. Initially, we used email to manage customer tickets through a complicated system of filters and automatic replies.
That didn’t scale up very well and we were stressed out about a customer query going unanswered.
We also painstakingly replied back to individual customer queries every time through email instead of using a knowledge base.
That was a bad move. Customers increasingly prefer self-service: a survey by Forrester finds out that from 67% in 2012, the percentage of people using self-service as an option instead of email or talking to an agent rose to 76% in 2014.
We decided that it was time to get a helpdesk and a knowledge base system. After exploring the needs of our customers I drew up a list of must-haves to evaluate our options.
Here’s what our wishlist looked like:
1) Unlimited mailboxes
While supporting our customers it soon became chaotic when we had to track emails coming from different inboxes like firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Because a single customer might send emails from different accounts based on changing circumstances it became very hard for us to tie them all together and put the information in proper context.
We ended up repeatedly asking for information that customers had already provided in some other email two months ago. That affected our rates of closure and caused customer irritation.
2) Easy to use knowledge base
We also needed a knowledge base that was user-friendly both for the customer as well as for the service agent. It should be extremely simple to set up and a breeze to update.
Real-time, auto-suggest type search was also very important for us. Most knowledge bases have a huge problem with search: the answers returned are either irrelevant, or the search is slow and a drag on the system, causing the user to close the window in frustration.
3) Sleek UI
We didn’t want a helpdesk solution which replicated the mailbox experience. We wanted a UI that put agent productivity front and center and navigate through different tickets without wasting time and clicking around the interface.
We also needed to get the contact history in one place so that all interactions with a particular customer, regardless of the origin of the request are chronologically viewable.
4) Powerful search functionality
We didn’t want to waste our time writing repetitive answers to the same questions. In use cases where we can’t put these answers on a FAQ or the knowledge base we wanted to be able to search a particular keyword inside the helpdesk, and then copy paste that answer from an earlier ticket into the current one.
5) Ability to answer tickets from inside email
Email is still awesome for shooting off a quick reply to a query. We wanted a tool that would let us do that while updating the reply in the comment log in help desk software so that when an agent signs in to the helpdesk there should not be any gap in the conversation.
6) Other miscellaneous features
I needed other features like rules, reporting, integration with JIRA and Slack, the ability to create private notes, assign tickets to other agents and keep an eye on unassigned open tickets.
7) Low cost
Since we were bootstrapping I didn’t want to spend too much on the help desk software.
I evaluated several options available in the market but none of them met our needs. If the UI was well designed the search sucked. Others had wonky integration with email, while another restricted the number of mailboxes we could use. There were solutions that ticked all the boxes and then a lot of others but they were very complex and designed for enterprise users.
I was looking for the helpdesk equivalent of a Formula 1 pitcrew for our business and I didn’t find one at the price that I was comfortable paying for.
So I decided to build our own.
Eating our own helpdesk dogfood
That decision raised quite a few eyebrows, to be honest.
I was told to stop making things complicated, stop reinventing the wheel and choose an off the shelf solution that was the best fit for our needs.
But I wasn’t being quixotic.
37 Signals built Basecamp as their own project management tool.
Quartz uses an in-house charting tool called Atlas to display charts consistently and in a mobile friendly way.
Shopify created its own templating language called Liquid to make it super easy for names and prices in emails and product pages to be automatically updated without digging into the backend.
Over a period of one year we built AzureDesk,a helpdesk system, and have been using it to run our help desk and knowledge base. We got:
1) Unlimited mailboxes with custom domains
I could keep on adding unlimited email addresses and no matter where the customer emailed to, all the conversations will live in the same thread as long as the sender email remained the same.
2) Customizable and fast search knowledgebase
We built the knowledge base so that it would be extremely easy to update and customize.
And while that’s a standard feature, we are proud of our real time, auto-suggest type search that you see in Google.
3) Tabbed ticket handling
We got myself a tabbed UI so that the agent could switch between multiple open tickets without too many clicks.
4) Conversation history all at one place
The conversation history for a customer can be easily viewed by going to conversation logs, with a nifty shopping cart icon denoting the customer. No more hunting down who said what, when.
5) Ticket management using @
I could simply use the @ symbol to assign a ticket to another agent
I could also answer tickets from inside my email inbox by using the @customernote command which would add the email in the conversation log.
6) Extensive reporting functionality
We also recently built a reporting suite that shows standard stats like number of reports per day, tickets/agent and tickets/customer. It’s still a work in progress and we expect it to be more robust as we iterate on development.
Building over buying
Our experiment with building AzureDesk instead of using an off the shelf helpdesk solution has proved successful. Our efficiency and productivity have increased, and our customers are happier than before.
We are now releasing our labor of love into the wild, free for use for upto 3 agents.
Check out the other features of AzureDesk, We also have tight integration with Microsoft products (we are a MS partner), give it a spin and tell us what you think.