How we use Gmail as a help desk

This is a bit off topic, but I thought some of you might find it interesting.

We get a lot of emails. For the past three and a half years, my partner Noah and I have been forwarding our getclicky.com emails to our personal Gmail accounts (because we love Gmail). This works good, but the problem is that a lot of the time, a user will email the wrong person. So then we have to forward emails to each other, and sometimes back again, and it becomes a bit of a mess. It also makes it harder to know if a person has emailed us before about something, because maybe he emailed Noah last time, but me the next time.

As we grow, so does our volume of email. If you saw how much email we get, you'd cry. Earlier this month we decided we needed to create a centralized help desk, so everything for both of us was in one place. We looked at Zendesk and its alternatives, and frankly, we found most of them rather appalling. They were just so ridiculously crammed with features and confusing interfaces, not to mention ridiculously priced, I just couldn't see myself using any of them.

So we decided to just create a new Gmail account that we can both use, and forward all @getclicky.com emails to it. (Note: We of course use Gmail's "send email as" feature, so the emails we send are "from" xyz@getclicky.com, not clicky@gmail.com. UPDATE: Ok, geez, we'll move to the "apps" edition so no forwarding is involved! :P). So far after about a month, it's been great. With the help of a few "labs" features, we can do everything we need Gmail to do to be a great help desk. I was already using these features with my personal Gmail account, but now that we have a combined one and can use all of these features together, it's great.

  • Labels - To assign emails to one of us or the other, we've just created two labels - "Sean" and "Noah". All emails to sean@ or noah@ are automatically assigned the appropriate label, but emails to support@ are not. Regardless of whether or not an email comes in with the right label, we can quickly assign or reassign each one to the correct person without having to forward emails. And if it's reassigned to the other person later, that person has the full history of the conversation available.

  • Canned replies - This Labs feature lets you save canned replies, so you can quickly respond to certain emails that you tend to get a lot. Most replies you receive from us are written just for you with plenty of TLC, but there are some emails we just get too often that we have to use this feature. (Except for the "labels" screenshot above, these are all taken from the Gmail Labs page. I just noticed this one has "RTFM" as one of the examples. That made me laugh ^_^)

  • Super Stars - This Labs feature lets you have more than one color of star. We use three stars - yellow, red, and blue. The standard yellow star just means we have read the email but still need to reply. A red star means the same thing, but that it's high priority. A blue star means we are awaiting a reply, and we want to follow up if we haven't heard anything within a few days. Flagging it lets us easily find it later.

  • Message translation - This Labs feature automatically translates emails in foreign languages into your native tongue. We have a lot of international users, so we occasionally get an email in a foreign language. Of course, we do not speak these languages, so this is very handy.

  • Help desk on the go - We both have Android phones (Motorola Droid FTW!), and the Gmail integration with Android is super great. The Labs features don't work with it, but at the very least we can read, reply, and assign emails to each other as needed, no matter where we are.


The only thing you can't do is have "ticket numbers", but unless you do support by telephone, this should not be a big deal at all. And ticket numbers are just way too corporate anyways. If you want to give the vibe that you're a hip startup, you won't need them.

One last concern is that if you have a large support department (more than 5 people or so), this probably isn't the best solution. It would probably just be a bit too chaotic. But if your support department is that big, you are probably living the corporate life already, so why are you even reading this? :P

Best of all? Gmail is totally free. :) When you see the pricing of the help desk services out there, you might flip a lid. The pricing is just pure insanity. Gmail is the best email service ever created in our humble opinion, and since it's free and can be heavily customized, it can make a great help desk for your company. And if you already use it for your help desk, let us know what features you use to make your life easier.
25 comments |   Jun 23 2010 12:53am

You can now change the default data type for each dashboard module, amongst other things

We've made a number of enhancements over the last few weeks that have gone unannounced, because none of them were particularly worthy of their own blog post. But now that we got a collection of items, we're going to write about them.

  • Change the default type for any dashboard module - When you customize your dashboard, most modules will now have an option called "default type". The options listed are the exact same things as the "tabs" you see for that module, when viewing your actual dashboard. Previously, the default type was always whatever was "first" in that list. But now, if you want the default to be something else (e.g. change "Links" to default to "newest unique" instead of just overall top incoming links), you can do that!

  • If your page titles change, we'll update them too - Previously, we only logged the page title for any unique URL for your site the very first time we logged that page. If you updated your page title structures (as an amazingly insane number of you do, apparently - we get emails about this every single week), Clicky would still show the old one. Alas, no more! If the title changes for any given unique URL on your site, we will update it too. The update won't always be immediate, though, but it should be within a week (assuming that the page has been visited and logged by Clicky since you last made the change).

  • Hourly graphs for today stop at the current hour - Say it's 10am and you're checking your hourly visitors graph. Used to be, every hour after 10am would be a zero - which it technically is, but we'd draw it that way too, so it made it look like your traffic just fell off a cliff. No more! If it's 10am, we'll only draw the graph (for today) up until 10am, which has a nice psychological impact.

  • More translations - We've added a bunch of new terms to translate. 100% of our stats reporting interface is now available for translation. If you want to help, click here!

  • Larger date ranges - All reports were limited to one year. We've increased this limit to 2 years. Segmentation (filtering) has always been limited to 31 days though because it's a fairly intensive process. But the update we released a few months ago dramatically increased the efficiency of the way visitors are stored. Because of this, we can now allow you to segment a larger range. The new limit is 90 days.

  • Disable pinging in our tracking code - We don't know why you'd ever want to do this, but we got requests for it, so we added it. By default, our tracking code periodically pings our tracking servers while a visitor is sitting on a single page, so we can get a more accurate figure for how much time they actually spent on your site. If for some reason you want to disable this (and we won't complain - it means less stress on our tracking servers!), you now have the option.

  • Complex IP range queries - In a single request, you can now request a list of visitors that match a specific range of IPs, or a specific IP, or both, or multiple of both. For example, you could use this to request all visitors from 65.0.0.0-75.255.255.255, plus 66.1.2.3., plus 2.3.4.0-2.3.4.255 - all in one request. This will be mainly of interest to those of who utilize our API, but regardless, to those of you who need something like this, we think you'll like it. You can find documentation for it here.

  • Time offset for visitors and actions in the API - You can now request a specific time fragment for type=visitors-list and type=actions-list in the API. This means if you have data up through say 12:30pm extracted, and it's now 1pm, you no longer have to "guess" how many items you need to extract so you can get all of the missing data from 12:30-1pm. Now you can just say time_offset=1800 (30 minutes) and you'll get only the data you need. You'll need to (probably) request limit=all as well, otherwise the default limit of 10 applies. We like this option a lot because it makes your life easier, and it puts significantly less stress on our API. So if you have an app that extracts visitors or actions lists, please update it to use this option.
15 comments |   Jun 14 2010 9:14pm

bit.ly integration

One of the best parts of owning a small company is being able to act fast. There's no red tape or clueless management to deal with - you want something done, BAM, it's done! A perfect example is when Google Chrome was released. Within several hours of the announcement, we added support for it to our web browser reporting. If I remember correctly, it took Google Analytics several weeks to get Chrome detection integrated, which we found amusing (ya know, since they're made by the same company and all).

Anyways, I was recently reading a story on TechCrunch about bit.ly, and it briefly mentioned at the bottom about how WebTrends (a fellow Portland analytics firm) announced a partnership with bit.ly to integrate bit.ly's analytics into their reports later this summer. I didn't know bit.ly had a stats API (because I use clicky.me, of course!), so I jumped on the opportunity. Two days later, it's part of Clicky.

bit.ly's existing API only provides very basic data unfortunately - the only thing you can access is the total number of clicks that your last 15 shortened URLs have had. I imagine this partnership with WebTrends will provide them with access to all of the analytics that bit.ly gives you for a link, when viewed on their web site (geographic data, referrers, etc - here's an example), which we don't think is fair really. Their API should be open to everyone, so we're a bit disappointed there.

But no matter. We think you'll still like this integration, and we've made it extremely easy to access the full bit.ly report for any of your links simply by clicking on the link. Try it out in our demo account.

How to set it up

This feature does require a Pro or higher account (upgrade here if necessary). For any site you want to add this to, just go to your site preferences main page, click "preferences" again (near the top), and then click the "advanced settings" link and enter your bit.ly username where requested.

Available reports

This is available under the "Links" report, by clicking the new bit.ly sub-tab. It has also been added to the "Short URLs" dashboard module, and to our iPhone web analytics. We wanted to add it the API too but there's a bug with accessing third party data via the API at the moment that we still need to fix.

Enjoy!



12 comments |   Jun 08 2010 3:59pm

Say goodbye to search analytics

Google just announced their new secure search beta, and DuckDuckGo announced similar measures. DDG's are a bit more thorough, but the end result is the same - the search term is not passed through the referrer, and hence no analytics tool (not even a good old log analyzer) will have any idea of what a visitor searched for to reach your site.

They both claim to do this in the name of privacy. Google's is a beta so it's off by default, and it doesn't explicitly say "privacy from webmasters", but that is part of the end result. DDG, on the other hand, explicitly mentions "not leaking your search terms", and this feature is enabled by default for all users - even over non-HTTPS connections. (Technical note: when you click a link on an HTTPS page, your browser does not send a referrer, which is why HTTPS search engines will result in "secret" searches that we can't see).

Being able to search over HTTPS is probably a good thing for people in countries with vast censorship, such as China. I can understand offering this as an option that people can use. But I really hope Google never considers making this the default, because that would be very irritating for web masters - we would have no idea what people were searching for to get to our site, which is arguably the #1 reason to run analytics in the first place.

My big problem is that DDG is hiding the search term from sites by default. That's not good for the internet at all, and I'm scared that Google may end up doing something similar (via HTTPS or not), and perhaps other search engines in the future.

Part of the problem is that this gives users a false sense of security. Yes, someone "snooping" your connection won't be able to tell what you're searching for, but the sites you click through to will probably have a good idea, based on your landing page - not to mention they can also see their IP address and every page they have ever viewed on my site, ever. And yet somehow, not knowing this visitor's specific search term is protecting their privacy? Please. The only thing it does is make the life of a web master a much bigger pain in the ass than it was before.

I'm taking time out of my amazing Hawaiian vacation to write this blog post because that's how much I care about this issue, and believe that it is not good for anyone. Of course, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Google Analytics will somehow magically be able to track these "secure" searches. Wouldn't that be convenient for the likes of every other analytics service on the planet?

This all seems very familiar, doesn't it? Other search engines may start doing this too, but really, with 90% marketshare, Google is the only one that matters. So what can you do? Blog about it. Tweet. Complain. Let Google you know that you do not like this, and let DuckDuckGo and any other engine who does this in the future know the same.
47 comments |   May 22 2010 10:25am

New engagement reports

We have a couple of new reports for Pro and higher members. These break down your visitors' engagement levels to quite a bit of detail, both in terms of time on site as well as number of actions performed. The reports are quite self explanatory, as you can see from the screenshots below, so there's really not a whole lot to say here. We think these will be a big hit in particular with those of you who don't like our new bounce rate, because part of this report basically shows you the "old school" bounce rate: the number of visitors who had only 1 action.

This is available in a new dashboard module, as well as full reports with a bit more detail under the Visitors tab. We also added it to the iPhone web app. You can also get the data from the API. The docs have been updated with the new type values you will need to request.




7 comments |   May 11 2010 9:32pm

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