How to do brilliant customer support from Gmail

By Shivangi Sharma

Customer representatives need to master a number of skills and keep learning newer ways of excelling at customer service. However, one evergreen skill that they must be a natural at is communication.

Clear, crisp, and timely communication is the key to happy customers. And, in the grand scheme of things, effective communication is the cornerstone of great customer experience.

Businesses chart out full-fledged communication strategies to excel at branding, marketing, and customer service. Within the purview of this strategy, they have to decide the what, why, and how of business-customer communication.

Say, for example, selecting channels of communication for support, or internal communication. Drawn into the kind of ease that Slack offers, a number of companies have quickly switched, and are now absolutely hooked to as an internal tool for employee communication.

Talking strictly business (business to business, or business to customer), email is the widest and most preferred channel of communication. Reasons? Many.

  • It is a no-nonsense, strictly professional communication channel
  • It is speedy
  • It can be accessed from any device, from anywhere across the globe
  • It makes tracking past communication possible. Backups make life simpler
  • It helps keep discussions, negotiations, and transactions documented (for the record)
  • It makes sending heavy files as attachments a breeze
  • It is free!
  • 5 year old or well past 50, email is oh so familiar

Elon Musk makes a point on email and communication: I do love email. Wherever possible I try to communicate asynchronously. I'm really good at email.

Prognosticators predict that the email is dying. Search the internet with the phrase ‘Email is dying’, and you’ll get endless results for the query.

However, I don’t think so. I believe that email is just being fragmented. This fragmentation has given businesses the choice to move away from Email as their primary source of communication. Not many have found it to be an intelligent choice though to make the shift.

Be it internal communication or customer support, businesses haven’t dared to go completely email free. So, now you have Slack + Email, Viber + Email, Asana + Email, and so on.

Going by the numbers, 58% of consumers prefer email as a way to communicate with support shows that email is a significant part of customer service. If you are thinking that this group doesn’t possibly include millennials: a Campaign Monitor survey found that 89% of millennial customers prefer email for customer-business communication.

Now, while there are a number of email service providers, Gmail is something that almost everyone uses. I’ve never used Outlook for business communication, neither do I use Yahoo.

Gmail now has over 1 billion active users across the globe. Microsoft Outlook, on the other hand, has approximately 400 million active users, as reported in 2018.

‘Gmail-ing’ has become a reflex. This emailing service has been used successfully for handling everything - informing, education, promoting, and marketing. Because so much time is already being spent inside the Gmail inbox, it is natural that companies use it for customer support too.

Gmail, when used as a helpdesk, fails to deliver the promised land

While there is simply no substitute to Gmail when it comes to personal communication, it is an absolute menace to handle support from within Gmail. If you’ve ever used Gmail’s shared inbox, or are in the process of testing it out for support, brace yourself for chaos.

When using Gmail as a helpdesk for customer support, you are highly likely to:

1. Step on each other’s toes

Ever emailed a company’s customer service department to check if your plan’s pricing has been upgraded, and received two or three responses at the same time? Probably, the customer service team was unsure about who is taking up your query, and to quickly resolve your problem, two or more reps ended up sending you altogether different answers.

Without considering the consequences. Multiple people replying to one customer at the same time is a common problem that those who use Gmail as a helpdesk face. Looks really clumsy and unprofessional.


2. Mix external and internal communication

Amongst all the Cc’ing and forwarding, and replying of emails - inter-team communication and agent-customer communication often goes haywire. People, out of habit, keep communicating using the same thread. At times, both internal and external messages are exchanged in the same thread, which can cause some of your internal communication mistakenly leaks to your customer’s inbox. Awkward!

3. Feel lost..

..about ownerships, accountability, and priorities.

When a customer’s complaint, query, or service request hits the inbox, the team lead assigns it to an agent. The lead emails the customer representative to take on the request.

However, what about the rest of the team. How do the others know who is working on the request, or whether someone at all is working on it? Ownership lurks in the dark. No one would know without asking around, verbally, or without once again igniting a long email chain on who’s doing what.


Accountability goes out for a toss too. When an entire team has been assigned a single email ‘’, team members take it for granted that *someone* will respond.

Also, how do you establish clear priorities from within Gmail? How do you communicate to your team which emails need immediate attention? All of this seems like too much work for the lead and the reps.

4. Choke in clutter

Email is familiar. It's comfortable. It's easy to use. But it might just be the biggest killer of time and productivity in the office today.

- Ryan Holmes

Both David Allen, a consultant and the author of Getting Things Done and Making It All Work, and Bob Pozen, a senior lecturer of business administration at Harvard Business School, would have agreed with Holmes. However, both also maintain that it is an essential technology. Pozen points out, “Even if you wanted to use it less, he says, it’s nearly impossible to get people by phone or in person these days.” To regain control of email, Allen and Pozen have given the world some ‘common sense’ to-do’s, including taking email sabbaticals.


Email overload, or clutter, as we commonly know it, is undoubtedly the number one productivity killer.

Using Gmail for customer support further adds to this clutter. There is too much email to and fro happening from every direction - customer to team - inter team - agent/s to customer. And, all of it is highly disorganized. Junk, spam, personal, professional, social - everything is landing in the same inbox. No wonder so many urgent and important emails get lost in the dump.

5. Face confusion over the UI

Unlike Gmail, Google's collaborative inbox is completely unfamiliar to an average person. It looks absolutely different than what most other Google applications do, and the UI isn’t really intuitive. An intuitive interface is the one that doesn’t require its users to think about how to use it. That’s how they reduce the cognitive load.

Jared M. Spool, the co-founder of Center Centre and the founder of UIE, explains the concept of intuitive design and interface with an interesting example of the hotel phone.

Recently, I stayed in a hotel while visiting an old friend. Wanting to call my friend to warn him of my imminent arrival, I approached the phone in my hotel room and lifted the receiver, ready to make my call. Can you guess what button I pressed first?

Chances are you guessed the ‘9’ button. As adults, we learn at an early age that the ‘9’ button will get us an outside line when using a business or hotel phone system. This becomes part of our current knowledge as we travel from phone system to phone system. ‘9’ becomes intuitive, though it isn’t innate and we had to learn it somewhere along the way.

Of course, for this hotel, you would’ve been wrong. The designers of this phone felt that the ‘8’ button was a much better choice. How unintuitive could they be? Everybody knows ‘9’ is far more intuitive! (read more on the principles of intuitive design by Spool, here).

Non-intuitive interface, like that of the Collaborative Inbox consume a lot of energy and attention. It’s something that they’ve never come across before and beyond the usual way of working. Obviously, your team will end up taking a lot of time understanding and getting used to the interface. Moreover, rather than simplifying collaboration and communication, it doubles your work. There is a lot of switching that you’ll be required to do from your support inbox to collaborative inbox.

6. Miss out entirely on your team’s performance

Gmail as a helpdesk leaves you questioning your team’s past performance. Analytics are entirely missing from the scene, and there is absolutely no way to find out how your team performed on important metrics such as average response time, first response time, customer satisfaction on response etc. The most amount of information that you will be able to uncover is the number of emails sent and received. Nothing profound. Without data, optimizing customer service team’s performance is impossible. You definitely need something that is an enabler in that area.

And, if you are thinking this spells dead-end for Gmail. Or, that it’s time to switch to a helpdesk. Consider this: Helpdesk tools are like cameras. You click a photograph, then have to transfer it to a device, and then attach your photos on email and send. Too cumbersome a process, right? Someone (lazy or extremely smart) thought about this and built the camera inside our mobile phones. It is similar for Gmail too, by building-in or integrating smart solutions within Gmail, you can do excellent customer support from within Gmail.

Hiver - The Gmail Enabler for Customer Service

To be able to manage customer support from within Gmail efficiently is like a dream come true. You don’t need to switch to an unfamiliar terrain of either Collaborative Inbox or a help desk.

You don’t need to spend too much time and effort on training. Team workflows become more structured and organized. Communication and collaboration gets sorted. Unreal, right? With Hiver’s Shared Inbox your Gmail gets the superhero-like ability to manage customer service right within Gmail.

Managing customer support from within Gmail with Hiver means:

1. Reduced inbox clutter

All your life you’ve been struggling to manage your inbox. Keeping it organized and almost empty has never been possible. You’ve got used to working in the clutter. And, with email exchanges growing at 3% annually, achieving inbox zero is a far fetched goal.

Clutter kills productivity. Still, managers keep ignoring the dump. Who wants to waste time on cleaning up the inbox? But what if you could change the approach altogether and manage things better? With Hiver, you no longer need to forward or copy emails with everyone on your list. Assign tasks only to specific representatives. Spare the other of unnecessary clutter

2. Smooth internal communication

Customer support should take a collective problem solving approaching, ideally. However, this poses inter-team collaboration and communication challenges. Sharing endless emails with team members results in increased response time. Again, all the email ping pong adds to the clutter.

Take control of such situations with Hiver. Use Notes to make internal collaboration easy. With this feature, you can discuss, inform, and ask without actually sending emails. Simply drop a Note alongside the email, and everyone who you have shared that specific email with will be able to read your message.

3. More transparency

As pointed out before, when using Gmail for customer support, team members have little idea about who is responsible for what. They have to ask around if a certain ticket has been resolved, etc. When combined with Hiver, Gmail gets supercharged for efficiency.

From inside Hiver’s shared inbox, all team members have complete access to see which team member has been assigned emails, who is working on what, what’s on priority, and what needs attention. This level of transparency is a breather for everyone. They know exactly what they need to do when they start the day, and also know who to turn to when they need help.

4. Higher accuracy of response

When a team member needs to respond quickly or on an urgent basis to a customer question that he has absolutely no idea about, he or she runs around looking for help from other team members. He might end up emailing everyone on the team. Or, he would simply send an unsatisfactory response. Accuracy of response is much more critical to, or as critical as, response time. Using Hiver, you can make sure that the response that your customers receive is appropriate, and helpful. Without running around in confusion, with the Notes feature, the appointed rep can seek help from others on the team for framing an accurate response.

5. No clashes and collisions

There is no confusion between external and internal communication when emails are not being forwarded or replied to on the same thread. The kind of clarity that Hiver’s shared inbox brings leaves no room for internal and external communication to collide.

6. Reduced work duplication

Because emails assigned are visible to everyone on the team, no two representatives take up the same email to answer. This reduced work duplication, and at the same time, the customer does not end up receiving two separate answers to the same question. Moreover, Hiver's inbuilt smart Collision Alerts warn your team members if they are responding to an email which a colleague is already working on.

7. Tracking and team performance are on point

With the Analytics feature, you can monitor how your customer support team is performing on vital metrics right from within Gmail. You can uncover insights and data on response time, queries solved in a day, accurate response rate etc. Not only do you get a complete overview of team performance, you can also track individual performance, by displaying metrics for all your agents.

Wrapping it up

With Hiver’s Shared Inbox you are truly empowering your team to handle customer support within Gmail. They’d love the idea too because Gmail’s like home - it just seems so comfortable and familiar.

Contemplating still? Request a demo to know more and see for yourself how Hiver breaks collaboration bottlenecks.

About the author

Shivangi is a content crafter at Hiver. She spends half her day writing about products, and the rest of it pondering about the profound void that life is. Intermittently, she takes up something more meaningful, like snacking.


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