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How to Save 600 Hours Every Year on Customer Service

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Would you do an hour of work now to save hundreds of hours in the future?
Here’s how.

Years ago, I used to have a problem.

It wasn’t a terrible problem, but it sure was an annoying one.

I used to misplace my keys a lot.

I would come home, end up leaving my keys in a coat, on the kitchen table, in my pants pocket, on the couch, on my desk, or any one of the places in my house that seemed like a good place to put them at the time.

Then when it came time to leave the house, it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to have to spend a few minutes finding my keys again.

It was getting to be a big frustration, until one day I finally resolved to fix things once and for all.

I thought about why I kept losing my keys: because I kept putting them in different places and forgetting where they were last.

And so I bought a bowl.

It’s a small green bowl, and it sits on a shelf by our front door. Every time I walk in the door, my keys go into the bowl.

After a few years, I never consciously think about where my keys go, I just automatically put them in the bowl, and never have trouble finding them.

It was a minor problem, but let’s say that I spent 10 minutes per week looking for my keys.

That little bowl — less than $10 at Target — saves me nearly 9 hours every year. In just five years, I’ve saved more than an entire 40-hour workweek because of the 20 minutes and $10 I spent solving that problem.

Think about how much more powerful this concept can be when you apply it to your customer service.

Very few customer issues are unique. More often than not, your customer is coming to you with a problem that you’ve seen before, and will likely see again.

Let’s say that your customer service agents spend four hours per week on repetitive tasks (based on the companies I’ve seen and worked with, these numbers are very conservative).

By spending a few hours eliminating those tasks — either through automation or another solution — you can save each agent more than 200 hours each year.

For a small team of three support agents, that’s more than 600 hours a year of extra productivity.

When You Should Automate (And When You Shouldn’t)

As appealing as automation is — who wouldn’t want to save hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars? — there’s a very important thing to consider first.

In customer service, automate processes, not relationships.

To your customers, your support team is the face of your company. If you’re doing customer service right, these agent-customer interactions are building relationships, cultivating loyalty and adding tremendous value to your bottom line over time.

Relationships are a deeply human thing, and trying to automate them can easily risk turning your customers off.

For that reason, I don’t recommend trying to cut down on the number of conversations your support team has with your customers. Each of those conversations is an opportunity to build a better relationship with them.

On the other hand, there are many behind-the-scenes processes that can be automated to save you time, reduce the amount of work your customers have to do in order to get help, and let your support team build better relationships with more customers.

Four Easy Automation Wins That Can Save You Hundreds of Hours Each Year

Note: Many of the examples below use screenshots of features in our own customer service software (for obvious reasons). But don’t worry if you’re not a Groove customer: your help desk might offer these functions as well, and you can even set many of them up in your regular email inbox or website.

1) Knowledge Base Articles

When you need to walk a customer through a process, you could write out a thorough guide in an email.

But not only is a long email hard to follow, adding images makes it even more clunky, and forget about video.

That’s when a knowledge base can be useful.

Note, however, that a knowledge base is not a replacement for personal support. Don’t let a knowledge base be a wall between you and your customers.

Instead, think of it as a tool to help your customers understand your product better in concert with your support.

When used properly, a knowledge base can add a layer of richness to your support that makes life easier for you and your customers without sacrificing the human element of your customer relationships.

2) Common Replies

Sometimes, you don’t need an entire knowledge base article to answer a common customer question. And sometimes, a knowledge base article isn’t appropriate (for example, if the question deals with sensitive account data or billing information.

That’s when saved common replies come in handy.

Rather than wasting time typing the same reply over and over again (probably the single most time-sucking repetitive task that support professionals have to do), common (sometimes called “canned”) replies let you insert frequently used messages with a click.

If you’re not using a help desk that offers common replies, you can still take advantage of this time-saving tactic. I’m a huge fan of aText for Mac (for PC’s, try PhraseExpress), which lets you create keyboard shortcuts. You could create something as simple as a shortcut to save you a few keystrokes typing your email address, or something as powerful as a shortcut for an entire paragraph-long email.

3) Rules

Sorting through incoming support emails is another ridiculously time-consuming task, but it needs to be done in order to:

Rules help you automate this process.

For example, sometimes all emails containing certain keywords (e.g., billing, credit card) are handled by a certain department. You could spend time reading and manually forwarding them each time, or you could set up a rule or filter to never have to do that task again.

Most help desks have some way to set rules, and if you’re a Gmail user, then filters do much of the same thing.

4) Product Integrations

If you’re using separate tools for customer support, billing, eCommerce, CRM and other business needs, then you’re probably spending a lot of time switching back and forth between them.

Many of these tools offer integrations with the most popular help desks, so that you can get, for example, a customer’s usage history right next to their ticket.

These integrations can save a lot of time. With this blog, one of my favorite integrations is Groove’s plugin to Campaign Monitor, our mailing list software.

If a customer emails me asking to be subscribed to or unsubscribed from our mailing list, I can do it right from Groove, rather than having to open a new tab, log in to Campaign Monitor and go through the process there.

If integrations for your favorite tools don’t exist, check out Zapier, a platform that lets you connect over 350 apps (including many help desks) with other software you might use, like Gmail, Evernote, Salesforce and more. Anyone can use it to build integrations without knowing how to code.

Use Automations Wisely

Once you get a taste of the time-saving power of automation, you’ll want to automate everything you can.


Be careful to only automate the things that won’t drive a wedge between you and your customers.

But when used right, automations can help you save hundreds of employee hours every single year, and make life easier for your customers, too.

And that’s a win for everyone.

Do you use any automations in your customer service? What have been your biggest automation wins so far?

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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