October 11th, 2012 by Ben McCormack

Better Customer Service with Snippets

In our last post, we took an in-depth look at Fog Creek’s email workflow. This post is going to take a look at how we use snippets to save time when corresponding with customers.

When used appropriately, snippets can improve the level of service you provide to your customers, helping you to quickly handle the eighty percent of cases that require routine support, giving you more time to focus on the twenty percent of cases that might need advanced troubleshooting and a more detailed response.

Snippets for (almost) everything

Snippets make routine support a breeze. Not only do they decrease the time it takes to respond to a customer, but they also serve as a way to capture common support knowledge. We use snippets for just about everything, from salutations and signatures all the way to less common scenarios that are just frequent enough to merit having a well-prepared canned response.

Don’t get me wrong—just because a snippet is ‘canned’ doesn’t mean it has to be impersonal. For example, if a customer sends us an email requesting FogBugz support and I need additional information from them, I might type the following response, where ` is the snippet key:

1`

env/fb`

sl`

The first snippet is our default salutation, the second asks about the customer’s FogBugz environment, and the third is my personal signature. They get translated to:

Hi {firstname},

Thanks for writing to us!

Could you answer a few questions for me about your environment?
- Have you made any major changes recently to your FogBugz installation?
- What version of FogBugz are you running (Help > About FogBugz)?
- What database server (and version) are you running?
- What OS are you running?

All the best,

Ben McCormack
Fog Creek Software

Since we’re using a custom placeholders BugMonkey script, {firstname} also gets replaced with the customer’s first name. In the end, the customer gets a personal, detailed email and I’ve barely had to do any typing. The last two snippets I used above are personal snippets that I’ve saved in My Settings > Snippets, but we also have tons of shared snippets as well.

Let’s take a look at five ways that we use snippets at Fog Creek.

1. Faster Typing

The best place to start to get a quick win from using snippets is to introduce simple abbreviations that replace common words and phrases in your everyday correspondence. We have basic snippets such as fb (FogBugz), fbse (http://fogbugz.stackexchange.com), or p (1-866-FOG-CREEK (1-866-364-2733)), but we also like to replace common phrases that come up frequently:

  • joel – “Hi {firstname}, Joel passed along your email and asked me to get back to you.” We have a ‘name’ snippet set up for every member of our team.
  • callme – When a case needs to be escalated to a support call, the callme snippet explains what to expect during the call and how to set it up.
  • tftc – “Thanks for the call.” After wrapping up the call, we use this snippet, usually with additional details about what we covered during the call.
  • record – When we need a screencast to demonstrate an issue, we use the record snippet to request it, which includes instructions to make sure the screencast gets appended to the case.

2. Common Support Scenarios

Snippets aren’t just for typing out emails faster. They’re also a place to store answers to common support inquiries.

  • benign – This snippet communicates that the exception you’re seeing is entirely harmless.
  • bug – Did you find a bug? Thanks! Once we’ve filed a case, we use this snippet.
  • fb/api – The FogBugz XML API is a great way to extend your use of FogBugz, and this snippet provides the links to get started.
  • od/access – If you’re having an issue with your On Demand account, we’ll always ask your permission before inspecting your data.

You may have noticed that we used fb/ and od/ to prefix two of the snippets above. We use this convention to group common snippets together, making them easier to find and remember.

3. Uncommon Support Scenarios

Having snippets for common support scenarios is valuable, but it can also be beneficial to have snippets to handle the uncommon cases. Although these situations don’t come up often, having a carefully crafted response that’s been iterated on multiple times often leads to a quicker resolution of the problem.

  • 250OK – Although it’s rare, customers will sometimes contact us to let us know that they’re not getting notifications from FogBugz. After verifying that the message was delivered from our servers, we offer this kindly-worded snippet to guide the customer to their next step in troubleshooting.
  • idontspeakgerman – If someone writes to us in German, the least we can do is respond auf Deutsch.
  • eml – FogBugz used to have issues parsing certain types of email messages (the product has gotten much better, so we don’t see this as often). When this happened, this snippet would tell the customer how to get the source of the message to send to us.

4. Sales

The sales team also uses snippets:

  • churn – If a customer stops using FogBugz On Demand, we might send them a quick email asking them why they left us.
  • expired – This snippet covers what’s included in your maintenance contract and encourages customers to renew their maintenance.
  • free – It took us a while to realize the need for this snippet, but boy does it save us a lot of time! It lets customers know everything we offer for free.

5. Not Us

Sometimes people contact us and we’re simply the wrong company to answer their inquiry. Rather than say “We can’t help you. Go away!”, we have snippets to handle these occasional emails so that even if they never come in contact with us again, at least they walk away with a positive impression of Fog Creek.

  • consult – We’re flattered that people want us to write custom software for them, but we’re honestly not the right company.
  • notus – Sometimes the email is so vague that we’re not sure if the correspondent is talking about one of our products. This snippet can quickly straighten that out.

6. Bonus!

While searching through hundreds of snippets, I came across two gems which I’ll include inline for your enjoyment.

fogcreek:

It is a place in Saskatchewan, where, from 1962-1965, some of the leading minds in computer science gathered each summer to discuss advances in algorithms and bug tracking. The Group of Fog Creek (as they were known) stopped meeting after several of their members, including professors from Dartmouth, MIT, and the New Mexico School of Mining and Technology, were savagely mauled in a horrible attack by black bears. Our company was named as a tribute to these victims, who gave us such technologies as the preincrement (–i) operator, the use of ^H to denote overwritten “humorous” text, and several new prime numbers, including 8739873298781248781.

(Not a true story. 8739873298781248781 is not even prime.)

kiwi:

Once upon a time, a kiwi came poking around Fog Creek because he realized he had a bug.  He said, “I am a bird that can’t fly, this can’t be by design!”.  He was hoping that someone here could figure out what the nature of the bug was, and how to fix it.  And so he sits atop FogBugz waiting and watching for someone somewhere to figure it out, and mark the case of the flightless bird Resolved(Fixed).

This is only a small sample of the hundreds of snippets that we have set up in FogBugz. Snippets don’t have to be used exclusively for customer support. Any time you edit a case in FogBugz, you have an opportunity to use a snippet. Maybe you use one as a template for filing a bug report or as way to standardize particular workflow steps. Regardless of how you use them, snippets will help speed up routine work so you can devote your time to more detailed efforts.