In 2005, I started as a customer support rep in the AdSense team at Google. Over the next few months, I was trained in the art of handling hundreds of emails per day.
My training focused on using a customer service tool called Trakken that Google had acquired and heavily modified to enable AdWords and AdSense teams to manage the torrent of inbound support emails from customers. In AdSense, a team of fewer than 100 people supported a few hundred thousand customers almost exclusively through email with customer satisfaction scores consistently above 90%.
Trakken’s power rested in three key features. First, the ability to collaborate on emails/tickets. We could pass problems around to the right subject matter expert. Because the tickets were tracked, the status of those emails was known to everyone within Google. Emails didn’t get lost.
Second, the functionality to bulk respond or respond with customized canned responses enabled scalability. We memorized a few hundred five letter keyboard shortcuts that inserted standard text we would customize for each ticket.
Third, the metrics to track our response times motivated better than 24h turn around time. We would routinely identify bottlenecks in response time and quash them.
Leaving the support organization and working with “standard” email left me yearning for Trakken. As time goes by, the number of emails in my work inbox approaches the same volumes as support tickets I used to manage. But Gmail and Outlook and Sparrow haven’t really evolved to help us manage the deluge of messages. I’ve cobbled together a few solutions in order to replicate some of the same functionality with a handful of Chrome Extensions and lightweight Mac apps.
But I’m seriously considering moving my work email to Zendesk, a full customer support system because of my experience with Trakken. Email isn’t going anywhere and I want to be able to answer each email in less than 24h. Each year the average user receives 2000 more emails than the previous year, making this goal ever more challenging.
The current generation of tools clearly were designed to handle such volume. I think the next evolution of work email will look very much like a customer support tool: collaboration, macros/automated responses and metrics tracking. It’s the only way I see to manage the ever growing inbox.