You can do better than a shared support email inbox. If you have an Office 365 subscription, there are alternatives that can help your team manage and provide great support.
If you’re investigating options for creating a great experience for users that need support from your team, but still need to keep things manageable for the team providing the support? In this article I wanted to share a solution we’ve used before that has led us to less headaches and more organization compared to where we were before.
For context, before we implemented this system our customer’s support team was relying on a shared email inbox to manage support for a very large customer base (50,000+). This customer has a more formal ticketing system that is generally meant to track when something is broken and needs to be fixed or when someone needs something to be done. For everything else most teams just use a shared email box or simply don’t offer any other way to engage them. Not a great solution for the culture of support they wanted to provide (Dilbert anyone?).
So as we started to revise the support process and design what kind of system we wanted to create, we weighed a lot of the options discussed in this article, and ended up building a custom Power App to support their unique process and integrated it into DevOps to better manage the requests across the team.
We’ll dig into more details throughout this blog, but now that you understand where we were and where we ended up, we wanted to walk through some things you should think about when considering building one of your own.
Before we go ahead and build this thing, what are our alternatives? There are tools that already do this, right?
Shared mailboxes, email-based solutions, or chat based messages are all bad. For instance, someone needs help so they send an email to the “support email”. It shows up in the shared inbox and… sits. Who is going to grab it? That takes some coordination with the team, and in the midst of a busy day juggling responsibilities, odds are it won’t get delegated and accounted for. So it gets lost in the inbox, or in a long list of flagged emails for “someone to get to eventually”. This leads to a bad customer experience, provides no metrics, and is way too loose of a structure when customers have issues they need help with.
What about buying a system? Of course, there’s a ton of options like Zendesk, Zoho Desk, Wrike, OneDesk, and the list goes on.
These off-the-shelf systems also may not work well for informal questions. If you provide support to a specific category of employees across an organization, things may come up that they need help with that shouldn’t need to go through that overbearing process – they just want to ask a question, and we just want to track it and manage it. Let’s make it easy, low barrier to entry, and customize it to how we want to work.
Within Office 365 there’s a handful of options we could choose as an “entry point” to a support process. We ruled out email already, so the options we have to choose from are Microsoft Forms, a Power App, or a Teams Bot. Let’s walk through when you should choose which when.
Forms is a very low barrier to entry tool to both create and use. In its simplest form, its a form users can find at a link, fill out, and click submit. This is great when you want the process to be very easy and don’t care much about customization, as you’re kind of “stuck” with how a form looks outside of some theming.
As far as security goes, this can work well if the users you need to support are outside of your organization. All you have to do is allow anonymous access and deliver them the link to the form. If you’re worried about people finding the link, or only want to allow your organization/certain accounts to submit the form, you can setup the security that way as well.
Choose Forms if you want something:
Here’s our medium-effort suggestion. If you want a custom experience for submitters (think stepped process, custom layout, etc), you may want to consider using a Power App. This worked well for us when we had 3 different paths users could use to get support and wanted to illustrate those with icons and make it really obvious which way they had to go.
There’s some things you should know about Power Apps before going this route:
Choose Power Apps if you want:
I’ve heard chat bots are the next big thing, right? Right?
As much of a “trendy” topic as they are, they might work well for you! But they require a different mindset than the solutions we listed above. At their core, they are meant to be conversational and provide a “pleasant” experience to users. In order to build one, you effectively have to map out the process you want to take a user through and configure the bot to send a combination of messages, cards, and task modules to get the information you need while keeping the user in a “one-to-one” conversational mentality.
Bots can be a little bit of a process to set up, but luckily Microsoft has many tools and frameworks to get you up and running quickly. After getting setup, it’s effectively your job to “train” the bot. If you allow any free-text inputs, the bot will use AI and Machine Learning to take its best guess at the user’s intentions, but it also provides an interface for you to go inspect how users have been answering and train the bot with how to respond if it did the wrong thing based on what it knew at the time.
So in short: Bots can be a great solution for support. They just take a bit to set up, and require a different mindset compared to how you would be setting up a plain ol’ form.
Use a Teams Bot if you want:
Now that we know how we want users to access the support, we need to figure out what information we need from them.
In our scenario we actually created a few simple screens in a wizard style to help direct users. This was super helpful for us because we also wanted to promote the other ways that users could engage with us i.e. the official ticketing system, Yammer, or this support tool.
We’ll share a few sample questions that we have used in the past here.