This article is for people who have to frequently email support requests and would like some hints and tips on how to do it better.

The Intro

Most companies that offer any form of online service will usually provide some sort of helpdesk for dealing with user queries.  The majority of those helpdesk solutions will allow the user to email a generic support address and a ticket will automatically be created for them.

This is an excellent tool for the user because they don't have to visit any sites or remember unnecessary login details and it works out well for the company because they don't have to spend all day answer calls only to have to manually enter the request into their system.

I spent little over a year in first line support receiving helpdesk emails and am myself in need of support often.  During my time on both sides of the fence I have picked up a couple of tips which I figured I would share with you here.

Why?

The first question I am sure you have is why is this important?  I mean generally speaking you are the customer in this situation so it seems odd that you would have to make any additional effort.

The reason that you should try and write the best support ticket you can is simple; the better you can communicate the problem the easier it can be fixed.  The easier it can be fixed the faster it will be fixed, not only because they won't need to get back to you with as many questions or confirmations but also because if you request is well written and attractive to look at they are more likely to pick yours over the next persons.

A trite example would be if you email your web hosting company and say "My site has stopped working".  You will most likely go into a pile of miscellaneous problems to be picked up by some low level grunt who will get back to you asking generic questions to try to narrow down the problem a bit more.  If instead you say "My payment didn't come through to you guys this month for some reason and my site has stopped working" your request will go straight to the correct person in the billing department, who can quickly get your site back online and a new invoice issued.

The Tips

In no particular order here are my top tips;

  • Email the correct place - Some larger companies will have several support email addresses, if you can send your email off to the correct department first time around you have already jumped ahead in the queue of people who just emailed the generic support account.
  • Give as much relevant information as possible - I understand that sometimes you don't know what is relevant and what isn't, but have an educated guess.  Common things to include (when the support is for a website) are; URL, what user level you are, what error messages you see if any, how frequently it happens, how important this is to get fixed (see next point).
  • Give your email an appropriate priority - Most email helpdesk solutions will not allow you to assign a priority in your email, this is probably because if they did everyone would prefix their email with URGENT: which is just bogus.  Occasionally in life you will need something done as soon as humanly possible, most of the time you can wait a day or two, if that is the case, tell them!  If everyone would just be a little sensible about things the people who genuinely need help will get it fast and the people who can wait will get a more complete response from someone who isn't completely rushed off their feet.
  • Remove your email signature - Some systems are smart enough to remove your signature from the bottom of emails, most are not so I would suggest just removing your signature all together.  This means there isn't half a page of unneeded text in your support ticket and the people dealing with your ticket will be able to read (and therefore action) your ticket a lot faster.
  • One issue per email (usually) - One of the most annoying things to receive when working as front line support is an issue that is actually 7 issues all relating to several different areas.  Some companies will just reject the entire mail and ask you to resend as separate requests, others will deal with the request but passing about a bloated issue can be time consuming especially if several departments are involved.
  • Learn when to appropriately group issues - Conversely to my last point, say you have found an issue were the date picker in the web app you use isn't firing and you have encountered this in three different places.  This would be a time when three separate emails is probably inappropriate.  A better approach would be to email an issue in once and in the text mention that you spotted it on pages a, b and c.  I guess these last two points (actually most of my list) can be summed up with use your head and best judgement.
  • Follow the rules - Most companies will have some sort of guide or set of rules to follow and you should follow them.  If they ask for particular information by default you should just give them it.  Many companies will start the support call process by insuring they have all the information they need so this will save a pointless clarification email or phonecall.
  • The subject should be descriptive - When you haven't been given a strict set of rules for formatting in your subject you should try and be as descriptive as possible.  The subject is not only the first thing the person on the helpdesk will see, it is probably going to be in the subject of your follow up emails so it should describe the issue as clearly as possible.  For example which one would you rather start looking at.. "URGENT:BUG" or "Issue printing from reports section".
  • Remember that you are dealing with a human - Whilst it is a generic email address you are probably emailing don't forget that it will end up getting read by an actual human being, human beings don't particularly like receiving a copied and pasted error message with no introduction, explanation or even 'Hello', that being said..
  • Remember that between you and the human is a machine - The machine generally doesn't know or even care if you are emailing to provide supplementary information, to close the ticket off or any other possible thing you might want to do so it will log everything.  That means it will log your one word email saying "thx".  I mean don't get me wrong, if when you clarify everything is working as it should be you want to thank the operator, of course you should (see the point above) but responding to an automatically generated email saying the issue is closed only adds extra rows to a database.
  • Attachments - Sometimes you will need to send attachments, these will generally be screenshots or log files.  In the case of screenshots make sure that you are sending them at a readable resolution, in the case of any other files try and make sure they are in a readable format, a common example would be sending a .docx file instead of the more widely supported .doc

Examples?

Unfortunately there are too many small variations between the different helpdesk solutions to be able to give you a rock solid example or template to follow but hopefully if you follow the tips above you should be on your way to becoming a ninja at sending off support requests.

Why not read some more of our Other posts?