Use of canned responses

If you have worked in Support even for a little while, you likely ended up needing canned responses.

A canned response is a response template you are using to answer common questions or problems. You use them to save time and reduce mistakes.

Instead of repeatedly typing the same response over and over again, you maintain a list of common responses. You then pick the right one from the list and use it.

People use a variety of methods to maintain such a list. Your Support tool may already offer such a feature. Or you may want something a bit more advanced where you can automate a range of things like you can do in TextExpander or Alfred.

For example, a fairly common canned response I have been using for a long time is:

Hi $NAME,

{cursor}

Cheers,
Petros

This replaces $NAME with the name of the customer, and places the cursor in the middle of the text body. That saves you more than 20 keystrokes. Multiply that number by more than 60.000 support discussions I have handled over the past 10 years and you get the point.

Despite the method, canned responses fall under two main categories:

  • Your personal ones
  • Team wide, common ones everyone is using and updating

They can also be one of the following types:

  • General, utility ones
  • Topic/Question/Feature/Feedback/Bug related ones
  • Temporary ones (usually related to an outage or a temporary problem)

Canned responses are useful and you really have to have a very low support load to avoid them entirely. However, if you have to use them, you need to be very careful.

You see, canned responses can become out of date. I have canned responses I’ve written years ago. Most of them are either not relevant any more, or contain pieces of information that’s out of date. Especially the longer ones where it’s difficult to check every time.

You may end up sending a response that makes your customer feel you were not paying attention. Yes, the canned response may contain the solution to their problem, but it may also contain irrelevant information. Your customer will see that and immediately realize you have used an impersonal canned response. That’s a missed opportunity to provide stellar support service.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid that situation:

  • Set time aside to go over your canned responses and make sure they are up to date. Once a month is usually a good cadence.
  • Use that time to also improve them in other ways (i.e. make them shorter, more clear, etc.).
  • Instead of inserting them directly into your response, write the response from scratch using your own words, your own tone, and what’s appropriate to the specific situation.

In any case, strive to provide a personalized experience. Send concise replies, adjusted to what your customer said or asked. And remember to address all points.

Main points

  • Canned responses are necessary.
  • You have to use them carefully.
  • Consider rewriting them in your own words even if you had written the original.
  • Customers can always understand if you haven’t done so. Your canned response will most likely contain an irrelevant or out of date part.

HeavyMelon is building Supportress. A simple, fast and reliable customer support tool at an unbeatable price. It helps you stay calm and productive. Subscribe to this blog, subscribe to our monthly HeavyMelon Newsletter, or ask us to add you to the private beta.

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Petros Amiridis View All →

Petros is a software writer since 1998, when he graduated from CITY College with a degree in Computer Science. He took a small break to work at GitHub Support for 9 years as a support engineer and a people manager. He quit GitHub to found HeavyMelon, a calm fully remote company. You can check what he is doing and where you can find him online now.

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