This is a bit off topic, but I thought some of you might find it interesting.

We get a lot of emails. For the past three and a half years, my partner Noah and I have been forwarding our emails to our personal Gmail accounts (because we love Gmail). This works good, but the problem is that a lot of the time, a user will email the wrong person. So then we have to forward emails to each other, and sometimes back again, and it becomes a bit of a mess. It also makes it harder to know if a person has emailed us before about something, because maybe he emailed Noah last time, but me the next time.

As we grow, so does our volume of email. If you saw how much email we get, you’d cry. Earlier this month we decided we needed to create a centralized help desk, so everything for both of us was in one place. We looked at Zendesk and its alternatives, and frankly, we found most of them rather appalling. They were just so ridiculously crammed with features and confusing interfaces, not to mention ridiculously priced, I just couldn’t see myself using any of them.

So we decided to just create a new Gmail account that we can both use, and forward all emails to it. (Note: We of course use Gmail’s “send email as” feature, so the emails we send are “from” [email protected], not [email protected]. UPDATE: Ok, geez, we’ll move to the “apps” edition so no forwarding is involved! :P). So far after about a month, it’s been great. With the help of a few “labs” features, we can do everything we need Gmail to do to be a great help desk. I was already using these features with my personal Gmail account, but now that we have a combined one and can use all of these features together, it’s great.

  • Labels – To assign emails to one of us or the other, we’ve just created two labels – “Sean” and “Noah”. All emails to sean@ or noah@ are automatically assigned the appropriate label, but emails to support@ are not. Regardless of whether or not an email comes in with the right label, we can quickly assign or reassign each one to the correct person without having to forward emails. And if it’s reassigned to the other person later, that person has the full history of the conversation available.
  • Canned replies – This Labs feature lets you save canned replies, so you can quickly respond to certain emails that you tend to get a lot. Most replies you receive from us are written just for you with plenty of TLC, but there are some emails we just get too often that we have to use this feature. (Except for the “labels” screenshot above, these are all taken from the Gmail Labs page. I just noticed this one has “RTFM” as one of the examples. That made me laugh ^_^)
  • Super Stars – This Labs feature lets you have more than one color of star. We use three stars – yellow, red, and blue. The standard yellow star just means we have read the email but still need to reply. A red star means the same thing, but that it’s high priority. A blue star means we are awaiting a reply, and we want to follow up if we haven’t heard anything within a few days. Flagging it lets us easily find it later.
  • Message translation – This Labs feature automatically translates emails in foreign languages into your native tongue. We have a lot of international users, so we occasionally get an email in a foreign language. Of course, we do not speak these languages, so this is very handy.
  • Help desk on the go – We both have Android phones (Motorola Droid FTW!), and the Gmail integration with Android is super great. The Labs features don’t work with it, but at the very least we can read, reply, and assign emails to each other as needed, no matter where we are.

The only thing you can’t do is have “ticket numbers”, but unless you do support by telephone, this should not be a big deal at all. And ticket numbers are just way too corporate anyways. If you want to give the vibe that you’re a hip startup, you won’t need them.

One last concern is that if you have a large support department (more than 5 people or so), this probably isn’t the best solution. It would probably just be a bit too chaotic. But if your support department is that big, you are probably living the corporate life already, so why are you even reading this? 😛

Best of all? Gmail is totally free. 🙂 When you see the pricing of the help desk services out there, you might flip a lid. The pricing is just pure insanity. Gmail is the best email service ever created in our humble opinion, and since it’s free and can be heavily customized, it can make a great help desk for your company. And if you already use it for your help desk, let us know what features you use to make your life easier.