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Guide - 14 Min Read

Technical Guide to Front as a help desk

Introduction

Long before software came about, the idea of a help desk existed.

In the late 1800’s it might look a little like this: You go to a shop and buy a typewriter ($100 investment — a horse drawn carriage was only $50). A few days later, a key breaks — rats! You bring it back to the store owner, who recognizes you, and says, “Hey, Charles. I can take care of that for you,” before happily waddling back to his workshop to fiddle with it. 

Since then, help desks have evolved significantly. Face-to-face conversations over literal desks morphed into phone conversations with representatives far away. Then phone calls moved to emails, tickets, live chat, and even social media. 

Where customer service used to mean managing a single in-person conversation with one human at a time, it now means serving many customers over many channels — and hunting down the information you need from the rest of your company in order to respond.

Help desks are now seen as a pivotal part of almost every company. While some teams use a traditional help desk software, others use a customer communication platform, like Front. Why’s that? According to our customers, they choose Front for these 3 reasons:

  1. Managing and collaborating on email is simple.
    Managing shared email like support@ and individual email is hard — let alone other messaging channels like Twitter, live chat, or SMS text.

  2. Front keeps customer data and messages across any channel in one searchable platform.
    When you make the move to a help desk, you’re taking a step back and silo-ing it away from other teams.

  3. Escalation is easy since any team can use Front — not just support teams.
    Help desks let you escalate requests within your support team, but getting input from other teams in your company is anther story (one that involves copy-and-pasting, frustration, and unhappy customers…).

In this guide, we’ll show you how your team can grow and thrive with Front, instead of a traditional help desk. 

Our philosophy

The heart of every business is the communication between your customers and your team. We built Front with a few specific values in mind to make more meaningful connections between customers and teams.

Treat customers like humans, not tickets
Goodbye, Ticket #4029384. Hello, Paul from Pittsburgh. Companies need a way to collaborate on communications and have real, personal conversations with customers. 

Be available for your customers over many channels
Call me, beep me…Okay, maybe pagers can stay out of this conversation. But there are many forms of communication these days, and customers have different preferences. Companies need a way to manage many communication channels from a single source.

Focus the whole company on customers
Your product team might not be chatting it up with customers daily, but their roles do directly impact customer experience. Same goes for engineers, marketers, and more. Full companies — not just customer-facing teams — need a way to easily access customer needs to get data, respond to customers, and influence strategy.

Key features of Front for support teams

Front allows you to unify disconnected data sources that take time to bring up the right information about customers. It allows you to provide support across channels from one place. And it makes it easy to involve the right people in the conversation to respond quickly. Here we’ll dive into Front and the features you can leverage to use it as a help desk.


Customize Front to get the context you need, when you need it

Got a single support team, specialized teams, or some blend of the two? No problem. How about engineers who need to see tickets but not actually respond? Yup. Brand-new reps who need to receive fewer messages than the rest of the crew while they’re onboarding? Front’s got it handled. 

Front feels like an inbox, so it looks and feels a lot like Gmail or Outlook and is easy to learn. It’s flexible and powerful, so your support workflows match your team, not the other way around. Here are some ways you can customize your Front workspace.

  • Multi-channel communication: You can funnel email, SMS, live chat, social media handles, and all of your communication channels into Front. Connect channels to Front → 

  • Roles and permissions: Advanced permission levels enable every teammate to see what you want them to see. You can save custom roles to easily add new teammates with the right permissions. Learn about custom roles →

  • Integrate apps: You can connect 50+ integrations to Front. That means you could grab a help article from Forumbee, update a Salesforce record, or create a Jira issue for engineering, all without leaving your inbox. See all integrations for customer support → 

Integration panel - Reference Salesforce gif

Gain visibility into your customer experience

With Front, you can keep the easy and familiar inbox setup without sacrificing analytics you’d get from a help desk. When is it time to hire a new support rep? What’s your day of the week? Inform your decision-making with insights on team and individual performance in Front’s analytics.

  • Team inboxes: Team inboxes allow you and your team to see customer messages from many channels in one place. Team inboxes give you visibility so you can browse the support queue and see what needs to be handled at-a-glance. Add a team inbox → 

  • Analytics: Inform your decision-making with aggregate insights on team performance and individual metrics. Make custom reports to track improvements over time. Learn about Analytics → 

analytics gif

Work together to get back to customers faster.


Front looks and feels like email, so it’s intuitive to learn. You don’t need intense training in order to get up to speed. And if there are people your support team communicates with often, say, your engineering team or success team, they can use Front too. You can give these teammates the level of access that they need (full license or light user) to be able to work on support messages with you. 

  • Comments: This one is a game changer. Instead of forwarding an email or moving to chat to escalate a ticket, you can easily @greg to instantly share the message and work together on it. Learn more about comments → 

  • Assignments: With Front you can give every message a clear owner so everyone knows what they’re responsible for handling. Just assign it, and the message will appear in that teammate’s inbox and will leave the “Open” tab in the inbox. Read about assignments → 

  • Shared drafts: Support can be nuanced, and it can take many people to answer customer support questions. You can share a message draft with teammates to draft it together in real time like a Google Doc. Learn how to share a draft → 

  • Shift scheduling: We know the show goes on even when the shift is over, and that’s why we made shift scheduling. You can handle shift transitions with confidence across multiple offices or timezones. Conversations will only be assigned to on-duty teammates, so messages aren’t missed. Make shifts for your team → 

draft gif

Cut the busywork so it’s easy to focus on customers

By bringing all the information you need into one platform and giving you tools to stay organized, Front turns your inbox into a place you can control, rather than an overwhelming, never-ending queue. 

  • Routing rules: Like a well-organized pantry, it feels good when things are exactly where they should be. Routing rules let you keep those canned beans stacked up perfectly. Build custom routing rules to make sure every message gets in the right hands or inbox right away. Set up a rule → 

  • SLA rules: People want replies when they need them. Rules for service level agreements make sure your team is reliable and can meet every timeline you agree to. SLA rules let you track and improve your response time. Create an SLA rule → 

  • Snooze: Some things aren’t urgent. To get them out of the way but not forget about them, you can count on snooze. Snooze messages you can’t get to right away and specify a time for them to come back in your inbox later. You can also Send and Snooze, so you can follow up if you don’t get a reply. Snooze a message for later → 

  • Message templates: Never again do you need to type the same response over and over. Save message templates with resources, links, and messages you send often, and save them for your whole team to use. These make it easy to keep consistent, accurate messaging, hit response time SLAs, and get new employees started quickly. Use a message template → 

How to set up Front as a help desk

In a help desk, there are queues and tickets. In Front, we use inboxes and conversations. Front allows you to structure your workflow and route messages based on your team’s exact needs. Here’s how you can get started:

1. Make a team inbox

First, you’ll make team inboxes. Here at Front, we use a tiered support structure (Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3) to escalate support requests to the right teams. 

Then, you’ll choose channels to funnel into each one. We connected support@frontapp.com, the contact form from our help center, and more into our team inbox. Different support teammates manage different inboxes based on how technical the request is. 

If at any point, we need to escalate a request to a support engineer or ask a customer success teammate about a past conversation, we can simply @mention them on the support request to chat it out.

2. Routing support messages to your team

When new messages come in, you need to get them to the right person, team, or distribute them evenly amongst your team.

Front lets you choose which model works best for your team, so you can get every message where it needs to go. Many teams assign messages manually, set up automated routing rules, or choose a combination of the two.

Manual

  • Grab-bag approach: When a new message comes in, anyone on the team can jump in and respond. Unlike a typical shared inbox, Front’s collision detection and assignments let everyone know the message is being worked on, so no one duplicates work or send multiple replies. 

  • Team lead triage: The person triaging messages keeps an eye on the shared inbox, assigning messages to teammates based on topic, customer, or level of complexity. This lets you keep control over who answers what and monitor the requests coming in, so your team only needs to focus on their assigned messages.

Automated

  • Round-robin distribution: Use rules to evenly distribute messages to your team automatically as they come in. No one teammate gets overloaded with messages.

  • Assign to individual: Automatically assign messages by sender, subject, or keyword to a teammate with the expertise to respond.

  • Load-balancing: Avoid overwhelm and get back to customers faster by setting conversation limits for each teammate and automatically assign new messages to the teammate with the fewest open messages.

Both

  • Automate then triage: Create an initial rule to do a first pass at messages, then have a person triaging to cherry pick and sort other messages. 

rule image

3. Track performance and get insights with analytics
Front lets you measure performance, track requests, and get insights to better serve your customers. Many support teams like to measure data on customers and feature requests in addition to traditional support metrics. 

  • Measure data with message tags: With Front’s tags, you can track volume and frequency around certain topics. Tag messages by product, feature, location, customer, or even automatically tag the message template you used to reply. Then report on that tag in Analytics. 

  • Track performance to constantly improve: Track response time, CSAT score, handle time, resolution time, and more on a team and individual basis. Make informed decisions on when to hire, how to staff shifts, and where to provide training so your team can succeed.

analytics image

4. Escalate complex requests
Every support team manages requests a little differently — and Front enables you to adapt your inbox just how you need. Many teams use a traditional tiered support approach and set up an “urgent” inbox to stay on top of requests. 

  • Stay organized with tiered support: This is a classic support inbox setup, where messages of different types or urgency go into different tiers. In Front you can create a team inbox for each tier, and route messages from channels or customers to the right tier automatically. For instance, send all live chat messages to a Tier 1 inbox for a faster reply, or send all messages about your API to Tier 3 for your technical support team or engineers to work on.

  • Prioritize with an urgent tags: Many teams set up urgent tags. This lets you prioritize requests that need the fastest replies — like messages from VIP customers, or messages that contain trigger words like “urgent.” You can automatically tag these messages with colors and emojis to make them stand out as urgent, and set up alerts to notify your team. You can also notify your team by triggering notifications in other apps, like Slack, PagerDuty, or WhatsApp.

tag gif

5. Collaborate with your team on requests

It takes a team to give great support! Front makes it easy to for your support team to work together on messages. Teams often set up team inbox organization and set up processes for collaborating with each other on messages.

  • Build tags and message templates for your team: Many teams like to create team tags, so the whole support team can use the same organization for messages. You can also create team message templates (pre-drafted messages that you can send in a few clicks). This lets your team use consistent language and spend less time writing technical or wordy replies — and spend more time on personalized replies. 

  • Ask for help with comments and shared drafts: Need help? Your team can ask for help on messages with an @mention in Front’s comments. Or, create a draft and share it with your teammate for a second pair of eyes. As a team leader, be open about how often and who your team should reach out to with comments or drafts, i.e., “always share the draft with a manager for approval on pricing questions,” or, “never be afraid to @mention a teammate for help!”

draft gif

6. Connect your help center 
Sometimes, you need to send a help article, video, or some other collateral for customers to reference. Front lets you access these resources directly in your inbox. Most support teams integrate their help center or internal wiki with Front.

  • Search and send articles in your inbox: Say you use Forumbee for your help center (like us at Front!), With Front’s Forumbee integration, the team can search from within their inboxes, find the resource, and paste it in the message in just a few clicks. 

  • Improve your help center with usage data: Add tags to messages based on common support topics — then check those tags in Analytics to prioritize what resources and help articles to create next. 

Setting and hitting customer support KPIs with Front

Front’s Analytics make it easy for your team to set goals and achieve them. You can track metrics across your entire team, gauge individual performance and engagement, and measure interactions with customers to understand where to place more resources. 


Customer experience

  • CSAT: Connect the Nicereply integration to measure CSAT on messages. 

  • NPS: Connect the Asknicely integration to measure NPS score. 

  • Response time: What’s the average response time across your team to messages

  • First response time: How long are customers waiting to get an initial response on messages?

  • Total breaches: How often are you not meeting SLAs?

  • SLA warnings: How often do you come close to not meeting SLAs?

  • Resolved on 1st reply: How often are you solving problems with one reply?


Headcount and team engagement

  • Total resolved: How many messages is your team resolving over time?

  • Total unresolved: How many messages are left without an answer at any given time?

  • Replies to resolve: How many replies does it take to resolve messages on average?

  • Handle time: How long does a teammate spend actively working with the conversation open, from the time the conversation is opened to the time the message is sent?

    Looking for more help with using Front as a help desk? We’re here for you. Contact us at success@frontapp.com.

Keep learning

Customer Story - 4 Min ReadFront’s automation features save each Instructure employee 10 hours a week
Learn how a leading Saas company has used rules, tags, and assignments to improve their workflow, scale personal customer communication, and ultimately save each employee 10 hours a week with Front’s automation features.  Instructure is an educational software company that makes teaching and learning easy. They rely heavily on the personal support their customer success team provides. As they grow, they’ve been able to keep communication personal using Front’s ability to automate triaging, routing, and managing their messages. You may be asking – how can my customer success team do the same?  They’ve used 3 key features in Front to improve customer communication and build strong, more personal relationships with clients as they grow without turning to a helpdesk solution that sacrifices high-touch communication. Rules have helped them automate their entire workflow. They now save time on triaging messages, escalating urgent ones, and categorizing their communication.  Assignments allow incoming messages from clients to be assigned directly to the specific CSM overseeing the account Commenting has streamlined teamwork on customer messages. Head of Customer Success at Instructure, Patrick, says “We’re not having to forward and have multiple copies of every email. There’s one thread, and all the comments and information you need are on it.” The more seasoned team members can add their comments to assist the rest of the team. “We can route messages to the right person internally without extra work, so customers get a smoother experience,” - Patrick, Head of Customer Success at Instructure  Rules, assignments, and commenting are now the backbone of their workflow. By automating the routing process, each person gets on average 10 hours a week back to personalize their communication. Freeing up time to X, Y, Z  has helped Instructure grow and sustain close, engaged relationships with their clients, and ultimately improve their customers’ experience.  Curious how to do it yourself? Check out the inspiration below.  Do it yourself Rules Automatically assign or move emails based on message content. For example, if your teammate, Sarah, responds to all billing questions, create a rule to assign any message containing "billing" to Sarah. Step 1 Go to Settings by clicking on your avatar in the top left → Rules & SLA → Add team rule Step 2 Set the When trigger to Inbound messages. Step 3 Set the If condition to: Inbox is the team inbox this rule should apply (e.g. Support inbox), AND Subject contains and Body contains to the word of your choice (e.g. billing). Ensure these are connected by an OR condition. Step 4 Set the Then action to either of the below: Assign to teammate action to assign it to one specific person. Alternatively, you can also Assign in group to distribute the emails amongst several teammates (an advanced rule condition). Move to inbox action to move it to a different inbox. Tip: Click Add action and add a tagging action. This will help with general organization and future analytics reports. Tags Here are some tags that teams like Instructure find helpful: Renewals so that your team immediately sees messages with this tag as an opportunity, and employees who specialize in renewals can act fast Feedback so that your team can dedicate some time regularly to review client comments on what is and isn’t going well, and you can see how it changes overtime Urgent so that any message that contains keywords that express urgency – like “right away” or “ASAP” – can be tended to first VIP so that Enterprise customers or large opportunities never slip through the cracks Because Front offers a multichannel team inbox, it’s also very helpful to have tags that organize communication by platform, like the following: SMS messages Tweets Facebook messages By creating rules that tag messages based on content – like a keyword “renew” – it’s easy to categorize and prioritize work. To automate messaging and save time like Instructure did, you can follow the same rule creation steps above, but choose to add a tag as the last step: Comments Commenting is an easy way to loop in teammates, flag a message, or phone a friend for help. Just at-mention someone’s name and they’ll have access to your full conversation. Still need support? Share a draft with them as you work on your response.  Another way to collaborate in Front is to start an internal discussion. This is a casual, yet still advanced, way ot chatting with coworkers. Write to one person, a few, or an entire team inbox so that you don’t have to leave Front and context switch, or lose track of important topics, as you chat. 
Read customer story