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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

One Pager - 2 Min ReadOur latest Slack app: manage your shared inbox in real time
Front connects to the tools your team relies on, so your shared inbox can be the place you get work done. But some messages and workflows just aren’t well-suited for your inbox — chats, notifications, and other tasks you want to manage in real time. That’s where Slack comes in. It’s our most popular integration, and today our Slack app will help you get even more done in Front, faster. Front teams can already send messages (emails, tweets, texts, and more) to Slack. Now, you can use Message Menus to take action directly from Slack. Archive, re-open, assign, and move Front messages between inboxes — all from Slack. Instant sync of activities from Slack to Front make it even easier for your team to reach inbox zero, no matter where you’re getting work done. Teams across the company — support, sales, operations, and more — rely on Front to manage their external communication. Here’s how our latest Slack app helps them stay on top of your inbox around the clock: Escalate urgent support tickets. Escalate urgent support tickets. Use time-based rules for SLAs to forward unanswered messages to a #support-urgent channel automatically. Re-assign messages to another teammate directly from Slack. Reach out to leads faster. Trigger rules that forward new leads to an #inbound channel. Move messages to the SMB, Mid-Market, or Enterprise inbox from Slack for a quick reply from the right rep in Front. Triage requests in real time. Define a rule that messages containing the word “refund” are sent to @Andersen, your account manager. He can move the message to the Accounts inbox right from Slack for a reply. To get started with Message Menus for Front, simply turn on Message Menus in your Slack integration settings in Front. No matter where your team gets work done, Front’s Slack app makes it easy to ensure every message ends up in the right place.
Read one pager
Guide - 8 Min ReadMeasure your team's success
How many emails do you receive each week? What's your average response time? Which customers email you most often? Front Analytics gives you the answers you need to improve customer communication and thrive as a team.  #Navigating Analytics Navigating Front analytics Front analytics gives admins insight into your team's performance and productivity in Front, as well as an understanding of what’s actually happening in your inboxes. If you have the Prime plan or above, you can use Analytics to create custom reports and access 4 built-in report types that reflect your usage and delivery over time. The different reports display data and content that’s critical to understanding how to optimize your team’s time, work more efficiently, and deliver a better customer experience.  Team Admins can access reports by clicking the Analytics button in the lower left corner, then looking at the left panel under the inbox you’re reporting on. You’ll find 4 reports: Inbox report: View all your communication data, from volume of messages, breakdown of communication volume per inbox, or your busiest hours on the ‘Heatmap’ tab. Team performance report: Here you can get all the information you need about team productivity. Understand the volume of conversations and efficiency per teammate by viewing these key metrics: Conversations touched vs assigned conversations = how many conversations did someone actively help with (commenting to help another teammate, replying) vs how many conversations was someone the owner of at some point Handle time = how long it takes for a teammate to write a response Response/resolution time = how long does a response/resolution take from a client point of view Tags report: This is a breakdown of your communication by tag. For instance, you can use rules to add a “VIP” tag to conversation from a specific high value client, or a “launch” tag for all product launch related ones, then see how many messages fall into each category to better understand what your team is working on.  Team report: This report summarizes a lot of what you’ll find in the other reports. However, the Customer tab is unique. It displays data on how often different customers write in and what time they require from your team, which is helpful when assigning certain accounts to specific people.  If you have SLAs and have toggled the SLA rule to create an analytics report, you’ll also be able to find your SLA report on the left side nav.  You can change the time you’re viewing data for to get a micro or macro sense of company performance, or click the three dots at top right of table to add or remove metrics. Come across a metric or term you’re unsure about? Look it up in our Analytics Glossary.  #Metrics What can you measure? Here you’ll find a breakdown of the main ways to measure your team’s success with Front.  Time management and message volume Get a sense of how to improve time management by assessing message volume by team or how many conversations are coming in under the Inbox report. When you toggle to the ‘Heatmap’ tab, you can learn when your busiest hours are, and make the necessary adjustments to support customers and ensure messages don’t fall through the cracks as you anticipate the rush.  Customer experience The ‘Customers’ tab under your ‘Team inbox’ report is the holy grail of dirt on your customers. Here, you can examine: How many customers your team is serving on a daily basis  Which customers are writing in the most How quickly messages for each customer are being handled By analyzing this information, you can better understand the experience your customers are having, and ensure that your team is set up to support the most demanding ones.  Team dynamics and performance Feeling like your team is just slaying lately? See it for yourself. The Team performance report show a variety of metrics like: Average handle time per teammate The amount of total resolved or unresolved messages your team has on their plate The amount of messages being sent by your team By toggling the dates, you’ll see the graph represent how these metrics change overtime.  The table will show more specific data on each teammate. Who’s handling the most conversations, and what’s their average response time? Is someone being assigned the bulk of the messages? All the data you need to assess, understand, and better support your team can be found here.  Feature and project performance  When you organize your messages into tags, and set up rules to do that for you, you’re automatically categorizing your work. The tags report shows data for each tag, so it’s wise to think about this when creating tags in the first place. Perhaps you create a rule that tags all messages from your largest customers, or all messages that contain mention of a specific project or product. When you go to the tags report, you’ll be able to view how much traffic each of those tags is getting, how much time each category of work is requiring from your team, and then understand how to better prioritize work. #Custom reporting Create a custom report Creating a custom report can be a great tool to view a specific subset of data, report on only a small group of people, or view data for a specific project or client. There are endless options in Front to get the metrics you need, and export the file for your intended use.  Customize your report To create a new report, click on the "+" sign next in the analytics side panel. To create an individual report, click on the "+" next to "ME" and to create a team report, click on the "+" next to the team name. Now, it’s time for the fun part!  First, choose the type of report you want to create by asking yourself what question you’re trying to answer. Is your goal to report on a specific project? Choose to build a tag report. Want to assess performance of a certain crew? Select team performance report.  Adding filters will restrict what data will show up and help focus your reporting. For instance, monitoring support volumes makes more sense if you put in a filter to report only on Support inboxes. Choose the filters that work best for you, and you’re all set. Once created, reports will be accessible on the side panel by name.  Whether you want to analyze data deeper, or mix data with another system, it can be very useful to know how to export raw data from a report. Check out this article to receive a raw CSV of data. Create an SLA report The simplest way to view analytics for your SLAs is to check the box that says “Create a report in Analytics or this SLA” when you’re on the rule itself. From that point on, there will be a link to the report directly from the rule where you can see how your team is tracking against their response time goals, how frequent breaches are, and more.  #Take action Turn insights into action So…what do you do with all the data? Here are some ways you can use analytics to anticipate, understand, and act in ways that will improve your business.  Improve your customer experience Once you analyze the ‘Customers’ tab in your Team Inbox report, you can draw some conclusions about which customers are going to require more support, and which ones seem to wait the longest for a reply. Get ahead of a complaint and help your team make adjustments – maybe by looking into the team performance report and pairing a teammate who has a great resolution time with your most demanding customer –  so that your customers can always count on white glove service. Set realistic goals Motivate your team by creating some incentives to improve handle time or increase the amount of messages they touch, but make those goals realistic. By looking at the average resolution time, or other relevant metrics, you can craft goals for your team that will excite them without burning them out.   Anticipate trends Your heat map shows your busiest hours, and you can graph how different metrics change on different days of the week. How many messages arrive between Monday and Friday, or is Tuesday lunch hour consistently busy? Think about what changes would make the biggest impact on your customers, and adjust to meet those trends head on.  Plan staffing Front Analytics can tell you a lot about what’s on your team’s plate – and when they’re at capacity. Here are 3 ways to use metrics to help support, and know when to build, your team. Team performance lets you view your Total, New and Resolved conversations. If your team is able to resolve most conversations without working extra hours, they’ve got it under control. But if a lot are left unresolved at the end of your time period, it may be time to hire an extra set of hands.  Handle time tells you how long it takes to send a message once someone starts working on it. If this time is getting longer for a majority of your teammates, perhaps they’re getting harder conversations to treat and you should start segmenting your team by level of expertise. Using the heatmap in the Inbox report helps with understanding customer patterns and finding peak hours. If your company works on an hourly structure, this can help you staff your busiest hours. 
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