The Surprising Upsides of a Customer Support Spam Incident

Everything was eerily quiet a few months ago.

Our ticket volume at HelpDocs is lower than expected despite having many customers. That week was surprisingly calm 😌

We typically receive 3 to 4 support emails per day, but on Monday we didn't receive any from our customers.

And so Tuesday rolled in and still nothing. Not a single email from a customer.

I chalked it down to a coincidence. Maybe there was a holiday I wasn't aware of? Perhaps our customers just didn't need anything answered.

And so Wednesday happened, then Thursday, and Friday. Nothing, nada. Strange I thought. Everyone must be off work or must have been content with their docs.

Now in hindsight, this is when I should've worked out something was astray. There are no weeks where we get no support emails at all (including during the festive period).

Next Monday rolls in and this is when I usually take a peek into our spam inbox.

And guess what? Our customer's emails from last week are right there waiting. My stomach dropped. I felt a terrible guilt wash over me.

Damn. Had I really let a week's worth of support emails just sit there without an answer? 😔 We're usually so on top of answering questions and there were a bunch of questions in the spam inbox—some over a week old.

How We Conquered the Spam Inbox

This was not the time for self-pity and panic.

Once I calmed myself down I asked my co-founder to help go through the tickets one by one. We prioritized the oldest and so started answering them as quickly and as thoroughly as we could.

Some customers who had been waiting over a week had sent multiple emails because of the long period of silence. We explained the problem we had the best we could and hoped they'd understand the issue.

Read, think, write, send. We had around 30 or so emails to get through—most of them niche and complicated issues.

It's times like this that you rely on one another to step up and work together. It's times like this that I'm super grateful I have a wonderful co-founder and partner I can rely on.

A Silver Lining: How Our Customer Support Incident Led to Better Email Practices

Failure is never a fun thing to go through, but as I've learned over the years it's a part of life and it helps improve things for the future (when did I become so wise? 😂).

We pride ourselves on our support email practices. It's a reason why customers go for us and a reason we provide email-only support.

Despite the terrible situation we found ourselves in we were grateful just how lovely our customers were. Almost all customers understood the mistake and it didn't matter to them.

It may be because the majority of our customer base works in customer support, which is an intense job.

The incident prompted us to switch to a better task management system that also created a swifter system for customer requests in general. We found ourselves responding, fixing, and replying to customers better than ever.

I also set a weekly task for myself to check the spam folder so this type of incident doesn't happen again in the future.

Lessons Learned from Our Spam Incident

Mistakes happen. It's how you cope and respond to the mistakes that matter.

I learned that our customers were super forgiving—not one person was actually personally annoyed with us not replying within a week.

I also realized not to be so hard on ourselves. Yes, we do want to strive for the best support in the industry but nobody is perfect. As a company, we know we can rely on our customers to be understanding when things go wrong.

Personally, I understood that I needed a little more structure to do the housekeeping type of tasks. Things you could easily forget about doing but need to be done.

Overall a terrible experience to go through, but one worth learning from.