Guiding clients to email support instead of their account managers
Illustration by Erik Blad

In Ask Help Scout, long-time customer service professional Mat “Patto” Patterson answers readers' most challenging customer support delivery, leadership, and career questions.

Dear Patto,

A couple of years ago, we moved from customers directly emailing their account managers for help to a system where they email our main support address. The idea was to keep better track of emails and to improve our responsiveness and the overall quality of our customer communications.

Well…I should say we tried to move to that system. Only about half of our customers made the switch while the others still email their account managers or other team members directly every time. Have you got any tips for moving that other half over to the new system?

In search of the one inbox to rule them all,


Dear Jessica,

As someone who still occasionally receives questions to my personal email account about a job I left over six years ago, I sympathize deeply. 

When someone needs help, they’re going to do whatever seems most convenient to get that help based on their past experiences, expectations, training, and personal inclinations. 

Basically, we’re talking about habits here — breaking old habits and making new ones. Fortunately, a lot of work has already been done in that area. I’m thinking specifically of the book Switch from Chip and Dan Heath, which has a useful framework (PDF) for driving this sort of behavioral change. 

You’ve got two main groups to work with: people who are already clients, and all your future clients. The future clients will be easier to manage, because you don’t have to contend with already-formed habits of emailing their account managers directly. 

For them, the key will be to show them the best way to get help, right from the start. You mentioned that every new client has direct access to their account manager during onboarding. One option would be to always run that access via your Help Scout account. Instead of giving out the account manager’s actual address, have them email the main support address and use workflows to automatically direct those questions to the account manager.

Once the 30 days are up, have your account managers show them your Beacon and share a message along the lines of, “From now on, our excellent support team will be your first port of call, but you don’t have to change anything about how you ask for help!” Then you can turn the onboarding workflow off for that client and future emails will just land in your main queue. 

Now, about those existing clients. This is going to take a little more work and persistence. These clients have built up a mental model that tells them the fastest and best help comes from emailing this person they already know. 

You’ll need to help them address each element of that mental model and build a new one to replace it. At first, have your account managers still accept the direct emails, but make the first step of a response be something like, “I’m just going to forward this into our support system so we can keep track of it, and I’ll reply from there.” You could also include a pre-written paragraph about the time and tracking benefits to them of using a centralized support contact point. 

 If you’re finding people are not picking up on that hint, you might deploy some strategic prioritizing: respond first to people who email in to support and then to the people who still go direct. 

It’s a fair and mild way to reinforce the message that the fastest way to get help will be to start at the right place (and you should tell them that explicitly.) Next, have your other support staff begin answering emails directly, even if they have been addressed to account managers: “Mat here, jumping in for Emily. Let’s get that sorted out for you.”

You want to acknowledge that their account manager is still in the loop, but to also build confidence that help can be obtained via the main support address. End with some encouragement: “Email us your questions at any time; we have people available all day, ready to help.” As long as everybody is consistent with directing emails back into the support queue, over time people will realize that it is easier to start with the support team. 

Finally, if there are some people who you just can’t shift, try having account managers set up an auto-response just for them that reminds them where to go for help. Remind them that account managers take vacations or time off, and they aren’t always available right away, but that support is standing by.

Good luck on your quest, Jessica, and may your inbox be ever active. 


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