In a world of remote employees, increasingly differentiated and specialized departments and meeting-phobia, keeping everyone in the same loop about what your team is doing and how is hyper-important. The question is, though, how to do it and how to do it in a way that other teams find useful. For example, marketers and financial teams are keen on numbers, support teams live on happiness ratings, development teams care about the number of votes up something has in JIRA. How do we create something that speaks to and adds value for all of those teams while still keeping them abreast of the goings on in our world? That is what I tried to do with the Inbox Inventory that I used to write up weekly when I worked for Wistia.

Next up, I’ll show you what goes into an Inbox Inventory and then share the lessons learned from my time writing Inbox Inventories.

Example Inbox Inventory

RESPONSE TIME
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AHS & DOP
This is where I include the main issues that our devs from DOP shared, and some feedback from the three individuals who were on AHS. This is also where I name who won the Bobblehead. The Bobblehead was a bobblehead figurine in the form of Chris Savage, and would be awarded to the individual who performed “best” during the week across AHS and DOP. This could be individually contributing in the amount of emails they sent, or just having one really amazing conversation with a customer. This was useful for company-wide engagement.

HAPPINESS STATS
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FROM THE MOUTHS OF CUSTIES
These were three direct quotes of either praise or derision from our customers. I tried to keep it balanced between the two, and used a tag “bummer” in Helpscout to track the ones that my team felt were the largest pains. Useful for engineering and product.

TAGS
Useful for marketing.
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WISTIA STATS
This was statistics about the number of free and paid accounts we had overall, and had signed up that month thus far. Useful for comparing our support numbers to overall customer volume.

HELPSCOUT STATS
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DATA
This was a link to a historical chart of the above statistics over the course of the past year and a half. The team leads and founders responded to this most frequently.

How did it start?

The Inbox Inventory started out as an email that I sent out once a week that included inbox-centered statistics such as how many emails we replied to, what our reply rate was, and what the happiness ratings on our interactions were. While this was interesting to us in Support and sometimes our CEO Chris Savage, I soon realized that most of the company was either just marking it as read, or weren’t really getting any value out of these numbers—they needed the story that went with them. For the most part, I was just creating one extra email message to read on a Friday, which translated to my messages mostly just being marked as read, or skimmed over when walking to the train.

After about a month of this, I added an aggregate graph of historic data so that people could start seeing the change in volume week-by-week. I also started to include tags for the top reported bug issues that we were seeing in the inbox. I received my first constructive response to the Inventory directly after this: a question from one of our engineers, Schnur, about where we suspected the core issue behind one of our most rapidly reported bugs was occurring. This quite rapidly gained the attention of our group of engineers who started talking about potential solutions, and even offering suggestions for what we could offer to our customers in the meantime. I realized then that I needed to speak to what people cared about rather than just spewing data at them that seemed important to me.

How long did it take each week?

The inbox inventory took me about 30 minutes to an hour each week. It took less time as I got used to doing it, and started to streamline the process. The most time-consuming matter was finding the quotes from “From the Mouths of Custies,” but towards the end we had the support team using a specialized tag so I could just go and pull from there rather than trawling through a week’s worth of tickets.

Target Effectively

I chose and added specific sections to the Inventory that I knew would be valuable to certain departments, even if they weren’t super important to support as a whole. This allowed me to engage different departments than I would have been able to normally. In each of those sections, rather than just “dumping” the data, I would also include an explanation of its relevance to support in terms that the targeted department would appreciate and understand as well. I break down those departments (if relevant) in the example Inventory at the bottom of this article. These will be different for every company, and will depend on if you are sending your letter out to just a certain segment, or everyone.

Speak to others successes

At Wistia, we had two different programs in which people participated with the inbox. The first, All Hands Support, was for all members of the Wistia team, including our CEO. The second, Dev on Point, was for the development team. We had 6 non-support team members per week funnel through the inbox and talking with customers. In each Inbox Inventory, I talked about each of those members, and one remarkable interaction with a customer that they had. I also revealed who had one the trophy for that week—a bobblehead doll of Chris Savage. Everyone loves to hear and read good things about themselves, so this helped to promote people reading the email, even if just to skip to that part. Despite the Inbox Inventory’s main purpose being to inform the company of goings-on in the support inbox, it was important to recognize others participation and success as well.

Randomize your content

This one was actually the recommendation of Brendon, our CTO. He said that sometimes he found himself skipping to the part of the Inventory that he was most interested in: the part where I would talk about the main bugs and issues we’d seen that week. He mentioned that it reminded him of when he reads a magazine that he knows really well: he will just skip ahead to the part that he likes the most. To combat that, I started randomizing the sections of the Inventory so that no one could just skip ahead; they all had to at least skim the rest of the message first.

Willingness to change

Feedback can be hard to take. Over the course of the year and a half that I did the Inbox Inventory, I created so many different versions that sometimes I just wanted to give up and hand it off to someone else. That being said, the feedback conversations that I had with my coworkers from other teams ultimately led to me making the changes that increased the “stickiness” of the Inventory as a whole. Not only listening to people’s comments, but hearing them and implementing them into your strategy is very important. You know that support will read your letters, but you need to make sure that you are reaching all the rest of your target audience as well.

Starting up something out of the blue without having any data about how it’s going to go, whether there will be value in it, or if there is anything that you can do to gain buy-in can be difficult, especially in the world of support where time is already so limited. Some of these suggestions may work for you, but there also may be some that make you scratch your head and say “huh?” Take what you need and leave the rest—there is no set plan that will automatically work for every company or every team. Make a weekly, monthly, or even quarterly newsletter that speaks to your team and company as a whole, and don’t worry about the rest.