February 26, 2013

Great Customer Support Faster with Text Expander Snippets

Great Customer Support Faster with Text Expander Snippets

Chase Clemons is on the support team at 37signals and founded an outstanding blog/podcast about customer support, called Support Ops. Needless to say, we're big fans of his approach to loving customers.

After releasing my Brief Guide to a Better Email, I got a lot of questions about how to use snippet apps and the best way to set them up. I talked with Nick here at Help Scout, we realized it'd make for a great post to go along with the guide. So let's dive in to some nuts and bolts of how I use my snippet app.

Personally, I use Text Expander. It's easy to use and really affordable. Text Expander allows you to create "Snippets", which are bits of text you can insert into an email with only a few keystrokes. It's easy to organize snippets into folders and extend them for all sorts of use cases.

Your snippets aren't locked into your support app so you can always take them with you if you change. Plus, each person on your support team can customize them to their tone and writing style. You can go with other apps if you'd like but for this one, we'll be focusing on Text Expander.

Creating your first snippet

You'll click on the "New Snippet" button in the top left. That'll give you the content area where you can put your snippet. Start with ones you use a lot like your signature, your contact info, and things along those lines. For me, you can see I've got my work address in there for this one.

Next up, give it a label. Something that's memorable so you know what it does when you're looking through a list of snippets. Then add the abbreviation for it at the bottom.

The abbreviation is critical. Too short and it's easy to trigger the snippet accidentally. Too long and you're not going to remember it. You want to be like Goldilocks and use something just right in the middle.

One other thing I like to point out with abbreviations is to use a key at the front that you don't typically use. In this case, I put "so" in front of my Support Ops snippets and then follow it up with something I can remember. "sowm" is for "Support Ops work mail".

Saving happens automatically with Text Expander. Open up a text doc and enter your new abbreviation. Remember, it's case sensitive so AB is different from aB. If your snippets appears, you're all set with your first snippet!


You'll see that I've gotten a ton of snippets. To keep them straight, I break them up into different groups. Creating a new group is as easy as creating a new snippet. Just click that button that says "New Groups".

I break mine up into groups around the apps I support. So you'll see Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire, etc. Those are all apps that we support at 37signals. Grouping them that way makes finding, managing, and updating them painless.

The other trick I use for grouping is within the abbreviation. At 37signals, I use "bcx" for the start of my Basecamp snippets and "hr" for Highrise to keep them straight in my head. So I might have a snippet called "hrmerge" to talk about merging inside Highrise.

Groups are your friend. Use them when you first start out to save the time and headache of setting them up after adding your 100th snippet.

Advanced snippets

Your typical snippets are straightforward. Your signature, your contact info, etc. But what if you wanted to start on the road to true snippet mastery?

The next step would be auto-filling so you can convey some customization in your emails. Let's take an easy example.

That's my closing signature. See that %A at the end of the sentence? That's Text Expander's way of setting today's date.

To get that, click on the cursor icon to the left of the label line. You'll be given lots of different choices. We want "Date" and then "Day: Monday" Click that and you'll have that %A in your snippet content.

Now when you type out that abbreviation, Text Expander will automatically put in today's name. Your customers will get that closing line with a hint of customization. You save time from having to type that out each time.

That cursor icon holds a ton of other auto-fills like this. I'll let you experiment with the others on your own since you know how they work now.

You can even have snippets inside of snippets! Cue the Inception soundtrack.

Sync your snippets

All these snippets won't help if they're not on the computers you use. Thankfully, the team behind Text Expander thought about that one. You'll have a way to sync them to other devices. Head over to the Preferences pane and you'll see the Sync option there. No point in typing them out twice, right?

More info on syncing here.

Easy as 1-2-3

And that's it! Nothing to fear when it comes to setting up your snippets. If you haven't yet, grab a copy of Text Expander and start using it today. It'll pay for itself the first time you blaze through all those Monday morning emails that used to take forever.

A Brief Guide to a Better Email

To help you get started, I've got a ton of customer tested and me approved snippets in A Brief Guide to a Better Email. These are the ones I use each and every day.

With those in hand, you'll write better emails to customers in half the time it took you before.


Written by Nick Francis Nick Francis


Michael Feb 28

By the way, if you are working on Windows, please check out the freeware PhraseExpress which allows you to sync your TextExpander snippet library between Mac and Windows and back to Mac.

Video demo: http://www.phraseexpress.com/textexpander-windows.htm

PhraseExpress is free for personal use.

Scott Feb 28

I'd suggest stating up front this advice is geared to Mac users. That doesn't become apparent until clicking through to the app's website. Even there its only mentioned in their footer text and download page.

Michael Mar 1

@Scott, I believe the advice is not limited to Mac as it describes, how Text Expander software generally can help in customer service. You can transfer this tutorial to Windows equivalents which work quite similar.

PhraseExpress - Text Expander for Windows Team

Chase Clemons Mar 3

Thanks for pointing out PhraseExpress! I haven't seen it before but it's a solid option.

You're right - I should've been more upfront about Text Expander being just a Mac app. Good news is that these snippet ideas will work in any text expanding type app. And the PhraseExpress app Michael pointed out looks like a good Windows option.

Andrea Nagar Apr 4

@Chase thanks for the nice post.

I want to point out our solutions for Windows as well, PhraseExpander http://www.phraseexpander.com that is quite unique.

Differently from all other solutions you don't have to memorize your abbreviations.

When you are typing, PhraseExpander displays a little window with a list of suggestions and you can confirm the proper phrase pressing the Shift key.

So no need to memorize your abbreviations and no need to risk triggering them when you don't want to.

Leave a Comment



What is Help Scout?

Help Scout is simple help desk software that enables teams to deliver personalized customer service at scale.