How I eliminated 100s of emails per month

When people ask me what I do for a living, I semi-jokingly respond “I answer emails.”

With a team of developers and a stack of clients, it's a fact of life that I'm going to have to deal with a fair amount of emails. Keeping clients informed of what's going on and making sure developers have what they need is a big part of my job. Email is the typical vehicle for getting that done. Ipso facto, I deal with a ton of emails. Since I deal with so much email on a regular basis, I'm constantly trying to find ways to eliminate emails. I wanted to share with you a few things I do that have drastically cut down the number of emails I deal with each month. Amazingly, both have to do with video. But I promise, both are dead simple.

Show me, don't tell me

Let me know if this sounds familiar; A client asks you to build something, you deliver it and explain how to use it. A month later they email you asking you how to do it again. Rinse, repeat.

Back in 2007, I first wrote about a tool I was using called Jing. Up until 18 months ago, I could say that I used Jing pretty much every day. I no longer use Jing, but have switched to using SnagIt, which just so happens to be made by the same awesome people who make Jing.

Why SnagIt?

I've used a number of screen capture tools, and I find that SnagIt hits the sweet spot for me. It has enough features to do what I need, without being overly complicated. I love Camtasia, but for my day-to-day use, it's far more than I need. SnagIt makes it simple to shoot a quick video with voice over and then either upload it to their paid service, which automatically copies the URL to your clipboard, or you can save the video and upload it to youtube/vimeo/etc. There are options to auto-upload the videos to youtube and other 3rd party services, but I honestly haven't had need to use that functionality, so I haven't played too much with it.

I use SnagIt in a number of ways;

1. When a client calls and explains a change they need made, if the change is visual, I'll load up the client's website and then use SnagIt to walk through and explain what the client needs done. I can then take the URL send it to the client to have them confirm that what I've explained in the video is what they are looking for. This eliminates both a series of emails trying to describe a visual change via text, and, stops us from doing double work trying to guess exactly what the client is looking for.

2. When we complete a project for a client, if we had to build any custom functionality, we'll use SnagIt to record a walk-through video for the client showing them how the functionality works. This is also handy for new sites where the home page is managed with widgets or custom content areas. Creating a 5 minute walk through video will take you far less time than trying to create a PDF document with screenshots, etc. I'll talk more about how I typically deliver these training videos to clients in just a sec.

3. We have a number of WordPress plugins that we work on as a team. As we are working on new functionality, I will often be the QA tester. If I run in to any bugs, SnagIt to the rescue. I'll talk a quick walk through video and show the developer exactly what is wrong. They're able to see the exact chain of events I went through to produce the error and see any error messages that may pop up along the way. Again, this is so much quicker than trying to write it up and explain it.

In the palm of their hands

Early this year I had a string of clients who were all brand new to WordPress. I ended up spending more time than I care to admit providing one-on-one training over the phone or on Skype. While I don't mind doing one-on-one training, I don't think it's worth my time or the client's money for me to be on a call explaining how to write a post in WordPress. That type of information has been covered a thousand times over! What I needed was a delivery mechanism. I found exactly what I was looking for in WP101.

video-dashboardWP101 has a series of videos that explain the basics of using WordPress. They make those videos available either on their site, or through a WordPress plugin. We subscribe to the plugin and install it on our client's sites as we finish them up. Now, the client has a simple way to learn more about WordPress from right inside their WordPress dashboard.

In the screenshot you'll see the standard videos that WP101 provides, plus the custom videos that we shoot. Since our client videos can sometimes contain private information, we use a Vimeo Pro account and mark the videos as hidden from Vimeo, and set them to only be viewable from the client's URL. We then grab the embed code and add it to WP101. Now the client has all the automatically updated videos from WP101, plus the site-specific videos that we shot for them in one spot that's easy for them to find and watch again and again.

By providing our clients with the WP101 videos plus the custom videos we shoot, we've seen a dramatic drop in emails asking how to work inside WordPress. I consider this a huge win for both of us.