Thursday, 1 February 2018

Poorly Documented Feature: Canned Responses in Delegated Accounts (Gmail)

It's no secret. We love Gmail. However, sometimes, there are features that don't get used much that are absolute "killer" features - but it turns out they're not always well documented.

A common scenario is creating generic "role based" accounts that receive large volumes of mail, and to then delegate access to this mailbox to several individuals to deal with the responses.

Of course, a lot of incoming emails means a lot of outgoing responses (often the exact same thing hundreds of times), and there's a really handy feature, Canned Responses, in Labs that makes this a pleasure.
Labs Canned Responses.
Thank you Googler Chad P,
bulk email responders LOVE you.
However, if you switch across to a delegated account, shock, horror!
No Labs!
Does that mean no canned responses in delegated accounts? No it does not (phew)...


Of course, the secret is a little lateral thinking; my colleague clearly got the caffeine hit before I did, because he suggested this first. If you log into the main account you want to delegate (i.e. sign in as the delegated account), you can enable the Canned Responses Gmail Labs feature there, and set up your desired Canned Response(s) - and those will then be available to the delegate user(s) of that account too. Yay!

You may need to clear all your browser cache and cookies and/or restart Chrome if something doesn't show up in the "delegatee's" Gmail account (particularly if, despite accepting the delegation, the option to switch context to the delegated account never shows up), but once that's done, it works well, and the person (or people) handling what might amount to hundreds of requests for information will be able to answer them accurately and in detail with just four or five clicks. Of course, for some incredibly high traffic addresses, an autoresponder with the required information may be better, but most people like a "personal touch"!

If that's not clear, if you've set up say scholarships@myschool.com, and you want j.randomuser@myschool.com to deal with that mail, the delegated account is scholarships@ and the "delegatee" is j.randomuser@.

One more "trick" - you can't have an attachment as part of a canned response, yet canned responses often require "attached" documentation in response to a query. The solution there, of course, is to hyperlink to one or more files stored on a website, or in Google Drive with the correct sharing permissions ("anyone with the link can view" or "public on the web" are probably good options, depending on the confidentiality of the information - likely low in this situation).
I usually feel it's worth using a URL shortener, even if you're simply using hyperlinks on words like "fill in the application form" - I usually use goo.gl to stay within one ecosystem, as Drive links are usually incredibly long. It may also be worth using a Team Drive to store such documentation, notably to ensure less "link rot" as staff change.

This also means that the "line manager" of the role based account (who should be the one that has the login credentials) can decree exactly what the canned responses should be.

Delegation is a better bet than sharing credentials, and I'm a firm believer that on the whole, email aliases are evil (loss of institutional knowledge and hand-overs can be a messy thing), and real role-based accounts are the right solution to "role based" email addresses. With Delegation, you have accountability and the ability to have several people share a job role without complications - and whilst still allowing sane use of 2FA.

Happy bulk email operations!

Further reading:
Mail Delegation
Enabling Mail Delegation in GSuite
Enable Gmail Labs (GSuite)
Team Drive

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