tech, simplified.


"Customer Support" brings to mind lines snaking out the doors post-holidays, hour long hold times when trying to change your phone plan, and the hundredth time you take an item in for repairs that just don't seem to last.

It doesn't have to be that way. Customer support is the best chance a company has to make personal connections with customers, the chance to answer questions, solve problems, make people happy, and at the same time learn how to improve your company's products and services.

It may not be easy, but it is worthwhile—and it doesn't have to be so hard. In our latest book, The Ultimate Guide to Customer Support, the Zapier team dives into what makes great customer support, the apps to make it simpler, how to solve problems before they happen, and more. And, it's free.

It's the book you need to read to learn how to do great customer support.


Rich text is the worst. It's great in theory—after all, it's often nice to add italics to text, link to websites, and break up longer pieces with headers, images, and quotes. But if you've ever copied formatted text from Word into WordPress, or opened a Pages document in Google Docs and lost all formatting, you'll be keenly aware that rich text is fragile and apt to break.

So, Markdown. It's a plain text syntax where you add asterisks and hashtags to text, and they're magically turned into the correct italics and headers when you export your file as a PDF or post it on your website. And since it's plain text, it works everywhere—even if an app doesn't support Markdown, it's still obvious what's what with the asterisks and hashtags.

It's how I format everything I write, in iA Writer and Kirby and on Zapier's blog. And it's the one syntax you should learn if you aren't writing in Markdown already.

This guide to getting started with Markdown should help.

It's the superpower hidden in your browser, the tool that'll let you see which typeface a website is set in, change any text, image, color, or anything else on the page, quickly download that app icon your browser's already saved, see how that page would look on mobile, and much more. It's called Inspect Element, and it's awesome.

Really. It seems like something only developers would need, but it's the most handy tool you're not yet using. I use it daily, typically to change my email or username in an app's interface before taking a screenshot. Here's how to use Inspect Element to change anything you see on the web—and perhaps teach yourself how to code HTML and CSS in the mean time.

Robots are here, sweeping floors and assembling cars and answering telephones for us. They're great at some jobs, especially those that are repetitive and data-centric, but they're terrible at others.

Especially customer support. Ever waited on the phone for hours while a robot reminds you that your call is important, or gotten an auto-reply to a support email that tells you everything you already knew but doesn't really solve your problem?

The problem is, we're giving robots the wrong job. Have them do customer research and figure out problems and automatically translate emails, and your robots will help you offer better, more personalized customer support.

Here's how teams from Trello to HubSpot use smart automation to do customer support better, without having a robot answer the phone.

You wouldn't refine your own sugar and buy a cow before opening an ice cream shop. You wouldn't start a power plant before designing a new home appliance. You wouldn't reinvent the wheel before building a self-driving car.

And you don't need to code you next app, either. All you need is a handful of apps, and Zapier to tie them together. Instead of prototyping and mocking up ideas, you'll have a working product in a day or less, even if you've never written a line of code in your life.

That's how Bart Buerman is making customized videos automatically, how the White House simplified their hiring process, how Christopher Drake disrupted car sales and Kollecto made art collecting approachable for anyone.

It's how you should build your next app and business, sans code. Here's how.

Customer support can be a terrible, thankless job, where you're taken for granted by teammates and abused by customers every day. Or, it can be one of the most important jobs in a company if you look at it the right way. It's your company's chance to put your best face forward, to solve customer's problems and make their day better, and learn what your customers truly want and how you can improve your products.

That's why Zapier does all-hands support. We have a dedicated support team, but then everyone from each other team takes a few hours out of their week to answer support tickets. It's consistently one of the biggest things that inspires new article ideas for our blog.

Here's an overview from our CEO, Wade Foster, on how it works.


Ever wondered what's really different about each of the dozens of different form apps, customer support tools, CRMs, and more? We've wondered the same at Zapier. There are dozens of reviews sites for the most popular Mac and mobile apps, but few focus on business web tools—the ones that actually matter when you're trying to find an app to simplify your work and help you make money.

Zapier supports over 500 different apps, and we often get asked what app would be the best for X, Y, and Z. Everyone knows there's a dozen apps that do X, but which one also does Y and Z? We decided to find out.

And so, over the past year, along with our detailed app roundup articles and Learning Center books, we've also published in-depth reviews of over 125 of the apps that work with Zapier. Each app review includes around 500 words on what that particular app does best, walking you through how the app works and the features that would make you want to pick this app over its competitors. There's also a list of each pricing plan, features, screenshots, and even a list of alternative apps so you can continue your exploration if that app doesn't quite seem like what you want.

They're app reviews that are focused, quick to read through, and help you easily compare the best apps in any category.

Then, if you already follow app review sites and want to be the first to know about the latest web app reviews we publish—sometimes an older app that's still interesting, othertimes a brand-new app that's just launched—be sure to subscribe to our Zapbook Reviews email update on the bottom of that page for a weekly email of the latest reviews and more.

Enjoy discovering the best apps to use in your work!

Looking for a tool to help your team provide customer support? After digging into dozens of different apps and writing an in-depth review of each one, we've rounded up the 20 best customer support apps that stood above the rest. You'll find apps that are focused just one emails, great tools to build a knowledge base, and advanced support software that bring chat, social messages, feature suggests and more together into one team inbox.

I've personally used 3 of the apps (Tender, Desk, and Help Scout) between various jobs, and yet there were still enough unique things in the other support tools to make each of them worth considering.

It's another one of our massive app reviews, and just might be the thing you need if you're looking for a new tool to support your customers.

You, Too, Can be Iron Man

Time sure can get away from you—and the best laid plans only are successful if you actually implement them. So somehow, in the busyness of the past year, I'd managed to completely forget to go back and re-publish the articles from my now-defunct Techinch Magazine.

A screenshot in an article that I'd contributed to just reminded me of the old content in Techinch Magazine—articles I'd loved, poured time into, and then forgot about long after I'd stopped selling the magazine.

So here, in its unedited form, is one of the articles that ran in the first issue of Techinch Magazine. It's dated, as 2-year old content is wont to be, and Google Glass has obviously failed to change the world—or even capture my own imagination. Still, though, it's a thought experiment about what tech could be, one that's perhaps more relevant today if you reference the Oculus Rift.


The computer of movies is here, today, thanks to Google Glass. It's going to change the world — but not in the ways the Glass site envisions today.

"We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters."
~slogan of The Founder's Fund

We're all using computer the wrong way. We're typing on keyboards — or tapping on glass — when we're supposed to be talking. We're looking at screens, when we're supposed to be looking around at the 3D holographic images around us.

That is, if the movies are correct. It's been a long time since laptops were futuristic; even tablets have been with us as long as Star Trek. We get excited over retina displays and thinner laptops, but eventually, the computer is supposed to disappear. But today's tech isn't even at Minority Report's level of see-though displays, much less the projection displays in Iron Man's workplace and his suit's heads-up display.

Instead, we're walking around with smartphones, and the best thing we can think of to do with them is Instagram and Twitter. Seriously?

It's not all gloom and doom though, and the future might be closer than we think.

It's already here, in fact, in bits and pieces.

With Your Head in the Cloud...

Take a closer look at that smartphone, and you'll find more cause for hope in the future than reason to fret that the future always seems to be coming but never here. Today's smartphones rival turn-of-the-century PCs in computing power, battery life, screen resolution, and almost everything else. But there's more: smartphones are starting to actually be smart, but they're getting those smarts in bits and pieces so we're not noticing the major shift.

First up, speech recognition. Remember the first time you talked to a computer, perhaps a voice answering system at a company you were calling for support? They never worked good. But gradually, they started to really work good. The first voice recognition I ever used that really worked good was Google's now-defunct 411 service, which in 2007 seemed amazing. Now, we're carrying around a voice recognition tools like Siri in our pockets, and it doesn't seem that amazing or surprising.

Siri may not seem terribly smart, but it's incredibly useful if only for random quick queries and the dictation feature throughout iOS. It works surprising well in most cases — close enough to typing exactly what I say that I'm often startled. And then I remember that we're living in the future.

Speech on its own won't do much, but add smarts to it and you've got something. Siri is smart to a degree, but not smart enough to be a full personal assistant that anticipates what you need. Google Now, on the other hand, is that smart. It'll tell you when you need to leave to get to your next meeting on time, what time you need to check in to not miss your flight, and when your packages should arrive. It's amazing — and brand-new to the iPhone in the Google Search app — and is perhaps the most futuristic seeming service today.

Google manages to make Google Now that smart by combing through your email and calendar, and the real smart part isn't on your phone, but rather on Google's servers. But of course, that's Siri's trick, too: its voice recognition is enabled by Apple's servers, and its smarts often come from Wolfram|Alpha. Now, imagine smarter servers: IBM's Jeopardy winning Watson computer is digging through databases to find cures for cancer, so perhaps a computer helping you create a new element isn't so impossibly futuristic. Even if the power comes from remote servers, it's still making our lives smarter, and bringing the future closer.

...and Some Futuristic Gadgets

We may still never know if the suit makes the man or if the man makes the suit. What we do know is that Tony Stark wouldn't be half as cool without his high tech gadgetry. That's what we really envy about him, truth be told.

And yet, even his hardware — aside from the suit itself — may also not be as far out of reach as we think. 3D projection screens in our offices might be something we'll never see outside of movies, but Minority Report-style gesture-based interfaces are absolute here. They're even mainstream already, thanks to Microsoft's Xbox Kinect, apps like Flutter for Mac, the Samsung Galaxy 4's Air Wave, and the upcoming Leap Motion device to let you control any screen with gestures. We might not be seeing them in real-world work experiences yet, but working with 3D models by waving your hand is a real possibility today.

And then, there's Google Glass. Easily dismissible as the latest hipster accessory, Glass could actually be the first glimpse of the possibility of immersive computing experiences we're used to in movies. Glass lets you overlay a UI on top of part of your vision; take that further, and you might be able to see a projected display around your whole workspace, even if we don't actually have a way to project displays the way Tony Stark does in his garage. We might not have the Iron Man suit, but Glass could be the first step towards having his suit's heads-up display — and more. (1)

Now Put it All Together.

So imagine Watson's smarts, combined with Google Now's knack for understanding your personal life and Siri's flair for spoken conversation. Throw in Kinect's gesture controls, and use those gestures and your voice to control the interface of a Glass-style heads-up display, and perhaps a 3D printer — another futuristic device that's actually here today. Now imagine what you could do with that.

Suddenly, Iron Man doesn't seem so far away. The tech part, that is; afraid we'll have to save jet packs for another day. But really, we're at an amazing point in history, one with tech that really seems futuristic even today when you really think about it.

The only limit is our imagination. After all, what would you actually do with such a system? Even geeks are struggling to find ways that Google Glass could be useful; perhaps we're all too used to thinking inside the box. Maybe Glass isn't useful today, per se, but surely a combination of Watson and Glass and Kinect could be incredibly useful for so much. That is, if we can think big enough to really put it to use, as Tony Stark would.

I should hope we'd find something better to do with it than, say, take pictures while skydiving. How about inventing new elements, or, you know, saving the world?

Originally published on July 1, 2013 in Techinch Magazine Issue 1.

  1. Heads-up displays aren't anything new; they're already in widespread use in avionics, and are even in some motorcycle helmets and luxury car windshields. Not quite Iron Man-level, by any stretch of the imagination, but still a start. Google Glass, though, by being wearable, takes the idea to a whole new level — much closer to something you could imagine Tony Stark using.

The Curious Case of the Slow, Tiny iPhone

Windows PCs are "known" to suffer from bitrot, an ailment where a computer over time becomes—real or perceived—slower and slower, typically as more software is installed. Every so often, perhaps once a year, faithful PC caretakers would backup their machines, reinstall Windows from scratch, and then reinstall just the software they needed. And with that arduous ritual complete, the PC would miraculously be healed—at least for the moment.

We're 8 years into the Post PC era, since the iPhone rocked onto the scene and promised us that computers would never have to be as difficult to use again. An app here, a notification there, and you'd rarely need to touch your PC again. A tiny supercomputer in your pocket could be your camera, your iPod, your GPS, your books and newspapers, your everything. Throw in a cell connection or Wifi, and you'd never lack for anything again.

Except for space, that is. As phones have come with ever-better cameras and larger Retina displays that require larger graphics to look nice, the standard storage space in base-model phones has been stuck at 16GB (or 8 for more budget phones) for years. iCloud every other online file storage service don't really alleviate the problem—they're simply another place to keep your files backed up, and except for rare cases (aka iCloud Photo Library when it works well) they don't offload your phone's own storage seamlessly. Apps aren't smart, either: Facebook and so many other apps will keep far too much in their app cache, holding onto images and more in case you want to see them even when your phone's running out of space.

And so, the longer you stick with the same phone—installing updates, downloading new apps, syncing streaming music for your flight, and snapping more pictures than ever—the more likely your phone is to run out of space. You could copy photos off, but that keeps you from being able to scroll back through years of photos as Apple likes to showcase in Keynotes. There's always an app to delete, but it's hard to let go and remove stuff you might want to use again.

Back on a PC, you'd just wipe everything and reinstall Windows every so often. Which is almost what I did to my iPhone 5 recently. Its 16GB of storage had been maxed out for too long, despite telling iCloud to optimize my local photo storage and deleting most of my downloaded music. It wasn't just that I couldn't download more stuff—it's that my phone got slower and slower that was so annoying. Apparently every time something needed storage, iOS tried to figure out what it could delete—and I was left waiting.

No longer. I could have deleted individual apps and deleted-then-reinstalled apps like Facebook to hard-clear their cache, but instead I took the nuclear option.

A quick trip to Settings -> General -> Reset -> Erase All Content and Settings, then setting up my phone as a new phone and installing only just what I had to have, and my phone was back to feeling snappy as iOS 8 would let it. It's still a several year old phone, but with some storage breathing room it's not a half-bad device.

But it's crazy it takes that. For all the promise of better cameras and more online storage and everything else annual keynotes promise, one of the original problems of tech is back to being an issue: storage space. That, of all things, shouldn't be what's holding smartphones back today. If Apple wants to celebrate the amazing apps in the App Store and the newest versions of iOS, it needs to make sure our devices have enough storage to handle them—whether through smart cloud services that offload files you rarely need to the cloud, or simply through adding far more storage to base models of iPhones.

There's an Apple announcement this week for what we presume will be called the iPhone 6S, and since I'm due for an update, I'll likely get it regardless of what new is added. I'll also likely spring for more storage space this time, simply because it's annoying to live with less. But even still, it's time to bump the storage levels—drastically. 16GB isn't nearly enough to get by with in 2015.

Until then, it's time to wipe your smart devices once a year again.