Help for your helpdesk: Using Quick Steps for canned replies in Outlook

Sometimes all you need to do when you get an email message in Microsoft Outlook is reply with a canned response. For example, let’s say that you are working as the helpdesk person for a small software company. You use Outlook and you would like to be able to reply to incoming customer emails by selecting a standard response from a set of possible template responses. Should you shell out money from your limited budget to buy additional software for doing this? Or is there some feature you don’t know about that’s already present in Outlook that you can use to do this? Keep your money, because Quick Steps can help you do this — and do it quickly and easily, as Paul, a reader of our popular weekly newsletter WServerNews demonstrated for me.

Quick Steps feature is included in Microsoft Outlook 2010 and above that makes repetitive tasks easy, allowing you to automate many tasks you perform in Outlook with a single mouse click or shortcut key combination. Quick Steps is hidden away in plain sight on the Home tab of Microsoft Outlook, and if you’ve never used it before it’s definitely worth exploring. “I already use Quick Steps for organizing my emails,” says Paul who works in IT support for an Australian company, “so it seems like a good option to consider for sending template emails.”

Quick Steps, step-by-step

Paul recently showed me step-by-step how he uses Quick Steps to handle the flood of helpdesk emails he has to deal with. (I’ve expanded and edited Paul’s tutorial for additional clarity.) “You start by opening the Quick Steps dialog box from the Home ribbon by clicking on Create New in the Quick Steps gallery”:

Step 1 of using Quick Steps

“The next step is to give your new Quick Step a suitable name. For example, in this tutorial, I named my previously created canned answer ‘Canned answer 1’ as you can see in the above screen capture. Next, select to drop down the actions list where it says Choose an Action:

Step 2 of using Quick Steps

“Scroll down the action list to view the available actions that can be performed when your new quick step item is clicked on in the ribbon. Then select Reply from the available actions”:

Step 3 of using Quick Steps

“Then in the above screen capture, click on the Show Options hyperlink that appears just below the Reply action you selected. The Edit Quick Step dialog will now display some additional settings you can configure for your new quick step item. This is where you can create your canned response for incoming emails you receive. Simply enter the required response text in the Text box as shown below, and everything else in the dialog box can be left as-is”:

“You’re almost done. Just click Finish. You will now have a new quick step item on the Home tab of your ribbon and having the name you chose which in this example is ‘Canned answer 2’ as shown here”:

Step 5 of using Quick Steps

Using it for incoming mail

“Now let’s look at how you can use your new quick step to respond to incoming email messages using a canned response. Simply highlight any email you received in Outlook and click your new quick-step item. A new compose email message window will launch with your chosen text already entered in the body of the message as your reply to the sender:

“Note that clicking your quick step item will not automatically send this reply mail (though with the current settings this could be added) and I like the fact that the mail can be inspected or adjusted before sending, for example by adding an additional personal message to the canned response.”

Paul then continued his explanation with a few additional helpful comments and discusses what still might be needed for enhancing this useful feature of Outlook. “Any new quick step items you add are ordered first in the Quick Steps selection list on your Home tab, but this order can be customized if you want by using the Manage Quick Steps dialog which is opened by clicking on the small diagonal arrow in the bottom right corner of the Quick Steps ribbon item. Even then however, I would imagine that if you need to create a lot of different canned replies, or if their names are rather longish, you would rapidly run out of display space in the Quick Steps ribbon item and will have to scroll through the list of your quick steps to find and click on the one you want to use. Getting these quick step items out of the Quick Steps ribbon item on the Home tab and onto a custom ribbon button would be a nice next step. But I haven’t yet figured out how to break out the individual quick steps to buttons, although it was fairly trivial to create a new custom ribbon bar with just the quick step section on it (both of which I could rename), and show all the quickstep items as a drop-down”:

“All without even touching any code,” says Paul. “I’d guess that with a little VBA it should be quite easy to get at the individual quick steps, and make them into buttons. Alternatively, the same drop down can be added to the Quick Access Toolbar which might be a bit more convenient than having it on a ribbon, custom or otherwise”:

Step 8 of using Quick Steps

“Quick steps seems to fairly well provide what small helpdesks might need,” says Paul, who has found this Outlook feature invaluable in making his helpdesk and support work easier.

Learn more about Quick Steps

Most users who use Outlook and other standard Microsoft Office programs like Word, Excel, or PowerPoint have rarely explored more than 10 or 20 percent of the numerous options and settings available on the Ribbon. Small businesses especially have limited budgets for training users, and automating tasks like employing template responses to customer emails can help maximize their profits by saving valuable time. Many small businesses today rely upon Microsoft Office and/or Office 365 for productivity tasks, so learning how to use a feature like Quick Steps can help increase the efficiency of your business. For more on how using Quick Steps can improve your productivity see this recent blog post on The Electric Wand, which shares weekly tips from the “Tip o’ the Week” email distribution inside Microsoft.

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