We try a bunch of different tools at Hubstaff. As a continually evolving business, we think it’s important that the tools we use continue to grow with us. That means that when we decide to adopt a tool into our repertoire it’s because we believe in it.

When we’re talking to people about what products we’re using and why we use them to run our business, we factor in all the trial and error that we went through to get to that point. When we recommend something, it’s because it’s had a positive outcome for our business (see how we grew to $20k MRR with the help of 4 tools).

It took us some time to find the right combination in a customer support software. It’s a pretty major part of our business and we wanted to make sure we got it right. We’ve settled nicely into Intercom, but we hopped around a lot before finding our way here. Now that we have we feel pretty lucky, because even though we started our Intercom journey thinking about customer support, we ended up finding a lot more along the way.

Intercom: The Big Win

Intercom is a user intelligence and behavioral targeting application. What does that mean? It means, it lets you better understand and make the most out of your customer communication. I could spend a lot of time talking about all the details of Intercom, but I think the graphic on their home page says it best.

This graphic pretty much sums up exactly what Intercom did for us. It replaced several tools and put everything we needed in one beautifully organized interface.

Before I get to the nitty gritty, I’ll give some context about how we wound up Intercom devotees. Before we started using Intercom we used Desk.com and Mailchimp. Our experience wasn’t necessarily bad. Both tools worked pretty well. They did what they were supposed to do, but we paid two different monthly subscriptions. In addition, we were using both tools at about 10% percent, meaning we were just scratching the surface on what these products were capable of. Why? Because we didn’t need it. For our business, we needed pieces of each product but not all of either. We wanted to be able to communicate with our customers and we wanted everything in one place. No matter how great the tool, having to go to two different places overcomplicated the situation and made us suffer in both areas.

Why Desk.com didn’t work for us:

(*Disclaimer: this is based solely on our experience at the time we used it. We can’t speak to the current product or any changes that have been made.)

We landed on Desk.com through word-of-mouth. It was a well-known brand and we’d heard good things. Getting started was clunky. There were a lot of things going on and a lot of clicking. To accomplish anything, you ended up clicking back and forth, a lot. Also, the interface looked bad, just bad. Personalizing the public facing, help desk component meant racking up additional charges. We already felt like we were being held hostage by the monthly fees. It seemed like the ball would start to deflate every time we thought we were getting it rolling. There was a lot of confusion about setting up chat functionality. To make matters worse, there seemed to be a complete lack of in-app help, no tab or widget to easily solve problems as we came across them.

When we signed up, we decided to go with the flex agent program, which charged for every fifteen minutes. What happened was this: we would log in to get to the support questions and then log out to do research. When we were using the product, the minutes constantly weighed on us.

How we use Intercom:

Everything in Intercom happens on the same screen. It’s simple. It’s clean. It’s easy to understand. There’s a lot of functionality, but it’s presented in a way that’s easy to digest.

With Intercom we pay $120/month. It’s a little pricier than Desk.com, which may seem confusing, but remember we were also paying for Mailchimp. The Intercom payment structure is more conducive for us as well. Since it’s based on the number of active users, you feel like you’re paying based on success.

Getting started with Intercom is seamless. You can be up and running in five minutes or less. There is even a Ruby Gem for simplified app install.

It didn’t take us a long time to figure out how to use the product or to get our staff up and running with it. All you have to do is import existing contacts with a CSV and then set it to automatically update with new users. Just a tiny strip of code and you never have to worry about importing again. It’s almost 2015, why e-mail clients still make you manually update is beyond us.

Customer Support Software

Customer support is one of the major activities we manage with Intercom. It’s replaced all other customer support software. The second we log in, right in the header, the “conversations” tab tells us how many support tickets are currently open. By clicking on that tab we can see each item that needs attention and who is currently assigned to it. Anyone who logs in to address the issue gets a snapshot of the user: where they are, their company, what their last activities were. It saves a ton of time.

Think about the last time you called a customer service desk with an issue. They probably had you walk them through the entire process you took before you had the issue. Odds are they couldn’t figure it out and they transferred you to someone else, who had you repeat the process. That doesn’t happen with Intercom. You can see everything on your screen, including conversations customers have had with other members of your team. There is no need to waste time getting the same information from users again and again. Solving support questions quickly is better for you and better for your customers.

Everyone on our team uses Intercom every day. Once, when our DNS provider was being attacked we wanted to alert customers right away. We were able to easily disseminate the information to users through Intercom and nobody had a problem.

E-mail Automation

E-mail is one of the most strategic forms of communication that any business utilizes but getting users to open your e-mails can be challenging. People are conditioned to glaze over brand e-mails, because businesses send a lot of e-mails that aren’t relevant to their customers.

Every interaction you have with a customer is important, which is why we only e-mail our customers when we think it matters. To do this, we rely on e-mail automation based on actions users take while using Hubstaff. Notice, we’ve sent two different “Session 1” e-mails, filtered by those who are users (filtered by owned_organizations = 0) and those who are owners (filtered by owned_organizations > 0).

Recently, we did two different webinars at Hubstaff. Using Intercom we can see the users that engaged with those e-mails and the difference in campaign success rates. Open rates, replies, and unsubscribes are easy to follow along with. You can see, we compare the success of these e-mails and dig deeper, by clicking an individual campaign and searching by user.

Since switching to Intercom we have seen an improvement in the effectiveness of our e-mail campaigns. Engaging users by events lets people who are using our product get information that is valuable to them. In turn, they become better advocates for our product. We aren’t missing any of the fancy-shmancy e-mail marketing that you get from Mailchimp. With Intercom we can still A/B test different messaging and choose to do in app vs. e-mail messaging. What matters to us is targeted, effective communication, forget flowery language and pretty pictures.

User Data

Probably one of the most exciting features about Intercom is that we can capture the right kind of data on our users. Data is king, if you know how to use it. We use Intercom to find out what our users are searching for and what actions they take within the app. From there we gather insights, most importantly, where we are falling short.

For example, if we want to save customers that are slipping away we can populate the screen with all the users who haven’t been seen in a certain period. Say for us that period is between 30 and 50 days. If someone has logged in during the past month we still consider them active users. We consider it a lost cause if they’ve been gone for more than 50 days. That means we have this 20 day sweet spot to convert a customer or get feedback on why they aren’t engaging with the product. Intercom makes it easy to find these individuals, dive into their profiles and send them personalized messages.

Another user category we want to capture is active, paying customers. To do this, I filter by the last time they logged in and number of owned organizations. This tells me that 739 people are actively using our product. Since I know we have about 700 paying customers, I can infer that everyone who is currently subscribed is engaging with the product, which is exactly what we want. It also tells me that we have about 30 people currently on a free trial who are logging in and getting a feel for Hubstaff. These are individuals that I will want to follow up with.

If I want to know more about any specific user I can click on their profile. From here I get a snapshot of where in the world they are, I can even follow them on Twitter, look at their past support tickets, etc. By putting a face to our users, we are able to get a better understanding of our own product and what functionality is essential for success. We can create smart, targeted marketing that gets results and hopefully convert those 30 trial users into loyal customers.

The data we gather from Intercom allows us to improve our conversion funnel and create a better dialog between us and our clients.

An Evolving Product

Although the functionality we’ve outlined should be proof enough that Intercom is awesome, another reason we really like it is because they think about tools the way we do. They understand that the tools you use should evolve with your business.

Since we started using Intercom, they’ve taken a huge interest in how we use their product, you can read about our growth since using Intercom on Intercom’s blog. We’ve worked with them to help fix bugs in their Ruby on Rails gem and have actively pushed for different features. All of this makes us feel good about using the product and confident that we will be able to continue to utilize it as our company grows.

Intercom may not be for you if

As much as we love Intercom, we understand that it may not be for everyone. Here are a few reasons that you might not have success with the product:

  • You have a large support desk
  • You’re very enterprise-oriented
  • You have a service license agreement and need access to metrics (i.e. average response time)
  • You work in an industry that demands immediate attention
  • You have over 100 employees

If the above doesn’t apply to you, take the jump.