Why we moved to email support with HelpScout

April 17th, 2013 – 56 Comments

When we started doing premium WordPress plugins, we also added a support forum to yoast.com. Many people liked this but I was, to be honest, skeptic. My experience with the WordPress.org forums are … Poor, at best. I just don’t think forums work very well, in large part because there is an ever continuing tendency for people to comment on someone else’s thread, saying they have the same issue, when in fact the two are entirely unrelated.

We gave it our best shot though, we used bbPress, combined it with several of Pippin’s fantastic plugins and used the EDD Product Support extension from the great guys at Webdevstudios. While these are all well built and stable plugins, I kept adding more plugins to fix tiny annoyances with bbPress, at some point I had 25 plugins running to make the forums “workable” for us.

Having support forums also meant forcing everyone to create an account at checkout. Something I found very disturbing myself and which lead to support issues on its own, with people not receiving emails or not being able to log in. We didn’t force them to make an account because it was easier for them, we thought it was easier for us. It wasn’t, but the entire premise was wrong there.

The alternative: HelpScout

At the same time, we also used HelpScout. Now if you’ve been following us on Twitter for a while, you might have seen me sing their praises. They have really changed the way I look at doing customer support and their blog continuously induces Thijs, who handles most of our support, and myself to, well, just do support better.

When comparing threads in the forums with threads in HelpScout, we found that people were happier when they got personalized email and we actually spent significantly less time answering questions through HelpScout than on the forums. And then came an even bigger improvement.

HelpScout Custom AppI’d been emailing with Nick Francis, the CEO there, from the very beginning since we started using HelpScout. He had mentioned they were going to do custom apps and I decided to chase them a bit on that. We got into the beta and within about an hour I had build a custom app that connects to Easy Digital Downloads and shows us, within the HelpScout interface, all the transactions for a user, their license keys, payment methods etc. It also has a button to check the payment at the payment provider and to re-send the purchase email for a purchase.

Where our average time per question had been 5 to 7 minutes, having all of our clients info easily at hand right in the HelpScout sidebar dropped that to 1.5 minutes. Forum threads were now taking more than 7 times longer and our client response times were much better on HelpScout. So we shut down the forums. We went through every thread and emailed every user with an answer, deleting threads one by one. Took us a couple of hours, but we’re very glad we did it.

You see, for us, HelpScout is an interface, for the client, it’s just email. No need for them to make an account to get support from us. That’s how it should be and that’s why we’re sticking with all email support. Would love to know what you all think!

Update Nov 18th 2014: HelpScout improves further

When we originally wrote this post, we used HelpScout “just” because of its email product. They introduced a couple of new features that we really should highlight here as well. Their docs product, which powers our knowledge base, is awesome, especially because of the tight integration with the email product. You can search for and insert docs links straight from the interface, allowing you to very easily point customers at the right support document.

With their enhanced reporting you can even see what people search for on your knowledge base that didn’t yield any results so you can keep improving the knowledge base. Next to that they added happiness reports, allowing us to keep tabs of how our customers rate our support:

HelpScout Happiness report


56 Responses to Why we moved to email support with HelpScout

  1. Robert Black
    By Robert Black on 17 May, 2013

    I prefer to do email support, it means I can directly answer that particular customer’s specific queries. In a forum post it’s easy to get sidetracked with other users butting in. I understand the point that a forum can become a “knowledge base”, what I do is regularly update my FAQ page based on the questions I get.

  2. Chris Prescott
    By Chris Prescott on 14 May, 2013

    I wanted to say, anytime I had a question, Yoast or his team always helped me with anything I needed in the past. After reading the last post about the future of SEO, All I can say that after following the directions and properly using the Yoast SEO plugin, I am number in my search que in my area via google. As a graphic designer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin… it’s like a needle in a haystack to be found! Thanks Yoast, and your team as well, I fully support and recommend your plugins to all my friends and clients.

  3. Peter Daly-Dickson
    By Peter Daly-Dickson on 13 May, 2013

    I used HelpScout for a while but got pee’d off with it… can’t really remember why now!

    I’ve subsequently switched to http://www.groovehq.com and it’s got exactly the feature set I’d been looking for all along.

    It’s ‘all email’ as far as the customer is concerned, though I found the app that we interact with to be better thought through than HelpScout.

    Their help widget and knowledge base area, together with automated rules makes it a killer app as far as I’m concerned.

    Just my 2¢! :)

  4. Tony Nguyen
    By Tony Nguyen on 12 May, 2013

    Hi Yoast,
    I totally agree with your view on this matter, I don’t really comment on any forum post as I have found that many spammers over-use forums as their marketing strategies. I used to be a moderator of a fashion forums before, it wasn’t that easy to moderate all of your members to follow the rules. Cheers

  5. Matt Fraser
    By Matt Fraser on 12 May, 2013

    I can see where you are coming from. I myself have a help desk with zen desk and find it over kill and confusing to learn how to use all of its functionality (and at the present moment, expensive) however, I’m with some of the others on here. Email can get quite confusing if you’re trying to find the email that was sent to you 4 days ago if you’re like me and receive a lot of email on a daily basis. As a user customer, it seems to me it is easier with a help desk as I have one central hub to login to and check my support ticket status whereas again, if I want to reply to the email/ticket after a few days than I have to dig through my email or open a new ticket or am I out to lunch? Please let me know as I’ve been thinking about switching to help scout for cost reasons.

  6. Yilmaz
    By Yilmaz on 10 May, 2013

    All you need to succeed in SEO is to have the right attitude and out look of things. It is not as hard as some people may tend to imagine. All you need is attitude and the rest will fall into place

  7. Phil
    By Phil on 9 May, 2013

    Sounds a good approach to me. I think you nailed it on the head when you highlighted the WordPress support forums. It’s funny though, a ‘nameless’ PHP software developer maintains forms and manages to use this to insult it’s members without ever resolving the issues. Maybe that is the way to go for the future….!!!!

  8. Ryan Bailey
    By Ryan Bailey on 7 May, 2013

    Forums are very much a double-edged sword. Sure, it’s a good thing for your brand if you can get users interacting with each other, helping each other out, etc. On the other hand it only takes one bad apple to start abusing other users and you might as well close the place down. Seen it happen way too often. These days I only do email support.

  9. Ajay Prasad
    By Ajay Prasad on 7 May, 2013

    Hi Simon,
    I have not yet started using Help Scout. But this looks good to me. Thanks alot for sharing this with your readers.

  10. TJ Greene
    By TJ Greene on 5 May, 2013

    I haven’t tried Help Scout before, but will after reading this post and all the comments. This looks like the perfect solution for some of our clients. The price is certainly right, if they deliver!

    Thanks for sharing this post and your EDD integration App, we’ll put them to good use.

    Best Regards,
    TJ Greene

  11. Felipe Kurpiel
    By Felipe Kurpiel on 2 May, 2013

    Well, I’ve never heard about HelpScout but it seems a really good alternative for customer support. I am considering try their free trial to see how it works.
    Thanks for tips!
    Take care!

  12. petre
    By petre on 1 May, 2013

    I agree about time wasting (for the admin) on forums, and the code bloat of trying to make things work well.

    Have you ever considered making an alternative publishing system, where only your best email requests get posted (by you) and only invited members get to join and comment?

  13. Talha Tayyub
    By Talha Tayyub on 30 April, 2013

    Email are best, easiest and professional way to communicate in my opinion it is the best way for user to contact the company for any purpose and issue.

  14. Mark Lewis
    By Mark Lewis on 30 April, 2013

    Just keep what you are doing man, you’ve saved me a LOT of headaches and this has been truly an awesome experience with you.

  15. Krishna Parmar
    By Krishna Parmar on 27 April, 2013

    I must say, emails are the must needed concept!

  16. CoffeeTime
    By CoffeeTime on 26 April, 2013

    Have used HelpScout for years – love it. Hate to get an email with a ticket no :-)

    I would like to see a HelpScout plugin for WooCommerce/Wordpress. Anyone?

  17. Jay
    By Jay on 26 April, 2013

    I just hope that service and support won’t be compromised now that all the support will be done through email. Some folks would prefer other means but I understand why you switched. As a client I also have experienced some of these changes with some of my services and it’s like 70% of the time their support has become awful and input for solutions or answers took longer than usual. I wish you success and best of luck with your new support system!

  18. Doreen Dickens
    By Doreen Dickens on 25 April, 2013

    Emails are here to stay and for a very long long time!.

  19. Charlie
    By Charlie on 24 April, 2013

    Didn’t you hear “email is dead.” ;)… I use to be a big fan of forums but often the discussion veers way off course. Comments and emails seem the best way to manage communication.

  20. Ben Sibley
    By Ben Sibley on 19 April, 2013

    Joost,

    I’ve been working on an app to solve the problems you talked about the last few months (linked in my name). It keeps the forum and ticketing process entirely within your customers dashboards, so they use their already made admin profiles, don’t have to leave their site, and the forum can’t be spammed.

    (Sorry to be so promotional, I just really think it could help people here)

  21. Kim
    By Kim on 19 April, 2013

    We’ve entirely switched to HelpScout last week for our 7 users.

    Things we like not mentioned above here:
    – merge conversations
    – tags (for stats report)
    – adding notes in a conversation for admins
    – Rapportive style info on user
    – right price

    Small things we would like to see:
    – assign tickets to more than 1 user
    – permalink to a reply in a conversation
    – prioritization of inbox (like stars in Gmail). They’re working on it apparently.
    – keyboard shortcuts for canned responses
    – smartphone app

  22. darren
    By darren on 18 April, 2013

    I agree forums have their pain points. But the big question I have after reading this is, “What about all your customers that you DIDN’T get support requests from because they found their answers on the forums?” That’s probably one of the hardest metrics to measure b/c you just don’t hear from those customers generally.

    So, maybe your time per support request has gone down, but have the number of support requests gone up?

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 18 April, 2013

      Slightly, but you might think that’s a hard metric to measure, it actually wasn’t. I was tracking all the pageviews and as users had to be logged in I knew exactly who saw what. There will be some more requests due to this, but because a lot of them need the same sort of answer, the HelpScout saved replies feature makes a reply take about 10 seconds.

      • darren
        By darren on 18 April, 2013

        Interesting. Once you build out your knowledge base you could also have those saved replies contain links to the knowledge base answer as well. What would be another cool addon to build in that case, is a way for support staff to post answers that DON’T have a knowledge base article to the knowledge base in the same place they make the reply ;)

  23. Louis
    By Louis on 18 April, 2013

    Right on.

    I’ve been selling software in one form or another since 2005. I’ve built a few products that have been supported via forum, and a few others that are only helpdesk/e-mail.

    Once a product gets big enough a forum can be beneficial for end users. But if the forum is mostly for support, and not for end users to interact with each other, its absolutely not worth it.

    My conclusion: use a forum to help customers interact with each other, not as a tool to handle support.

  24. Brad Vincent
    By Brad Vincent on 18 April, 2013

    We started using HelpScout recently, and this custom app you did is exactly what we need for our EDD integration.

    Are you releasing your custom app at all?

    • Steven Gliebe
      By Steven Gliebe on 18 April, 2013

      I’m interested in knowing that too.

      • Joost de Valk
        By Joost de Valk on 18 April, 2013

        I just might, since you’re #2 and #3 asking for it :)

        • Pippin
          By Pippin on 18 April, 2013

          While I don’t personally use HelpScout, I’d still love to see this released :D

        • Adam W. Warner
          By Adam W. Warner on 18 April, 2013

          Hi Yoast, please consider me #4 respectively:)

          We learned of HelpScout through your praises and those of other like Carl from Gravity Forms and since we moved there, we absolutely love it!

          As was mentioned above, we are utilizing EDD heavily and have a custom app on our Trello board, but if you will (pretty please) release yours in some way, we would be eternally grateful…

          …not that we’re not grateful for all you’ve done for the community already!

          p.s. With sugar on top? :)

  25. Kris K.
    By Kris K. on 18 April, 2013

    I’ve been an Aweber customer for quite a long time, but I would definitely would like to try this tool and see how would things turn out. And it’s good to know they have API too, nice!

  26. Alastair McDermott
    By Alastair McDermott on 18 April, 2013

    You are missing out on two of the big advantages of forums: having knowledgeable customers answer common queries, and having answers available publicly for users to search for issues related to their own. It would be great if there were some way to enable some of those advantages of forums…

    Regarding email support, did you trial ZenDesk as well? Is HelpScout a similar system? Sounds interesting.

    Love the process posts, keep ’em coming!

    • Carl Hancock
      By Carl Hancock on 18 April, 2013

      ZenDesk is that giant Swiss Army knife that is comically large. Something you’d never actually want to carry around or use as a pocket knife. HelpScout is a surgical scalpel.

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 18 April, 2013

      Alastair,

      even that is not exactly an advantage IMHO. Other SEO’s answering questions about my SEO plugins? Sorry but it’s more often than not an annoyance :)

  27. Jason Hobbs
    By Jason Hobbs on 17 April, 2013

    Yoast, any chance you will release the EDD – HelpScout app? I’ve wanted to transition the DynamikSkinStore which is run on EDD over from forum support to the email support, which makes me very interested in that plugin. :)

  28. Carl Hancock
    By Carl Hancock on 17 April, 2013

    We have been using HelpScout to manage Gravity Forms Priority Support and all Contact related form inquiries for a couple years now and LOVE it. We’ve considered switching to solutions such as ZenDesk, etc. but we find HelpScout is perfect for our needs. It’s not bloated with a bunch of crap we have no use for.

    Your spot on with support forums. They are a nightmare to manage, especially for a commercial product. A segment of the users love them, but I don’t think they fully understand the drawbacks.

    We will likely be moving all support to HelpScout down the road. Currently our non-Priority Support is handled via a forum.

    • Dave Lawlor
      By Dave Lawlor on 18 April, 2013

      Yes and as a customer of Gravity Forms when I have a quick question that I think should be easy to answer off support hours (usually middle of the night) I find virtually no answers because those quick answers aren’t published, which I now understand why.

    • Ünsal Korkmaz
      By Ünsal Korkmaz on 18 April, 2013

      I dont agree on e-mail support is better then forum or any public support system. I found solutons to my 99% of problems from google searches which is enough intelligent system to search something.
      I am one of your customer that have developer licensed version of gravity forms and i believe i used your premium support for only 3-4 times in 2+ years. This is that low just because of your support forums + documentation.

      I believe public support is necessary as much as e-mail support. I didnt use HelpScout system but when i watch their video, it just looked like a private forum that supporting opening new topic with e-mail to me.

      • Carl Hancock
        By Carl Hancock on 18 April, 2013

        You don’t see the forum support from our end. It’s a nightmare to manage. Customer inquiries via contact methods that utilize HelpScout are replied to much quicker and efficiently than the forums because it’s much easier to manage from a support stand point. Every single person in our company hates dealing with support via the forum.

        The users such as yourself that do receive value from the forum by finding answers to their questions without having to even ask are the vast minority. Trust me. The vast majority of users that need support don’t even bother searching the forum which is why there are so many threads asking the same thing. The average user doesn’t read.

        I fully get why you like the forums, but it’s simply not an efficient way to manage support for a large customer base.

      • Joost de Valk
        By Joost de Valk on 18 April, 2013

        Ünsal, I disagree. Our forums weren’t open to the public either and I have no intent of opening those up. We will be creating a bigger knowledge base though.

  29. Martijn Wiedijk
    By Martijn Wiedijk on 17 April, 2013

    The biggest downside for this method for me as a customer would be to miss a place where I can view all my previous tickets, and see the status of any currently open tickets. Of course I could put all the email communication in folders, but this would be less ideal.

    Overall the move to email-only support seems to make sense for you guys in this case, and as long as the customers are happy, that is all that matters in the end.

    • Hung Pham
      By Hung Pham on 18 April, 2013

      I am in the same side with Martijn. Most helpdesks now have email piping feature, that customers can email to support and those emails are converted to tickets too. So, while customers can use email as their preferred way, they can still login helpdesk to view old tickets.

      If email is the advantage of HelpScout, it’s not very clear for me.

      • Carl Hancock
        By Carl Hancock on 18 April, 2013

        Have you used many helpdesks? We support a large number of users. We produce one of (if not the) most successful commercial WordPress plugins on the market. We’ve evaluated countless helpdesks and they all seem to do far too much and are bloated with all sorts of crap we just don’t need OR are too confusing to even fully use.

        HelpScout is simple. Easy to use. Easy to manage. Easy for us to adminster. Easy for users to interact with us. Easy for users to get support. EASY.

        It’s everything those other helpdesks aren’t. No clutter. No bloat. No bullshit features we don’t want or need.

        We wouldn’t go back to any of those other helpdesks after using HelpScout.

        • Hung Pham
          By Hung Pham on 19 April, 2013

          I used OsTicket back to 2003 when we started. Then moved to Kayako and use it since there. I also evaluated some other helpdesk such as Cerberus, Vision, but still using Kayako.

          I agree that the above helpdesks might have many features that you don’t need all. But when comparing to HelpScout, they also have email piping feature, that your customers don’t need to login, to remember helpdesk address.

          On another hand, when using HelpScout, you will need to rely to a fully redundant email setup too, that costs a bit more than self-hosted. Because all conversations are based on email, if your mail server has trouble, your customers cannot contact you. With another helpdesk, customers still can login helpdesk and raise tickets meanwhile you fix your mail server issue.

          I guess all we want to do is the same: providing better support for customers, but I always prefer some sorts of backup. In this case, helpdesk URL is backup for email contact that HelpScout doesn’t have.

      • Joost de Valk
        By Joost de Valk on 18 April, 2013

        Except that it’s always cluttered with all sorts of nonsense from the helpdesk app, instead of being truly and fully just email. This is so much cleaner for the client.

    • Carl Hancock
      By Carl Hancock on 17 April, 2013

      HelpScout has an API. You could build that functionality if you wanted to. You could create a WordPress plugin that integrates with HelpScout to display tickets and even allow users to interact with them. We may do just that down the road.

  30. Ryan Hellyer
    By Ryan Hellyer on 17 April, 2013

    I recommend publishing a lot of your best email conversations somewhere. It’s nice to be able to see old support requests as you can often find the answer to your problem in there rather than having to ask a question.

  31. Dave Lawlor
    By Dave Lawlor on 17 April, 2013

    Though a lot of times I can find answers to common issues by seeing prior solutions in the forum, which would be the only downside I see to this approach.

  32. Chris Lema
    By Chris Lema on 17 April, 2013

    I agree with the logic and I think anything that brings your cost of support down while improving your reply time is great. That said, there’s something to be said for public knowledge and the harvesting of previous Q&A so that others can benefit from it. Are you thinking of publishing some of these, or creating KB articles or something, so that a public expression is also available?

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 17 April, 2013

      Hey Chris,

      we do have FAQs we try to keep up to date, not entirely happy with that “system” yet but we’re working on that. So yes we do acknowledge that public knowledge is a good idea :)

      • ryan
        By ryan on 18 April, 2013

        I think if you manage to place the knowledge back into the public, it’s a way better system that forums.

        Forums truly suck, I think most of the hopes in using them is that other users will help with the low level questions—but it just increases noise.

  33. Simon Vreeman
    By Simon Vreeman on 17 April, 2013

    Last week I started using Help Scout too. So far really happy with the results. Like you said. For the client it is just an email. That was for us the main reason to try Help Scout.


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