Interview: Meet the Help Scout Team

Sometimes it seems that it’s easier to create an awesome product than it is to efficiently support your customers. Your customers issues can range from simple issues to major problems that your whole team will need to resolve. If you simply rely on a forum or a default inbox, it’s easy to overlook issues and fail to get back with your customers.

Recently, Zach wrote up a detailed review of one of the newer support tools online that’s designed to solve this problem: Help Scout. Help Scout is a support web app that’s built entirely around email, making it incredibly easy to manage your tickets from your favorite email app or their beautifully designed web app.

Today, we’re excited to share an with you our exclusive interview with the Help Scout team. They’ve shared with us their passion for support and email, their favorite apps, and the things that motivate their team. After the break, we have a dozen questions with their thoughtful answers about their company and the market in general.

Tell us a bit about your team. Where are you located, and what motivates you as a team?

The three of us are in the process of moving from Nashville to Boston. We were part of the 2011 TechStars Boston program and fell in love with this town and the startup scene here. It’s crucial for startups to be surrounded by a supportive ecosystem of other entrepreneurs and web-based companies like we have in Boston.

We are motivated by our customers. We love small businesses and building a product that helps them deliver outstanding service. Making customers happy keeps us all driven to do great work.

The Help Scout Team: From left to right, Nick Francis, Denny Swindle, Jared McDaniel, and summer intern Tyler McClure

Where did the idea for Help Scout come from?

We’re scratching our own itch with Help Scout. We have nearly 200,000 active customers on now and wanted a better way to do email support without all the help desk headaches. We thought about the problem for two years and tried every product available before deciding to build Help Scout.

There are so many apps for customer support: Zendesk, Assistly, Tender, and more. What makes Help Scout unique, and how would you differentiate it from your competitors?

Help desks are good tools for large businesses that depend heavily on community and self-service support, but they are complex to setup and use. Most importantly, the email ticketing support is really basic.

We’re big fans of focusing on one thing and trying to be the best in the world at it. For us, it’s collaborative, team-friendly email that feels personal to the customer. That’s a big enough problem in itself; we don’t have to bundle it with 50 other features. Every small and medium-size business depends on email for most of their customer support, so we can build a great business if we execute that single thing really well.

Why did you decide to focus on a web app?

Adding a layer of features on top of email can be really challenging and fragmented if you depend on client and browser plug-ins. By building the product around a web app, we don’t depend on any third parties for our stuff to work. The web app gives us a great platform to add a layer of features on top of email and make it more collaborative.

Do you plan to make native apps for other platforms in the future? Or are email clients enough?

What I love about Help Scout’s email notifications is that you can use the product from ANY native email client … Outlook, iPhone, Gmail … whatever, without logging in. We make Help Scout native to email, so it works in your client of choice. Our customers seem to love it, too. We’ve sent over 1m email notifications since launching 2 months ago.

Why email? So many have tried to replace email, only to fail. What’s made email so successful in your opinion?

Companies fail trying to replace email instead of embracing it. Google Wave is a great example … awesome application, but you aren’t going to replace a ubiquitous technology like email. Successful startups understand how to embrace and enhance email, which is what we’re doing.

What’s the trickiest thing about working with email? Formatting? Encoding? Spam?

Our other product Feed My Inbox sends over 3m emails every month, so we’ve learned what it takes to scale and deal with spam. Our biggest challenge right now is making emails look and feel personal (without ticket numbers and such), but still tracking threads properly. Tracking an email thread across every email client can be tricky. We’ll get there though, because it’s a really important thing to get right.

Help Scout has a beautiful UI for a business tool. Where do you get your design inspiration?

My co-founder Jared McDaniel deserves every bit of credit for the UI. He works tirelessly, iterating and improving beyond what anyone else would consider acceptable, with pixel-level detail. We’re all inspired by other web apps, but I think he gets a lot of inspiration from print design as well. He’s an excellent print designer, so he brings a level of layering and visual polish to the web that I’ve seen very few people pull off. We’re lucky to have him.

Help Scout's beautiful UI

Could you share anything about upcoming features or what you’re working on next?

We still have some basics to add in, such as reporting, tagging and some sort of rules to better sort incoming emails. But we’re not going to start competing on features with help desks. We have plenty of exciting stuff to keep us busy staying focused on a great email experience for teams.

Tell us a bit about your workflow. What apps do you find indispensable?

Some of our favorites are Dropbox for file sharing, Performable (now part of HubSpot) for event tracking/analytics, AgileZen for product development, Wistia for video, Campaign Monitor for email marketing, Campfire for group chat and HootSuite for social media monitoring.

The TechStars office in Boston: Help Scout's new home for the next few months

Simple apps that focus on doing one task good, or rich apps with zillions of features? Which do you prefer, and why?

Not surprisingly, we’re big fans of apps that do one or two things well, then can be enhanced or integrated with other products using an API. This is definitely the direction we’re taking with Help Scout.

With social networking and the explosion of mobile apps, do you think the world of customer support has changed? What do you think it will be like a decade from now?

Customer service has fundamentally changed because word of mouth is so much more prevalent. When your company screws up, the customer will tell 10 or more people about the bad experience, which adds up to $86 billion in lost revenues for companies every year.

Since word of mouth is a company’s most effective marketing tool today, high-touch customer service is essential. Every email from a customer is an opportunity to WOW them and earn their business all over again, because they will tell people they know. No company is exempt. You could be Fortune 500 or a two-person operation; in both cases, customers expect a great experience and value them with their hard-earned dollars.

Clearly, we built Help Scout so companies can deliver WOW every time on the web with their customers. Mass marketing and and half-baked support died last century. It’s all personal now and the ROI of great service is astounding.

Thanks, Help Scout Team!

We’d like to extend a special thanks to the Help Scout team and especially Nick Francis for his time in arranging the interview. It’s always neat to get a peek into how other teams work, and the things they value in apps. I’m originally from Knoxville, TN, so it’s awesome the Help Scout team is from Nashville, too! They’re determined to make the best email support app they can, and we wish them the best in their upcoming move!

If you haven’t already tried out Help Scout, be sure to check it out. It’s a great way to keep your customers supported in a more efficient way, right from your favorite email app.