Help Scout: Professional Email With A Personal Touch

It’s that dreaded word in any small development team: support. Anyone with a love for software design or development probably doesn’t have a great love for customer relations. They feel more at home pushing pixels in Photoshop or writing code in a text editor. They’re familiar with email, sure: email’s ubiquitous, it’s simple, and any self-respecting geek understands email.

So what if your support system was based in email. Email, with a little extra umph. That’s what Help Scout promises to be. Leveraging email and the true ubiquity of it, Help Scout adds in layers that aid with specific tasks that small support teams face each and every day. Let’s take a look at how Help Scout works.

Features

Alright, so just what does Help Scout do? What does it provide that simple email alone doesn’t offer? Well, interestingly enough, it offers a lot. But not too much. I guess you could say it presents you with just enough power to be beneficial, but not too much complexity that it’s confusing.

Customer Info

The holy grail for any business is customer information. For years it was limited to simple things, your gender, perhaps your address, that’s about it. But we live in a Web 2.0 world. People share all sorts of information these days, and they’re far more connected than they ever have been before. Help Scout integrates into prominent social networking APIs and cultivates that information, attaching it to support claims made by the individual.

Contact Information in Help Scout

Contact Information in Help Scout - Via Help Scout

When I first saw this sort of thing, I was a little worried. I’m not super sensitive when it comes to my privacy, but a company I don’t necessarily trust having access to this information made me just a touch queasy. I was able to get in touch with one of the co-founders of Help Scout. He reassured me that the information that Help Scout collects is strictly public information. They just make use of different platform’s APIs to present it within Help Scout.

Ok, so it’s not as scary as I might have initially thought. But it still stands as yet another reminder that anything on the Web is inherently public.

Collaboration

The biggest problem that a support team runs into when they try using simply email as their sole means of customer support is collaboration and delegation. As soon as you grow to having more than one support person, you run into complications. Help Scout remedies this.

Ticket Delegation in Help Scout

Ticket Delegation in Help Scout - Via Help Scout

Now, using what looks like normal email communications to the user, you can assign and monitor support requests. That’s a big deal when you’re dealing with a flood of support. Instead of each person wading through the overwhelming number of requests, one person can be in charge of sifting through and delegating to the rest of the team. It’s really an efficient workflow, and Help Scout is designed to support that.

Beyond just delegation, Help Scout takes advantage of its web app roots, and offers visual notification that someone else is working on the same ticket. This is important, because this isn’t Google Docs-style collaboration, you don’t watch some type live, over the Web, and you can’t collaborate on the same reply. But, this really helps to decrease the chances of duplicate emails and replies being sent to users.

Real-time Collaboration Notifications

Real-time Collaboration Notifications

Web App Interface

Considering it is a web app – and this is Web.AppStorm – I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the web apps interface.

Help Scout's Main UI

Help Scout's Main UI

Help Scout has a native-esque aesthetic, with fixed-position toolbars, a two column layout, and extensive AJAX effects. I think the UI isn’t anything revolutionary, but I do think it’s well suited to the needs of its users. It mimics many an email clients layout, with an inbox view on the right, and navigation on the left and across the top. The AJAX too is used to great effect, nothing over-the-top, but enough that keeps the app feeling responsive.

An All Email Workflow

The really killer feature for Help Scout though isn’t an AJAXy UI, or social network integration. It’s something a little more “old school” – well, if you can call email “old school”. Help Scout fits into anyone’s workflow. And I truly do mean anyone. Because you can do everything we’ve talked about so far from within their email app of choice.

Email Integration

Email Integration - Via Help Scout

Through a series of special keywords at the start of your email reply you can delegate an note, change the ticket’s status, add a note to the ticket, or simply just reply to the user. Help Scout has a page that walks through this workflow in more detail. If it’s piqued your curiosity, I highly suggest you check out that page.

Wrap Up

So that’s Help Scout. It’s a no-nonsense, email-integrated support system. I think it has a huge potential market in small business, especially independent development shops and tech startups. They provide a more powerful solution than email alone could, but don’t get carried away. In a lot of ways you could say it is email, just done a little better.


Summary

Help Scout is an email-based support system for small businesses.

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