HelpScout Free Plan Review

Today I’m writing about HelpScout. If you haven’t tried already, you can go there and setup a free account. You’ll be surprised of how much it resembles your inbox.

In my previous post I wrote about Desk.com. What I liked the most was the configurability of languages, assuming you are in the need for a multilingual support, and the wide range of options you have to set up your workflow. HelpScout goes in another direction.

At Exelab we were looking for a way to streamline communication with our clients. Too often it happens to receive support emails and to reply to them without carbon-copying anyone in the team. Ours is a small team, with very intense communication between us (even if we are a distributed), so using an help desk software always seemed to be an over sized approach. We know tools can stand in your way very easily, furthermore we always thought helpdesk software is perfect when you have a product, while less suitable when you are doing just consulting. Add to this the fact that most helpdesk software bill you per agent and you’ll have the full picture of why we didn’t use any of those before.

Recently we started to rearrange our internal workflow, in order to make it easier to deal with clients (and for clients to deal with us). Se we decided to give a second shot to someone of those tools. We heard good things of HelpScout and this is how it all started. We signed up for a free plan and started to play with it. To go straight to the point I think HelpScout is the best option around for our setup.

I was really impressed of who much it resembles a webmail.

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I love the way they arranged navigation on the page. It’s simple and focuses on the important things. You can’t get lost. I don’t remember the onboarding to be invasive (I don’t remember it at all actually), yet I was able to find everything I needed very quickly.

HelpScout is a hub for your team’s email communication. It’s like being altogether using the same email account in front of the same computer, with the addition of a few useful tools: you can assign tickets to other team members, mark a conversation with four states (open, pending, closed, spam), you add tags.

You configure an email address to receive inbound messages (you need to have that email account working separately) and you are done. You start talking to your clients through HelpScout right away.

Customer records are automatically created from incoming messages. A little form allows you to create customer records if you want to write to someone who doesn’t exist yet in your database.

One thing I didn’t like about Desk.com was this step of creating customers. It’s distracting, you are presented with an endless list of input fields, of which you just need first name, last name and email. It never happened to me to input anything else in Desk.com. Of course it depends on the kind of helpdesk you are working on. The more complete the tool is, the more options you have to deal with, which makes the tool less pleasant to work with, unless it’s designed extremely well.

With HelpScout you experience the complete opposite. The options you are presented with are just those you need. This makes the whole experience smooth and effortless.

Another winning point in HelpScout is that you can edit inbound messages. When we started to use it, we setup a dedicated email account for it (support). Clients were still talking to us using our own email addresses. In order to have the conversation flowing through the new tool we decided to start forwarding messages to support and reply from there for every support email we received.

It did work so well that I think someone at HelpScout spent time thinking about this exact workflow. When you forward an email from, say, Gmail, you an this block of text at the beginning of the email body with info on the forwarding.
If you put this block of text at the first row of your message, HelpScout will use it to populate the issue. You’ll have the original sender recognized as the customer and I guess also the conversation title will have the “Fwd: ” prefix removed.
That’s it. It’s like if your customer wrote directly to HelpScout.

Edit incoming messages

One thing I appreciate very much is the possibility to edit incoming messages. Sometimes you want to create a ticket from an incoming message that includes non relevant blocks of text, or a typo.

This feature is also very useful when you need to reformat forwarded messages. It’s easy, click “edit” and edit. No warnings, no alerts. HelpScout treats you as an adult. It just assumes you know what you are doing.

Integrations

At Exelab we use HipChat. Needless to say we immediately linked HelpScout to HipChat. It sends immediate notifications and, more importantly it uses mentions! Maybe matching email addresses, I don’t know, the fact is that it knows that if a customer replied to you in HelpScout, it has to mention you in HipChat. It’s impossible to miss a conversation this way, also because very often one has email notifications active for mentions in HipChat too. One thing I’m considering to do is actually to turn down some email notification from HelpScout (which are very configurable).

HighRise

In the recent rearrangement of our workflow we also started to use HighRise (which I’ll talk about in a future post maybe). HelpScout and HighRise integration allows you to do the following:

  • save customers from HelpScout to HighRise (the opposite doesn’t seem to be possible unfortunately)
  • configure auto Bcc for yourself, to make all your messages saved to HighRise too.

Being HighRise a complete CRM solution, it’s very valuable to have the history of messages saved there too. You can for example aggregate customers in “companies” and “cases” so to have a more complete view of a conversation going on a particular project. HelpScout and HighRise seem to complete each other in this sense.

Conclusion

I wish I stared to use it before. It solves a problem with very gentle learning curve. Your inbox is not the right place to deal with support requests, unless you work alone of course. You need all the team to be able to know what’s going on in your organization. HelpScout makes it easy, and integrates smartly with the other tools you already use. Even the free plan gives you big value.

We are very focused on defining processes to scale our business and provide a better service for our clients. So far HelpScout seems to be the best fit for our needs. The free plan seems to give us all we need already. We don’t use a knowledge base yet, which is not included in the free plan anyway.I think we won’t hesitate to switch to the paid plan (they have just one) as soon as needed.

Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

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