In a mobile world, where the smartphone has become the command center of our lives support needs to be offered from directly inside the app, using in-app messaging. This way the advantages of being able to send relevant contextual information about the state of the app to the service agent and the ability to engage in a service conversation via a conversational UI can get brought to full advantage. The user is identified, relevant information has been gathered, which the service agent can use right away.
This leads to capabilities that a genuine mobile in-app support system needs to have on top of generic help center functionality:
- In-App FAQ that gets pushed out to the phone and is available in an offline scenario
- Collation of meta data about the phone, user and the incident that created the support call, along with the ability to send that to the customer service center
- In-App messaging/conversational UI in combination with push notifications
- Automation to properly route incoming issues and to increase the issue resolution efficiency
- An ability to integrate into CRM- or other systems
- An ability to selectively and proactively engage with users, to e.g. support onboarding or push notifications about special situations to relevant parts of the user community.
It is possible to find vendors that deliver parts or all of this in order to deliver a mobile service experience. Platforms like G2Crowd, but also traditional analyst companies like Forrester and Gartner give some leads. Gartner lists Salesforce, Pegasystems, Oracle, Microsoft, Zendesk as leaders in customer engagement centers, with SAP being the only Challenger and Lithium the only Visionary. None of these companies gets high marks for in-app support, though. So, we are apparently looking for specialist vendors.
Concentrating on the bigger medium and enterprise end of the market I’ll briefly look over the following companies, which offer parts or all of the desired solution.
Salesforce and Zendesk are part of this list as in-app service specialists see them in sales opportunities as competitors.
Apptentive focuses on mobile customer engagement to foster a better way to communicate. The solution offers in-app messaging, rating prompts, notifications and surveys. There are no FAQ’s, though. The company got founded in 2011.
The solution integrates into Zendesk, Uservoice, and Desk.com, which can be used to build a more complete in-app customer service solution in combination with Apptentive. Further integrations should be possible using the company’s API. Apptentive gathers meta-data from the mobile apps and presents it via its reporting solution. This data then can be exported as CSV and imported into a CRM system to enrich it and to provide for segmentation. However, there does not seem to be a campaigning functionality inside Apptentive itself.
Hotline.io, the former Konotor, is the mobile in-app support platform of Freshdesk. Konotor got founded in 2012 and was acquired by Freshdesk in November 2015. It is a native in-app support platform that fully caters for the criteria mentioned above. Hotline positions itself more like an engagement platform than a customer service platform. Being a part of the Freshdesk group their focus is more on the upper end of the SMB arena. Their clients mainly consist of startups and bigger corporations (as the smaller ones often do not have mobile apps, according to Srikrishnan Ganesan who heads up Hotline). Freshdesk itself seems to be sales-driven (which is not a bad thing). The company recently won the 2017 CRM Watchlist award, which is an impact award given by Paul Greenberg, which gives high visibility.
Hotline has built-in integrations e.g. with Zendesk, and Slack and, of course, with Freshdesk itself. Using APIs it is possible to integrate with other CRM- and customer service systems. With the help of the Freshdesk platform it turns into a multi channel support system. The campaign module that is built into the back end allows segmenting customers based upon meta-data, app usage, and other criteria and allows for simple campaign automation.
Helpshift seems to be the leading mobile in-app support platform with a base of about 1.3 billion installations. The company got founded in 2011 and pioneered the idea of in-app support, providing a native platform that fully caters for the criteria above. The company positions itself as revolutionizing the customer support experience on mobile – with a strong focus on customer service. The target of Helpshift is enterprises and bigger call centers, and their number of installations proves that they are up to it. In 2014 Helpshift won the CRM Idol competition and the company is probably a bit of a hidden gem, which may partly be attributed to their enterprise focus.
Helpshift has a deep integration into the Salesforce Service Cloud and I personally expect integration into MS Dynamics looming, as Microsoft Outlook Mobile is a key customer and Microsoft itself a leading investor into the company. Being API-driven integrations into other CRM systems are easily possible. The backend itself is multi-channel capable. The Helpshift campaign module is geared for service rather than marketing and leverages meta-data for segmentation, easily allowing for the facilitation of onboarding or recovering abandoned baskets, and getting over the early retention barrier.
Intercom positions itself as a platform with support for live chat, marketing and support, with all part solutions being seamlessly integrated via their platform. The company has a strong mobile focus. A lot of their customer base seems to deploy the solution as a customer service solution. As Helpshift, the company was founded in 2011. Their solutions cover the criteria above, with the exception seeming to be the in-app FAQ. FAQ’s seem to be published through the web, instead. Their analytics offer the nice feature of identifying candidates for improved or new knowledge base articles, based upon searches.
The solution offers multi-channel support and integrates into a good number of communications channels, and into Salesforce, to have a strong support system. They have deliberate support for onboarding processes, helping customers to get over the early retention barrier. Using data collected from the devices a segmentation and hence a targeted communication with users is possible, for example the onboarding support.
LivePerson offers a mobile in-app support solution through its LiveEngage platform. The company sets out to drive conversations and loyalty through the platform, and does not position it as a support- but an engagement system. LiveEngage is an ‘upgrade’ from the company’s earlier LivePerson solution, which seems to have caused some grief for customers. This ‘upgrade’ seems to resemble a pivot into the mobile in-app business. They are targeting enterprises although they also have startup customers.
LivePerson is in the chat business for around 20 years. Focusing on messaging they do offer a chat platform that can be integrated into apps and web sites. They do not offer knowledge base support of customers but rely on custom integrations into CRM systems. Their key asset is their long standing history along with a platform that can turn chat into action, albeit more with a focus on cross-selling. Their current challenge is their need to manage their pivot and some customers that lost functionality that was important for them.
Salesforce offers two customer service solutions, the Salesforce Service Cloud and Desk.com, addressing different customer sizes. Desk.com is geared towards smaller organizations where the Service Cloud is enterprise scale. Both solutions offer multi channel support capabilities. Gartner Group, in their 2016 Magic Quadrant for Customer Engagement Centers states that “mobile chat” (their term for in-app messaging) is best handled by partner solutions that are available via the AppExchange market place.
Desk.com is Salesforces “Out-of-the-Box helpdesk for small businesses”. Being a member of the Salesforce family the solution has considerable grunt and exposure behind it. Desk.com is not a native mobile in-app support platform but a general support platform that allows for embedding support functionality inside mobile apps via an SDK.
The SDK allows for the creation of tickets from within the mobile app and for knowledge base search with the knowledge base not being inside the app itself. In contrast to other providers Desk.com does not cater for conversational in-app support. The main support experience is provided outside the app. Being a member of the Salesforce family integration into other family members is a given, since they share the same platform. This includes a connection to the Sales Cloud that facilitates the conversion of support cases to sales opportunities. But at its root Desk.com is a helpdesk solution that got extended to cover mobile apps.
The Service Cloud is the Salesforce customer service offering for enterprises. As such it offers a full fledged service solution that also extends into mobile devices via e.g. ticketing live chat, knowledge bases and support of communities. All this takes advantage of the powerful Salesforce platform. There, however, is no direct in-app support, which makes a good case for the integration of Helpshift.
Zendesk is a leading cloud based customer service platform, offering multi channel support. Zendesk features as a leader in the Gartner 2016 Magic Quadrant for Customer Engagement Centers.
Zendesk is not a mobile native. Their chat widget integrates into web pages and the company does not offer in-app chat. Instead the company offers solutions that hook into existing messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp. They offer knowledge bases, support of communities, and portals. Zendesk has integrations into many other systems, including MS Dynamics and Salesforce.
The support for messaging apps, besides Zendesk being competitively met by mobile in-app vendors, is the main reason for them appearing here.
What It Means
The in-app service market is a specialist market. If a strong support for mobile apps using a conversational interface and an in-app experience are required, not many players with the strength to support larger enterprises are left. This can be seen in the table below, which covers above solutions and is enriched by some generic help center functionality.
Zendesk and Salesforce both offer partner solutions to fulfill in-app service requirements. By themselves they are not in-app support players.
Apptentive focuses on rating systems and surveys and is not a full-fledged player as well..
Intercom positions itself more as an engagement platform although customers seem to deploy it as a support platform, too. Without an own knowledge base capability it, however, misses an important capability.
This leaves us with three vendors: Freshdesk, Helpshift, and LivePerson, with LviePerson currently pivoting from being a web based chat provider to an in-app service solution provider, which seems to cause existing customers some grief. The solution is also missing an in-app FAQ.
Helpshift and Freshdesk as the front-runners are running very different strategies. For Freshdesk in-app support is one of their capabilities that they acquired over time and made part of their solution set. Helpshift totally focuses on in-app support, believing that mobile will be, if not already is, the dominant channel, which needs specialized support functionality to offer maximum service and experience.