What’s Your Support Stack?

When designing your support ecosystem, you’ll face the choice between omnichannel and multi-channel support tools — either an all-in-one framework, or a stack of multiple tools that each focus on specific features.

Sure, you can find “omnichannel” tools that purport to solve all your support team’s needs: We’re a help desk! That integrates with social media! But wait, there’s more … we’re also your company’s phone support solution! It slices; it dices! Did we mention chat? Also makes julienne fries!

The one-and-done temptation of an omnichannel support tool can be hard to resist, when startup costs initially appear lower and you’ve eliminated the need to make tedious choices among other more specialized tools. Since no two companies are alike, however, it can be challenging to find a one-size-fits-all customer support solution. And even if you do, you may find yourself locked into an increasingly expensive system whose features lag behind what standalone tools can offer. Many teams are better off choosing a help desk, then building a custom multi-channel support stack around it.

Our own support team, for example, obviously uses Help Scout for customer conversations and our knowledge base. But since Help Scout was built to be a component (a key component, but still a component) in multi-channel support stacks by design, we rely on other tools too:

  • Basecamp: Help Scout support team member Mo McKibbin sends daily updates including bugs, new documents, and general news via Basecamp.
  • CloudApp: for screenshots and screencasts. “I’d be lost without it!” says team member Kelly Herring. “I also use it for images in our Docs articles.”
  • Dropbox and Dropbox Paper: keeps all our documents together, and helps us track meeting notes/minutes and collaborate on specs for new features.
  • Google Hangouts: for our weekly team huddles and one-on-ones.
  • Respond: Buffer’s help-desk-for-Twitter tool. “They even have tags (in beta) so we can track things the same way we do in Help Scout and monitor for both mentions and keywords, like ‘Help Scout’ or ‘@helpscout,’” Mo says.
  • Slack: great for asynchronous team and cross-team communication, especially since we’re located in different time zones across the globe. And Slack integrates with Help Scout!
  • StatusPage: a super-easy way to communicate swiftly with customers about status issues and events.
  • Trello: “Another can’t-live-without,” Kelly says. “Great for organization. We use it to keep track of projects we’re working on, reporting bugs, feedback from customers, and much more.”
  • Wistia: the video host we use for our “getting started” videos, demos and other tutorials. The stats allow us to see where viewers stop watching, how many people watch all the way through, and what they rewatch because it might be confusing.
  • Zoom: the video meeting software we use for our demos and webinars — it “has a slightly more ‘professional’ feel than Google Hangouts for those purposes,” Kelly says.

“I can do the majority of my job with just a single Help Scout tab open,” says team lead Justin Seymour. “All the other tools are certainly part of the pie, but they’re much smaller pieces that help me get things done.” That got us thinking: What are the tools that help support teams at other companies get things done? We spoke with five Help Scout customers about why they’ve chosen the tools in their stack.

Basecamp’s support team uses a powerful internal tool called Dash that allows them to move quickly through their Twitter queue and connect to customers via phone. It also tracks data like CSAT scores, email logs and traceroutes.

It probably goes without saying that the Basecamp team uses Basecamp — for asynchronous discussions, group chat, file storage and so on. Here are the rest of support team member Joan Stewart’s go-to tools:

  • 1Password: “Three things in life are guaranteed: Death, taxes, and passwords,” Stewart says. “1Password can help with one of these.”
  • Chrome: “the most stable browser I’ve used for support. The ability to have multiple windows open with different profiles is killer.”
  • DuoMobile for iPhone: “We use two-factor authentication when logging into our administrative systems.”
  • JumpCut: “keeps the 20 latest text snippets I’ve copied. Perfect for referencing multiple help pages.”
  • Mailplane: “great for managing multiple Gmail accounts. I use Gmail for almost all my work and personal email accounts, and Mailplane keeps them tidy.”
  • TextExpander: “quietly the backbone of my workflow. Snippets are such a time saver.”
  • Time Out: “helps me remember to take breaks during the day.”
  • X-Lite: “My home configuration means my phone can’t be where my desk is, so I make all calls via my computer. X-Lite handles them well.”

Cozy is a Portland, Oregon-based company that aims to simplify the housing rental process for both landlords and renters. Their support team, led by Katie Harlow, switched to Help Scout earlier this year. Here’s what else they use to keep their customers happy:

  • Confluence: Cozy maintains their team wiki on Confluence for more static documentation, Harlow says. “We track things like a general roadmap, training documents, and old meeting notes here.”
  • Fullstory: Fullstory lets you record, replay, search, and analyze real users’ experiences with your site. It saves the Cozy team from excessive troubleshooting, Harlow says, “because we don’t have to send emails like ‘Can you tell me on exactly what page you saw that error, and what steps did you take before that?’” With Fullstory, the team has access to that info already, so engineers don’t have to “dig through log files to recreate a customer’s session.”
  • Google Apps: “Pretty standard, but our company-wide email is set up through Google, and we use Google Docs a lot for projects, collaborating on ideas, blog post drafting, etc.”
  • Slack: “the main line of communication for our support team, and also allows us escalate things to our engineering team quickly.”

London-based Loco2 consolidates and simplifies the booking process for trains in Europe — they use Help Scout’s help desk tool, as well as Docs for their knowledge base. Support team member (or “train geek,” as they’re called) Catherine Bodry, who works remotely from Anchorage, Alaska, says her team also uses:

  • Basecamp: “for announcements and keeping everyone up to date on processes, rail strikes, site updates, bugs, etc. These posts usually refer to an internal doc or GitHub (where we outline detailed processes for the whole company).”
  • Braintree: “our payment merchant.”
  • Mailchimp: “for emailing more than a couple dozen customers due to a strike.”
  • Trello: Bodry uses Trello as a sort of editorial calendar for help documentation. “I created a Customer Support Content board where each document has its own card, and any changes or edit requests are recorded there,” she says. “The columns start at ‘suggested article’ and move to ‘in progress,’ ‘editorial’ and ‘published.’” Bodry uses labels to indicate priority and whether the doc is internal or external.
  • Google Authenticator: “another layer of security to access GitHub and Braintree.”
  • Google Docs: The Loco2 team uses good ol’ G-docs to track the claims they file with rail operators for situations such as delays, cancellations and bereavement, as well as rail strikes, which require them to email dozens, if not hundreds, of affected customers.
  • Slack: “Everyone is on Slack all day.”

TrakInvest is a Singapore-based startup whose platform allows amateur traders to practice buying and selling stock using virtual cash. The TrakInvest support team uses an internal dashboard that helps them analyze user details, behaviors and other performance indicators. Their favorite support channel tool? The telephone. “We get in touch with our customers and speak to them and collate pertinent feedback,” says support team member Udai Panicker. It’s “old school but highly effective.” The team rounds out its “support ecosystem” with the following tools:

  • Facebook: “our most used platform for sending any major customer support related issue, such as a breakdown in third-party services that might in turn affect ours, etc.”
  • Join.Me: for audio conferences, such as customer focus group/feedback sessions
  • Mailchimp: the team uses Mailchimp to reach out after a bulk issue faced by a large number of users.
  • Slack: for quick communications between the tech and marketing teams
  • Visme, Canva, and Photoshop: Visuals help the StockFans team enrich their customer conversations, email direct marketing, and social media posts. “Infographics is the name of the game now in terms of communications with customers,” says Panicker. “They’re just more fun to look at. … Wordy emails lose their potency.”
  • Whatsapp: quite popular in international markets, and a quick way to reach many global customers.

Trello’s awesome support team uses (what else) Trello for high-level planning, organization and tracking feature requests. In addition to several custom internal tools, here’s what the rest of their support stack looks like, according to team lead Ben McCormack:

  • Localize: a translation tool that allows you to localize your app’s language — the Trello team used it for their help documentation.
  • Respond by Buffer: “Respond allows us to process a Twitter queue very quickly and is ideal during an outage situation where hundreds of tweets are coming in,” McCormack says.
  • Slack: “90% of our team communication happens in Slack.”
  • Sprout Social: Social media management software, which the Trello team uses for channels that Respond doesn’t cover.
  • Text Expander: “for everyday snippets.”
  • Unbabel: “Unbabel helps us to get fast translations for any language, which we use for email-based support.”
  • Zapier: Zapier enables you to automate tasks between different apps. “We automate so much stuff with Zapier,” McCormack says. Their latest zap auto-detects language in Help Scout conversations.
  • Zoom: “Most of our video meetings happen in Zoom.”
Emily Triplett Lentz
Emily Triplett Lentz

Emily is a Help Scout alum. You can find her on Twitter.

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