Intercom: Conversational Support for Startups

Picking the right help desk software for managing your customer experience isa critical choice, and with so many tools out there, it can feel paralyzing. We get it.

That’s why we’ve put together this review of Intercom – one of the most popular help desk ticketing software choices for startups and SaaS businesses who want to create conversational relationships and experiences for their customers.

Intercom is a conversational-focused help desk platform that integrates into your product and boasts a polished user experience for your support team and your customers. It is supported by artificial intelligence (AI) features through the Intercom chatbot, Fin, which can bring a whole host of benefits to your team.

Who uses Intercom?

Intercom is uniquely popular with start-ups and software-as-a-service companies. That’s because Intercom tightly integrates with software products and includes features that improve customer success with your product through proactive messaging like banners, in-product chats, and tooltips, amongst other things.

This blurs the line between help desk software and customer success tools, which can be an appealing package for many teams. At the same time, they offer a generous 93% discount to early-stage companies – hoping to entice customers who can see real benefits  from their offering.

Beyond startups, Intercom is popular with any company that values a tool that focuses on a conversational approach to customer service – like ecommerce businesses. You’ll find brands big and small among their customers – from Meta all the way down to newcomers like Fathom.

Key Advantages of Intercom

There are three things that we think are the most notable strengths that differentiate Intercom from other platforms.

Strong Focus on Conversational Support

There’s been a strong shift in customer expectations towards live conversational support experiences. A full two-thirds of millennial customers want to have access to synchronous support.

Intercom realizes this and emphasizes real-time, conversational interactions with customers, providing a more immediate and personal communication experience. This contrasts with Zendesk’s more traditional ticket-based system, which is structured around formal tickets and email-like interactions.

With Intercom, customers are able to connect directly with your team in a chat-like interface, rather than being funneled through forms or email.

First Class In-App Messaging and User Engagement

Intercom excels in in-app messaging and user engagement within web and mobile applications. This feature is particularly beneficial for SaaS and ecommerce businesses looking to interact with customers directly within their app, offering a seamless support experience.

The level of support you’ll find for engagement rivals peer tools in the customer success space, and its sleek messenger tools are attractive and easy to use for customers. You won’t find proactive messaging, and onboarding flows in competitors like Help Scout, but you will find those features in expansion and success oriented tools like Gainsight.

Some teams even use Intercom as their only customer success tool!

Thoughtful User Interface and Experience 

Intercom is often praised for its intuitive and human-friendly interface.  This can enhance the efficiency and productivity of your support team. While many new help desk systems are following along and building tools that feel good to use for the actual agents, Intercom was one of the first to do it.

Their investment in this space continues and shows. Eschewing endless menus and complexity (look at you, Zendesk) it maintains a clean space for your team to work in, focusing on each conversation with customers.

With 45% of brands reporting that hiring and training are their biggest support challenges in 2023, choosing a tool that your team will love matters.

However, it is worth noting that this advantage can come at the expense of more powerful automations, and precise settings that you’ll find in other competitors. Teams who require complex workflows or unusual data structures might not find what they’re looking for with Intercom. Their Apple-esque philosophy prioritizes usability, good design, and customer experience over complex functionality.

Top 4 Features of Intercom

Fin AI Suite (at no additional cost)

Like many of their competitors, Intercom has AI built into their product, with their  AI tool, called Fin. Fin steps up to the plate with a suite of AI-powered services for Intercom customers (though some of these features are gated behind higher cost plans)including a full chatbot, agent reply enhancements, and conversation summaries.

Notably, Intercom doesn’t explicitly charge extra for its  AI offering, and its chatbot is included in every tier. This is in contrast to some other players in the space, like Zendesk, who charge additional per-seat fees for AI tooling. This bundled approach packs a lot of value into Intercom’s tool.

Easy, No-Code Automated Workflows

Billed as a command center for automations, Intercom’s no-code, visual workflows enable the creation of automations that can trigger specific actions based on customer behavior or among a number of other conditions. Automations are crucial for building scalable and efficient support organizations. 76% of respondents to a recent survey report implementing automation specifically to improve support efficiency.

Intercom’s focus is on making it easy to set up efficiency-boosting automations for teams. They even offer a collection of pre-built templates for common setups – like snoozing or closing conversations – meaning it’s a snap to start taking advantage of this feature without having to complete an entire certification course.

Proactive In-App and Email Campaigns 

Standing out from the crowded competition, Intercom supports creating and managing targeted in-app and email campaigns. This feature is useful for onboarding, customer engagement, and delivering proactive support – features that commonly require a separate tool purchase.

This blending of customer success features into the ticketing system is a unique angle and allows you to create tailored experiences for your customers. Which is important, because 73% of customers report they expect better personalization thanks to technological changes like generative AI. You can leverage Intercom’s proactive messaging to create tailored onboarding experiences for your different user personas – ensuring that each customer feels attended to based on their specific needs.

Wide Channel Support

You want to meet your customers where they are in your support interactions – and that includes the channels they most use for communication. Intercom makes that easy by natively supporting a diverse set of communication channels – including iOS and Android support for their messenger – but also social channels like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram.

If your customers prefer email, or even SMS, Intercom is there to manage their conversations seamlessly.

Honorable Mention Features

You’ll find a lot of helpful features baked into Intercom that empower your team to create a better experience for your customers, enough that we can’t cover them all. But here are two more that I believe should weigh into your decision-making  process.

Clear Reporting Tools

Out of the box Intercom comes configured with a clear set of performance dashboards that give you clarity on your team’s effort and impact on the customer experience. Their “Overview” report groups together metrics on key aspects like people, conversations, performance, and even self-service support without requiring any setup.

Removing the need to build out your own dashboard  is just another relief for small startups who just want a pulse on their experience. Intercom also includes the ability to build out custom reports if needed.

While Intercom’s reporting is straightforward and helpful, it’s not nearly as powerful as the custom reporting in some other tools, like Zendesk’s custom analytics (which is only available with some of Zendesk’s higher-priced plans). Intercom’s reporting — even the customized version — is much more comparable to Zendesk’s basic reporting functionality.

Easy to Use Help Center

Customers want self-service options, and they want it now. It’s easy to make it happen with Intercom’s help center feature, which allows you to focus on creating helpful content and not fiddling with CMS settings.

Their team has even put together a help center starter kit to guide you.

Tiers and Pricing Rundown

Intercom’s pricing model used to be confusing, based on a set fee plus your usage each month. This used to make it difficult to predict your costs each month. Fortunately, Intercom has updated their pricing model and they now offer three straightforward tiers: a low-cost Essential plan, a middle-level Advanced, and a top-level Expert plan. I’ll break down the primary differences between these three to help you choose the one that’s right for you.

Essential – $39 per seat per month

The most barebones offering from Intercom. It provides the core offerings you’d expect – a ticket system, basic automations, a public help center, and its proactive support tools. One nice benefit of Intercom is that essential Fin AI options are included – offering a Chatbot and Compose feature.

If you’re a team handling support responsibilities without a full-time support staff or through just one or two agents, this is a great option. The lack of features like team inboxes or complex automations won’t be missed.

Advanced – $99 per seat per month

The Expert plan builds on the core offering with several features that appeal to larger teams – most notably allowing for multiple help centers (including private ones), more advanced workflow automations, and workload management features to distribute tickets amongst your team.

Fin gets a boost here, adding the ability to summarize conversations and automatically populate key information from conversations into your ticket fields!

If your team has  more than a few agents, this is the plan for you. If you have a customer base that requires multiple help centers, you’ll have to start here as well.

Expert – $139 per seat per month

Taking clear aim at enterprise and large-scale support teams, the Expert plan comes out swinging with features like a multibrand messenger, support for single sign-on flows, and a real-time reporting dashboard to give you immediate insights into your support queue.

Teams with high security requirements or the need for a live birds-eye view of your support landscape are going to want to choose this plan.

Coming Together on Intercom

Intercom stands out as a user-friendly support tool – for both your customers and your team –that is particularly suited for SaaS startups and any company that places a high value on conversational customer service. Its core strengths shine in real-time messaging, AI-powered features like Fin, and intuitive UI, making it a top choice for teams looking to enhance customer engagement and streamline their support processes.

Intercom’s blend of help desk functionality with customer success-style outreach tools, easy-to-set-up automated workflows, and the ability to manage diverse communication channels highlights its versatility.

For support professionals looking for a tool that values simplicity and focuses on human conversations,  Intercom is a solid option.

But if you need some help or want a second opinion if Intercom is the right choice for you, we’re here to help.

At Peak Support, we have deep experience with all of the major customer support tools out there. Not only can we help you provide outstanding customer service by scaling your team, we can also help you make the most out of your existing tools and ensure you’re getting the maximum value out of them. Book a call with us today to find out more about how we can help.