WPMU DEV Nails the Mails with Help Scout

Not long ago at WPMU DEV, we found ourselves up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Well, we had a paddle, but it just wasn’t a very good one.

The problem was success. The paddle was gmail. The solution was Help Scout.

Check out the video and/or read on for how it panned out… there’s a special offer at the end.

The Problem – Awesomeness

We’ve taken great strides in the last year: fantastic new design, powerful new plugins, a vast amount of updates, exceptional support and customer service from a rapidly growing team of support staff, designers and developers… and, as always, great value.

Help Scout Helps WPMU DEV to Nail the Mail
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In 2012, the number of our users effectively doubled, and we currently have over 150,000 members! Our team has necessarily expanded with the demand, going from a mere handful to over 30 staff members worldwide.

As we’ve grown, so have our needs. And not without growing pains we may add. But the single largest thorn in our side was handling the increasing load of pre-sales and billing inquiries. It snuck up on us kinda suddenly.

A couple of years ago we had only one or two folks handling these items. We depended on gmail, and as fantastic as it is, this didn’t scale at all. Imagine having 7 or 8 people within a single email account. Mayhem would be an understatement.

  • We had no way to track whether or not folks were getting the answers they needed – much less how many each of our staff were handling so we could gauge when more were needed.
  • We had to deal with duplicate responses from our staff, and there was no real accountability when things went wrong and mistakes were made.
  • Tracking emails and then doing follow ups were a real chore, and increasingly difficult as we took on more staff.

When Nothing Else is Up to the Task

So we were growing and getting more attention and having more inquiries and needing more staff. This is a really good problem to have, but how were we supposed to address it?

Support desks are popular. Hosting companies use them; software companies do as well. So it made perfect sense to us to look into these, and we certainly did. We looked into several, and found that Kayako, UserVoice, and Zendesk help platforms really rock.

However, after putting these full-on helpdesk platforms to the test, we found that each has their strong points, but all were way too complex and overwhelming for our particular needs. Plus, we didn’t want to spend time and money training staff on using the thing.

We needed something that we could start using from the get-go. We needed a smooth workflow but with something to track our statistics, our customers emails, and ensure we don’t ever miss those crucial pre-sales questions. We needed something like gmail… but on steroids!

Help Scout – Tailor-Made for Our Needs

When we found Help Scout, we were almost resigned to having to learn our way around one of the heavier players, and train staff how to use it too. But all that changed in an instant. Well, in a few minutes anyway… the time it took us to set things up.

Help Scout provides an interface that is so intuitive anyone who has ever received an email before can immediately understand and use it. It’s designed specifically to handle customer email inquiries in the most efficient way possible. And any number of support staff can be assigned accounts in Help Scout.

To help keep things nice and organized, any member of the staff can assign emails to any other member (very handy when someone has already replied, or specific tasks are delegated), and any staff member can view all their active emails just by clicking a menu item. No more endless searching!

Assigning an email to another staff member pops it into their own “My Tickets” area where they can get right to it.

Email conversations can be archived when responded to or kept active, organized with custom tags, forwarded, and even moved to other inboxes too.

Duplicate responses from staff are a thing of the past too. On any open conversation, staff members can instantly see who else is currently viewing the same email. Plus, all previous conversations from the same address are listed in the sidebar and can be reviewed in a popup window.

Eliminate duplicate emails with Help Scout
Keeping track of who did what is a snap. Every action by every staff member is logged in the email thread itself.

Awesome Reporting

Ever tried to get decent statistics and reports in gmail? Ack! Help Scout solves that with powerful built-in analytics and reporting features. All we need to do now is simply select a date range and check the inboxes we want to include in the report. Click Update and bam! Multiple real-time reports, including daily stats that can be viewed with a simple mouseover.

Statistics can be generated for any date range you need. Breakdowns are included for average response times, your custom tags, as well as the most used quick replies.

Accountability and awesome stats for multiple users is a snap too. We can now see at a glance who is handling what, how much, and how fast. We can also see who might need help, and who is just knocking ’em out of the park! Knowing if and when more staff is needed, or can be assigned to other tasks, is child’s play. Want to reward staff for performance? Check out the Awesomeness Index… too cool.

Everyone on the support staff can view performance stats too!

Addon Coolness

Help Scout even has a bunch of cool apps that can be integrated to make working that email queue as efficient, and as much fun, as you could hope for.

Just a few of the addon apps available from Help Scout.
  • Group Chat & IM with Campfire or HipChat
  • CRM addons for Highrise & Capsule
  • Satisfaction ratings using Hively or Nicereply
  • Live chat with Olark or Snap Engage
  • Integrate and track phone calls from over 20 voicemail providers
  • Filter out of office and auto replies.

We’re currently doing a test run of the Grasshopper addon which sends voicemail to the inbox along with the audio recording and an automatic text transcription. How cool is that, you ask? Pretty awesome, we say!

They also have a growing collection of guides, e-books, and webinars to help even the most novice of support staff get up to speed. And, if you’re a “dig-in-and-get-your-hands-dirty” developer type, there’s a fully documented API to extend and hook into Help Scout’s features.

The Transition

Moving our email support from gmail to Help Scout wasn’t without its own issues. Getting used to a new system and new settings brought up a few challenges of its own. Some were trivial, like how to deal with autoresponders autoresponding to each other and filling up the main inbox with a bunch of junk.

Some issues we experienced were out of everyone’s control. Like when Amazon Web Services crashed and took down half the web. At that time, we were still forwarding email from gmail to Help Scout. Naturally, some got lost. And, naturally, customers weren’t happy.

But through all that, Help Scout’s own fantastic support staff were there for us. They dug their heels in and didn’t quit until all our issues were resolved.

Now, Here’s the Deal!

We are so impressed with Help Scout that we want to share the joy with our members and readers. So we arranged an awesome deal for ya!

Normally Help Scout offers a 15-day free trial. But if you’re reading this (lucky you), you can get the full package free for 3 months. You read that right: 3 months free trial on their paid plan. That includes all the goodies & unlimited users.

When the 3 month trial expires, you can choose to continue with the paid plan (starting at $15/user/month) or downgrade to their free plan (up to 3 users).

To get this awesome deal, you must sign up on this page:

15 Responses

  • New Recruit

    @tomoz I tried the trial, you just forward the emails to an special address @ mailscout.net they provide.

    I did some tests with the trial. I like the concept. I just started writing my own helpdesk, because I rather not pay large monthly fees for something I can code myself in a day or two. My method of tracking emails though has been a ticket number in the subject. I was curious how they were able to do it without doing that. Turns out its very simple each notification email includes a ticket number after the response in white font (for the html version) thus you don’t even see it without highlighting everything or viewing the source or viewing the plain text version. I like their method and will be tweaking my own script because that does look nicer, and I will be saving my $15/user/month.

  • New Recruit

    Well you can actually keep track with Gmail. It is rather complicated to setup but it certainly works as I have done it. I could write a tutorial if people would like for me to.

    Gmail puts everything in a conversation based on the people involved with the conversation as well as the subject of the conversation. The people involved applies to just the email not included in the gmail account that is being used. (once you attach an email to the account…it is counted as the account itself, this matters and I will explain later why.)

    You can then create multiple accounts on your email solution even if using Google Apps for Business (though you shouldn’t now since this is overkill for such a task)

    Then you set each email to receive a COPY of the email in THEIR account and one in the main support gmail (MSG) account.

    Then you attach each agent to send emails through the MSG account. (not used though)

    Each agent then attaches the MSG as a send-with address in their account so they can send as the MSG account. Then agents set to respond with whatever email is used in the initial correspondance (which doesn’t pertain to account defaults)

    Conrrespondance Example:
    Customer sends email to [email protected] (or whatever) this email sends a copy to EVERY support agent and also to the main gmail support email.

    Agents respond in their own accounts BUT as the main support gmail. (this is done to make sure that all agents are included in all aspects of the conversation IF they need to be.)

    Customer responds to the agent’s email but they see the emails ALWAYS coming from the MSG regardless of which agent is involved.

    MSG forwards every support email as a copy to each agent and auto-marks as read in the MSG account. Each agent receives a copy of every support email which is collected into the conversation for that customer so they aren’t overwhelmed by emails they are not involved with.

    So with this setup you can use Gmail and every agent can be involved with every aspect in case one needs to hand over to another and then the Supervisors can log into the MSG to find out who is talking to who…how much each agent is involved…etc.


    This system is freaking complicated I know but it actually can be even more complicated and yet more useful. :)


    Pro Tips:
    What if agents not involved don’t want to get notified about an email from another agent?
    Well they have to be notified but the responses can be filtered out by being marked as read and then set to archive. The marking as read makes it not notify of new emails and the sent to archive removes it from their inbox showing that someone has taken that conversation and they are no longer needed. If they are needed then the agent can just do a gmail search through their archive and get caught up by reading the conversation.

    Can supervisors respond?
    Sure, set them as agents as well and they can keep track that way or by logging into the MSG.

    What if the same customer comes back in a different conversation?
    The agent assigned to the customer can set that customer as a contact. They can also set the customer as a label by using Gmail filters to automark that customer with an ID or whatever you want.

    What if the same customer comes back in a different conversation but the other agents don’t want to be notified about the conversation?
    This I think is a mistake but it is possible by an agent setting up a filter to mark as read and archive but what I suggest it is creating a filter that sets a label for the other agents so you know quickly who should respond and if that agent doesn’t respond soon enough (which would auto-archive it) then another agent can respond. This allows agents to continuously help a customer but doesn’t stop other agents from helping because consistency is important but not letting a customer go unanswered is MUCH MORE.


    So anyway, with all that said…yes it is quite possible to use GMAIL as a support system and even as a centralized hub for all the agents and to do reportings on the agents and so on.

    BUT it is freaking complicated and hard to setup at first but once you get it going…it works quite well.


    Is Gmail the best solution for this? No…there are much easier and much more elegant solutions as they are designed exactly for this. Though all of those options will cost the company to use.

    Is Gmail the best FREE solution? Yes, as far as I know…BECAUSE I don’t know other another Free solution…well maybe OSTicket and stuff like that…but as far as strictly email based, no.

  • New Recruit

    Really like this solution. It’s nice and simple. I am testing it out.

    I have several clients who share support email boxes with multiple people. I am sharing this solution with them. They don’t want/need knowledge base and forums that come with most help desk solutions. They just want the conversation string so they know what support has been provided.

    Needs a few improvements such as ability to re-assign a conversation to another customer (ie. when emails from 3rd parties are involved), display of customer local time, and custom fields.

  • New Recruit

    I think the question would be why did you start using gmail in the first place?!

    For customer service, once you have more than one person handling it, you should be looking at a ticket system straight away.

    I’m only sorry it took a while to get free from an inapropriate system.
    Did you have fun migrating? :)

Comments are closed.