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Just the ticket: The power of customer support ticketing workflows in Intercom

Main illustration: Isabella Bersellini

We recently released more than 20 new features that make Intercom better at handling complex queries and therefore a better tool for offering world-class support at scale.

The features combine to allow for sophisticated ticketing workflows behind the scenes, but with all the advantages that make our Messenger so popular with customers.

For a long time, online customer support has revolved around issuing tickets, with help desk software primarily designed to keep track of long, multi-digit reference numbers.

This may have made procedural sense for companies, but the reality for customers is less than ideal.

The process usually looks like this:

  • You have a problem with a product or service that needs resolving.
  • You get in contact with the vendor or service provider through a form or an email address.
  • In response, you get a 12-digit “ticket number.”

The actual resolution you’re seeking is hopefully on the way, but in the meantime you’re left with the inescapable feeling that you’ve been reduced to a number.

At Intercom, we’ve always felt that this was an impersonal way to treat customers. Instead, we firmly believe that conversations through the Messenger offer a much richer, more engaging means of delivering modern customer support than traditional ticketing systems can hope to offer.

Over the past few years, however, increasing numbers of our customers and prospects were asking us to add “tickets” to our conversational support system. What exactly did they mean by a ticketing system?

Defining a ticketing system

Effectively, a ticketing system collects every customer query that arrives, whether it comes via a messenger, email, or other channel. The system then labels every query and request with an identifying number, issues that ticket ID to the customer, and keeps track of the ticket as the request works its way through the behind-the-scenes resolution process, which might require the involvement of multiple teammates.

“We wanted to offer our customers the power and flexibility of ticketing so they could increase their team’s efficiency, but still empower them to provide a great customer experience that’s deeply personal”

For instance, a particularly complex query might necessitate the involvement of the billing team or new work by support engineers. Internally, tickets help to keep track of queries through all the possible permutations the resolution might take.

We wanted to offer our customers the power and flexibility of ticketing so they could increase their team’s efficiency, but still empower them to provide a great customer experience that’s deeply personal.

Starting with the problem

At first we took these requests for tickets quite literally – we debated introducing a completely new feature into Intercom called “Tickets” that would live side-by-side with Intercom conversations, and considered how we might try to weave them together coherently.

But as we dug further into what customers really meant when they asked for “tickets”, we realized our understanding of the customer problem was a little off-base. Customers found Intercom to be a great tool for answering simple support questions that can be answered quickly through conversations in the Messenger, but it fell short when it came to handling more complex requests that may require more time and/or people to resolve – keeping track of conversations as they moved between multiple teams was a tricky proposition.

So when customers were asking us to build tickets, what they were really signalling was a need for some of the more powerful workflow features that more traditional ticketing-based systems can accommodate combined with the personal feel of the Messenger.

Enter ticketing workflows

Or as we came to realize, they didn’t need us to build tickets, per se – they needed Intercom conversations to be more ticket-like behind the scenes so the great end-user experience that Intercom provides could handle complex issues as well as it handled simple queries.

“With these ticketing workflows, you don’t need to reduce your customers to a number in order to resolve their problem”

So that’s exactly what we’ve done with our recent release of new features – they mark a leap in usability and efficiency over previous ticketing systems.

Not one of these new features is called “tickets”, but cumulatively, these updates unlock all the critical workflows that traditional ticketing tools provide, without compromising on the conversational, engaging front-end experience. With these ticketing workflows, you don’t need to reduce your customers to a number in order to resolve their problem.

Intercom’s ticketing workflow: Messenger + Inbox + Reporting

At the heart of any good ticketing system is not the issuing of ticket numbers themselves, but the ability to categorize, prioritize, and assign issues as they arise. It is that choreography which allows customer support teams to stay on top of requests and ensure resolution for customers.

“These conversation data attributes empower support teams to create custom fields in each conversation”

We’ve evolved conversations to have the same efficiency you get with tickets. For example, you can automatically collect conversation data, like what type of query a customer is writing in with, whether it’s urgent, and what specific product area they’re enquiring about. Then, you can use that info to share context between teammates, create views to track different types of requests, and use rules to automate your repetitive tasks.

These conversation data attributes empower support teams to create custom fields in each conversation. This additional data can be used to set more context on issues, speed up triaging issues to the right team, and route urgent issues to the top of the priority queue. Among the powerful new applications of custom conversation data are:

  • Route conversations to the right team. For example, you can prioritize an important billing issue – and then use that custom conversation data to route it to the right team.
  • Get all the needed context in one place. Instead of having to ask customers for more details, like what size their company is or what browser they’re using, you can see conversation history within the Inbox.
  • Triage issues using rules. Create powerful workflows by using conversation data with views and rules to automatically identify, categorize, and triage issues that can’t be answered immediately – like complex queries, tricky technical issues, and emotionally-charged complaints.

Behind the scenes, Intercom now accommodates the conversational equivalent of sophisticated ticket management – your customers’ queries flow more efficiently from entry in the Messenger to resolution in the Inbox, with insights more easily surfaced in our new Reports.

Messenger

Intercom’s industry-leading Business Messenger can collect upfront information from customers using bots in the Messenger – such as topic, urgency level, or whatever else your team needs to prioritize an issue – and then use that custom conversation data to route it to the right team. You’ll get all the convenience, familiarity, and personal feel of a Messenger, with the benefit of next-level automated functionality to save your customers and team time.

Inbox

Custom conversation data gets surfaced in the Inbox so that your team has the context they need to provide fast, personalized responses instead of having to ask customers for more details. And if a conversation requires the attention of different teammates, that shared context is more informative and accessible than ever before. You can also use conversation data attributes to create advanced Inbox views.

Reporting

Having access to thorough, accurate reports is fundamental as you seek to provide efficient, personal support to ever-larger numbers of customers. You can use custom conversation data to drill down into your reports and spot opportunities to improve your support workflows. Here are a few ways you can use reporting insights to optimize your support:

  • View conversation tag reports to get an overview of what topics your customers are writing in with most, then pre-emptively address these queries with proactive messages, bots, and help content.
  • Filter conversation data to pinpoint a specific product area, feature, or topic to see how successfully your team is at resolving the issue, and how much time it’s taking to reach a resolution. These are the exact issues that warrant proactive support communications to save your team time and provide a better customer experience.

The best Messenger, now with the best of ticketing

With all these ticketing workflows, the experience in Intercom is considerably better than the experience offered by traditional email-based ticketing systems.

“Long reference numbers don’t provide a sense of reassurance to customers – ultimately, only the resolution of their problem can do that”

That transactional, unsatisfactory sense of being provided a label in response to submitting an issue is replaced with the sense of a personal interaction through the Messenger.

After all, long reference numbers don’t provide a sense of reassurance to customers – ultimately, only the resolution of their problem can do that.

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