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Self-service support on live chat

How to scale chat for better customer service and support

Product Marketing Manager, Intercom

Steven Schuler

Main illustration: Lucy Reynolds

Since IBM coined the term “Help Desk” in the 1970s, customer support has come a long way.

How chat has evolved as a customer service tool

We’ve moved from call centers, to ticket-based helpdesks, to increasingly personal types of customer support. Over the past decade, one of the most popular (and personal) support channels has been live chat.

However, having live customer conversations doesn’t come without its challenges. “Live chat” implies an almost instant response, and many customer support teams are often concerned with managing the volume of messages that might come from adding live chat to their site or app. For online customer support teams who may support hundreds or thousands of people all over the world, providing individual help to each customer quickly becomes a daunting task (not to mention prohibitively expensive).

The new Intercom Messenger is built precisely to have personal communications with customers at scale, without opening the floodgates. Sure, you can have personal 1:1 communications like traditional live chat, but we’ve supercharged the Messenger with a host of self-service apps so that your customers can help themselves.

The new Messenger includes:

  • A customizable home screen: a whole new space that will help your customers help themselves and decrease the burden on your support team – with a tailored view for visitors (people who aren’t yet customers but are checking out your website) and another for users (those all important people who are paying you money).
  • Messenger apps: a library of intuitive apps that make getting things done in the Messenger seamless for your customers.
  • Extendable platform: create your own apps in a matter of hours to speed up your unique support workflows – and enable entirely new ones.

3 ways live chat enables self-serve customer support

Today’s customers expect to be able to easily find answers about your product or service on their own. The ability to “Google it,” or ask Siri, has conditioned us into thinking that the answer to any question is just a search away. In fact, 70% of consumers expect a company website to include a self-service application.

A co-pilot for your customers, inside your messenger.

However, for most companies, “self-service” support means a static, monolithic knowledge base intended to deflect customers, hoping they find the answer for themselves. These knowledge bases offer an impersonal, out of date, deliberate dead end whose sole purpose is to keep support costs down. They don’t feel like a tool for delivering world class support to customers.

But what if self-service content could be served to customers in context, inside the messenger they’re already reaching to for help? What if it were possible to answer a customer’s question before they ask it?

1. Customizable home screen

The customizable home screen of the Intercom Messenger means that your help content doesn’t just live in a help center, it lives inside your messenger. Think of it as a co-pilot for your customers, giving them the ability to help themselves while they navigate your site or app.

For example, Article Search is built right into Messenger. That means customers can search your knowledge base in Messenger at the moment they need help and find the information they are looking for, before starting a chat. Now, your support team can spend less time on low value transactional queries (How do I change my password? Where do I find my settings?) and more time on the more complex support queries that impact your business.

2. Highlight your most important content

We’ve also built a Content Showcase app you can use to highlight specific help center articles. This app allows you to display relevant and important content in the home screen to your users when they open the Messenger. Just launched a new feature? Why not highlight a best practice article that helps users get up and running. And it’s not just for help docs either. With the Content Showcase app, you can feature a recent blog post, product update, or any other piece of content you want to highlight, that will help users answer questions before the chat with your team.

Help customers solve common tasks by themselves.

3. Completely turn off inbound conversations

Finally, for businesses that really want to dial up their self-service support, our new Messenger allows you to turn off inbound conversations for the very first time. There are simply times when it is impossible for a business to handle chat conversations, so rather than delivering a crummy chat experience, sometimes it’s better to just switch it off entirely until your team has the bandwidth to do it right.

So instead of seeing the option to start a conversation, customers will only see past conversations, and will only be able to reply to messages that you send. Turning off conversations will reduce the flow of inbound messages that your team receives, lightening the load on your support team, while still providing customers with ample opportunity to help themselves using the Article Search and Content Showcase apps.

How live chat provides customer service for common queries and tasks

If the home screen is the persistently available space for customers to get self-serve support, Intercom and our partners have also built a host of useful self-service apps that will help customers solve common tasks by themselves.


Take our Statuspage app for example. Outages and service interruptions are inevitable. No product has perpetually perfect uptime. And outages can put significant pressure on your support team. Providing an accurate, clear and timely source of information, can reduce their stress significantly. But unfortunately, outages are also amongst the busiest times for support teams, so 1:1 conversations with every user can be impossible.

The Statuspage app puts the #1 status and incident communication tool right in your Messenger. Now, if customers want to know whether your service is online, they can reference Statuspage before chatting with your team. What’s more, it’s so easy to customize Messenger that if there is an outage in less than one minute, you can easily move the Statuspage app to the top of your Home Screen and even add it to the Messenger that visitors see so that they know what’s happening too.

Looking beyond self-service, we’ve also built a whole series of apps that your customer support teammates can use in conversations to get things done faster.

Aircall and Google Meet

For example, imagine you are having a chat with a customer that’s gotten so detailed that the conversation might be resolved more quickly with a short call or screen share. The Aircall and Google Meet apps help in just this situation. With Aircall, you can initiate a voice call at any point in a chat conversation by sending an Aircall Now card. This card will display your name, photo and a button to start a call. Customers can speak through their computer and will not need to install any software or pay to call – a seamless transition from chat to call.

Similarly, the Google Meet app enables screen sharing, so that customers can show their screens to your support teammates and together they can resolve complex questions more quickly.

Deliver an entirely personalized support experience to your customers.

Example: Customize your live chat support experience to match your business priorities

Businesses come in all different shapes and sizes, as does customer support. When you’re just starting out, you can probably afford to rely on a single customer support channel. But as you grow, you’ll need very specific workflows that may be unique to your team. At this point, having a flexible customer support tool, rather than one that boxes you in, becomes key.

With our new Messenger, we’ve deliberately built an extendable platform that can help your team build apps to speed up your unique workflows and even create entirely new ones. For example, let’s say you’re an eCommerce company struggling with hundreds of common transactional questions about order status. Even for a well-staffed support team, it’s simply not efficient for the business or the user to have a back and forth conversation when a faster self-service solution is available. With the Shopify app for Messenger customers can proactively check up on their order, using their email or order number, right in the Home Screen reducing the volume of questions around order status for your team.

The ability to create your own apps means you’ll be able to deliver an entirely personalized support experience to your customers, one that addresses solutions specific to your business and that makes Messenger feel like an extension of your brand. Intercom’s support team have already built a few custom apps for their team based on some of the most common support problems they face. The Impersonation app lets an Intercom support teammate temporarily see Intercom as you do, allowing us to diagnose problems fast and resolve questions more quickly.

Intercom is working to reimagine business messaging and live chat for support teams. Whether your goal is timely solutions, scale or simply to improve workflows unique to your team, Intercom’s new Messenger will provide your team and customers with a fresh solution and best in class customer service.

Want a free 14 day trial of the new Intercom Messenger. Try it out today