The experiment that reveals how proactive support directly affects your bottom line

Main illustration: Yann Bastard

Proactive support is a lifesaver for busy teams looking to provide exceptional support at scale.

By allowing support teams to get ahead of known problems and provide help to customers before they need to reach out, proactive support has enabled major companies to scale their support without increasing headcount, drive down inbound conversation volumes (in some cases by up to 80%), and maintain incredible customer satisfaction ratings.

What is proactive support?
Proactive support is a strategic approach to anticipating and delivering on your customers’ support needs, where they are, before they ask for help.

And while these results already speak volumes about the impact of proactive support, we wanted to dig deeper and get a better understanding of the long-term benefits of proactive support, too.

We believe that proactive support is about so much more than just reducing inbound conversation volumes: it can also directly impact activation, retention, and ultimately, your business’s revenue. So we designed an experiment that would show us the long-term effects of proactive support on activation – and subsequently on ARR.

Designing the experiment

To do this, we decided to A/B test our in-product help to get a greater understanding of the impact it has on user activation.

What is in-product help, you may ask? In-product help is all of the links featured throughout the product – you’ll probably recognize them as being blue with an icon – that lead to extra guidance. This guidance might take the form of Product Tours, Articles, videos, Academy courses, or anything else that gives a user a little more information and context.

Our in-product help links were the most clear-cut example of proactive support that we could test: they’re tailored around specific challenges customers might face and are presented proactively, so customers don’t need to find them.

An example of our in-product help

An example of our in-product help

In-product help is there to give new customers a jumping off point to get them started. So why would we want to A/B test it?

“We’ve found that people who use our content are approximately 2.5x more likely to activate with our visual campaign builder Series than those who don’t”

Well, there’s a really strong correlation between people who engage with in-product help and people going on to activate with Intercom and become active users of the features they’ve been learning about. For example, we’ve found that people who use our content are approximately 2.5x more likely to activate with our visual campaign builder Series than those who don’t.

That’s a really strong signal – but it’s correlation, and we wanted to prove causation. We could just as easily hypothesize that a customer who is super keen to activate with Series and who’s really engaged with the product is more likely to want to read an article or watch a video in the first place. So we needed to test it to see if the content was having a positive impact on the way that people activate with our product.

Running the experiment

The experiment worked like this: for 28 days, 50% of new self-serve workspaces had no links to help content within Intercom. The other 50% had all the help links per usual, as the control. We were super strict on getting a statistically significant result, and this passed the test without any p-hacking.

We had two major hypotheses.

  • Hypothesis 1: Lower activation rates in the test group would mean that help content positively influences activation. The key metric for this hypothesis was activation.
  • Hypothesis 2: The test group should start more conversations and search for more articles, because they weren’t being provided to them by default. The key metric we looked at here was conversations and searches.

The results

Surprisingly, we saw fewer conversations started and fewer help center searches in the test group – the inverse of what we expected.

Huh? Did this mean that the test group actually didn’t need all that help content after all, and were able to just navigate through the product with no problems or questions?

“Once that trial period ended, there was a significant difference in whether the groups converted and became paid users”

Not exactly. As we dug into the long-term results, the bigger picture became clear. What we saw is that once that trial period ended, there was a significant difference in whether the groups converted and became paid users. The control group was more likely to convert by a margin of nine percentage points.

Without that initial jumping-off point, customers didn’t have the help content they needed upfront when they landed somewhere new in the product. This meant that they didn’t know where to start, and didn’t have the confidence to get going. And because they never got to grips with the basics, they didn’t run into deeper questions down the line, either. All because they weren’t engaging as much as they should have been when they started.

The group that did have the in-product help, however, not only had the context and information they needed served up to them in the moment when they needed it – they were also trained to understand how and where to access help content when they did have questions that weren’t answered proactively. The in-product help links helped users to familiarize themselves with the systems and processes in place, and built their confidence when it came to knowing where to go to look for answers or who to reach out to.

What does this mean for proactive support?

After our experiment, we can confidently conclude that engaging with in-product help positively influences activation. But what does this mean for your proactive support strategy? Here are three takeaways.

1. Proactive support is worth the investment

Our experiment showed us just how valuable a proactive support strategy is. When you’re a busy, time-strapped support team, you can often feel the pressure to respond reactively to immediate problems instead of taking the time to preemptively solve future ones. But mapping out your user’s journey and creating a proactive support strategy to address their pain points has a clear and long-term return on investment.

(Still nodding your head at “busy” and “time-strapped”? Learn more about how automation can help you to provide instant, efficient, personalized customer support at scale, freeing up more time for your support reps to focus on impactful projects like creating help content and providing human support.)

2. Proactive support is about so much more than just reducing inbound conversation volume

One of the key benefits of proactive support is that it allows you to get ahead of known issues, providing help to customers at exactly the right moment. As a result (and thanks to features like Targeted Messages and Banners), it can often remove the need for customers to reach out to your support team, reducing inbound conversation volumes and saving hours for your support team.

“Proactive support – and great help content – creates stickier long-term customers, meaning it has a crucial role to play in your company’s bottom line”

This is super valuable, of course – but it’s not the only benefit of proactive support. Our experiment showed us that proactive support is an essential part of a great customer experience, leading to stronger activation and higher conversion rates. In other words? Proactive support – and great help content – creates stickier long-term customers, meaning it has a crucial role to play in your company’s bottom line.

3. Proactive support is about working smarter

Don’t keep your best content hidden away in your help center. Our experiment showed how valuable this content can be when served up at just the right moment. And the best part? It’s not about creating more new content – it’s about cleverly leveraging what you already have, making it work harder for you and giving you more bang for your buck.

Another key learning? Think about ways you can serve up the same help content in different formats. Maybe that great article would make a really compelling Product Tour, or could form the basis for a super useful video. Different people like to engage with different types of content, so by finding ways to serve up your existing help content in multiple formats, you can reach more users.

An investment with long-term results

Proactive support doesn’t just help you to get ahead of inbound conversation volumes; it’s actually changing how we think about support. Instead of being seen as a cost center – a necessary but non-profitable part of a business – great customer support is now understood as the value driver it really is. By providing help before it’s needed, directly in the product or channel your users are in, you can improve activation and encourage deeper engagement with your product at a pivotal moment in the customer journey, leading to long-term results that boost your business.

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