Product thinking: behind our new Messenger home screen

Main illustration: Danny Jones

Yesterday marked one of our biggest releases yet – our all new messenger. One of the most exciting concepts is the customizable home screen, the start screen you see when you open the Intercom Messenger on an app or website.

Think of it as the perfect front desk for your company. Using apps, you can create tailored experiences for leads and customers when they open the Messenger. Because these interactions can happen outside of a conversation, it fundamentally changes what a business messenger is all about.

This is one of the biggest bets we’re making for our new Messenger, but the reality is that it came from quite modest beginnings.

How we gave our Messenger a home

So where did the idea for a Messenger home come from? Before this, we’d invested a lot of time in features like article suggestions. Powered by our knowledge base product, it suggested articles to people after they typed a message. It worked well, but we started to ask ourselves: what if we could get people to check out the knowledge base before typing a message? And when we introduced a modest little link just above the conversation area, we actually saw great traction.

Intercom Messenger Home design

This made sense for first-time use, but it conceptually broke the next time the user came back to use that link. They had to click “Start a conversation” to find this link to self-service – it was almost contradictory. We realized we needed to find room to solve problems in the Messenger outside the realm of conversations – before a question was asked at all.

We were on slightly shaky ground, though, because this wasn’t something our customers were directly asking us for. And there’s nothing worse than solving a problem no one cares about, particularly if it’s such a fundamental change.

What gave us confidence was that we saw evidence of our customers building their own solutions to add more to a business messenger. Here’s what CharlieHR and Zeplin cooked up:

Intercom Messenger Home design

And here’s what Monzo now use in their mobile app:

Intercom Messenger Home design

So we did think we were scratching at something useful.

When thinking through potential solutions, we first thought about just adding a button beside our Messenger launcher, which would just open a mini version of the Help Center. That would keep the Messenger strictly about messages and conversations – which is all it should be about. Or so we thought.

Intercom Messenger Home design

But multiple windows felt clunky and cumbersome. We were retaining the simplicity of the Messenger, but at the expense of adding bloat right beside it.

Instead of separating the Help Center, we wanted to fully embed the whole article search experience inside the Messenger. We wanted to transform our Messenger to be a natural home for self-service, as well as other things we hadn’t imagined yet. We explored many options, but this was the most compelling:

Intercom Messenger Home design

We wanted to shrink our Help Center to a lightweight app and create a new place in the Messenger that could house the app.

At the same time, our Messenger team had just started work on an extensibility project. This was a framework to allow Messenger apps to be sent in conversations. It would solve problems for things teammates typically do in conversations, like booking sales meetings or having video calls, but help them do them faster. So at first, apps were seen as things that would only live in conversations. Then we realized that framework could easily be extended to allow apps to live outside conversations.

Imagine, we excitedly said to ourselves, not just searching for help content, but booking demos, offering newsletter subscriptions and offers – all things you can do without needing to start a conversation. Through total serendipity, we realized the Messenger app framework and our new Messenger home idea were perfect partners.

The two ideas were magnetic in their attraction. Once we stuck them together we couldn’t pull them apart. Now we knew we had the foundation for our new Messenger.

Customization is no longer about just how it looks, but what it does

One recurring theme of feedback we get from our customers is: “We want to own more of the look and feel of the Messenger.” And this update to the Messenger takes a few steps forward on that front. Now customers can add their company logo, customize the greeting and add secondary colors to better match their brand.

These are iterative improvements to visual customization. But the transformative step is that, with apps on Messenger home, businesses can customize what purpose the Messenger has for them. They can tailor the Messenger to the actions they want their visitors or users to take. Let’s look at some examples.

Example 1: Messenger home focused on sales and marketing

Intercom Messenger Home design
For your visitors, you may want to tailor your Messenger home to capturing leads and moving your potential customers through the funnel.

  • The first app lets them request a demo and fill out your essential lead qualification questions.
  • The Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor apps offer a way to contact folks who aren’t ready to commit much yet, but are interested in what you have to say. You can use this for whitepapers or even coupon codes.
  • You could use the Content Showcase app to point them to webinars that have a chance to sell them on your pitch.
  • And the Product Hunt app helps your company get noticed by encouraging upvotes from your biggest fans.

Example 2: Messenger home focused on self-service and support

Intercom Messenger Home design
To support your customers, you may want to tailor the home screen to focus on self-service, rather than conversations.

  • So the Article Search app provides an appealing alternative to waiting for a reply from the team – much faster for users to search themselves. (Try it out for yourself on our own Messenger down at the bottom of the screen.)
  • Next the Content Showcase can direct your users to content that helps them get the most out of your product, such as your product tours as shown here.
  • The Shopify app makes it quick and easy for users to check their order without having to start a conversation.
  • And the Statuspage can prevent your team from getting deluged from messages when your service has an outage.

Critically, you can show different apps for signed-in users as opposed to your visitors. This ensures your existing users don’t feel like you’re giving them a hard sell.

Also, the ease of changing and updating apps means you can continually adapt your Messenger home. For example:

  • Have a service outage affecting lots of customers? Just move the Statuspage app up to the top of the list. Or maybe you’ll only show that app when there’s an outage. In less than a minute you can give customers easy, live-updated access to what’s probably most important to them.
  • Big product release? Highlight the announcement blog post and Product Hunt app for that week.
  • Or maybe you want to highlight what you’ve shipped at the end of every month.

The point is that it’s easy to continually update and tailor your Messenger home to what’s most important to your business and most useful for your customers.

And here are some hot-off-the press examples from some of our first customers who are using the new Messenger home, illustrating how they’ve tailored this space to be useful for them.

Intercom Messenger Home design

So the power of the homescreen is in its versatility. And since our app framework (in early release) enables you to build your own apps, the potential is limitless. You can truly make this Messenger your own.

Conversations list: now it’s just an app

The old home for the Messenger was a very utilitarian one: the conversation list. For repeat users, this is what they always saw when they opened the Messenger:

Intercom Messenger Home design

Pretty underwhelming, right?

With our new Messenger home, we had to re-evaluate the value of this screen. When we looked at the numbers, it turned out that over 95% of user interaction with a conversation was within 24 hours of the last message. In other words, the value is overwhelmingly skewed towards very recent stuff.

So now we could confidently reshape the rules for our conversation app. We now show active conversations in the past three days (which is being a bit generous), and if you don’t have any, we just show a link to previous conversations. It’s a much more elegant solution. And the feedback we’ve gotten after testing it with users is they’ve said it actually feels much more personal.

Intercom Messenger Home design

What’s more, if you disable inbound conversations on the Messenger, and the user has no previous ones, the conversations app won’t appear at all. This represents a dramatic shift: you can now have a Messenger focused exclusively on self-service, or on marketing actions:

Intercom Messenger Home design

So the uninspiring and purely utilitarian conversation list which served as the backbone of our old Messenger is now transformed to a far more nimble, relevant and elegant app. This change creates the space for the Messenger home to work however your business needs it to.

This is a new landscape for business messengers

We believe our home screen presents a paradigm-shift for business messengers. It’s no longer just about conversations, it’s about enabling your customers to get their jobs done more quickly, before they even start a conversation.

And we’re just scratching the surface with what’s possible. We’ll build more apps, our partners will build more apps, and customers can build their own private apps so that your messenger can truly be your own.

The homescreen is the new front-desk for your business. Try it out today.