Help Scout Draws Funding To Bring Affordable Email Collaboration And Support To Startups

After graduating from TechStars Boston this spring, Brightwurks, a startup that makes web-based productivity tools with an emphasis on customer service, launched a new product called Help Scout that aims to bring quality email collaboration and support to small businesses.

The problem the startup hopes to address, as Brightwurks Co-founder and CEO Nick Francis sees it, is that, while the majority of companies feel that great customer service is mission critical to their business, on the Web, most still fail to interact with customers effectively. Part of the problem is that current solutions for customer relations offer a user experience that is automated and inherently impersonal.

Furthermore, in the customer service market, there is a growing gap, Francis says, between email and help desks. Solutions like Zendesk and Assistly (the latter is now part of Salesforce) end up being too wide-ranging and complex for small businesses to integrate. It doesn’t make sense for a 10-person startup or online retailer to use a help desk, for example, when the team just wants an easy way to scale their email support.

As well-known players like Salesforce and NetSuite target the enterprise, Help Scout intends to cut down on the noise and focus on the one thing every online business needs: Email support. “Focusing on one area allows us to do that one thing really well, and be versatile there, as opposed to offering 50 different features that just lead to a complicated and mediocre overall user experience”, the Brightwurks CEO said.

Thus, Help Scout is going for a help desk-CRM hybrid (that will soon sync with the CRM solution your business is already running), designed for any team of two or more that needs to share an email inbox, keep everyone on the same page, and offer personalized, high-quality customer support.

According to Francis, 27 percent of emails sent by customers to online retailers are answered incorrectly, and most often that’s a result of the agent being unfamiliar with the customer. To solve this problem of familiarity, Help Scout allows agents to see every conversation that’s ever taken place with the customer, along with a public profile of that customer compiled from data on social networks, etc. (Similar to what Rapportive does for teams.)

Emails from Help Scout look like one-on-one email threads, as they actually come from a real person with a personalized signature — not like the correspondence one would receive from a help desk. What’s more, to the customer, Help Scout is invisible; they don’t have to log in to an account or go through a complicated process to talk with a real person.

As to how it works? Help Scout is compatible with any email address, the startup simply gives a business a unique email alias, to which it can forward copies of all incoming emails. This gets a copy into Help Scout, and businesses can then set up their own outgoing server or use Help Scout’s for sending replies. Typically, setup takes about 4 minutes, Francis says, which gives it a bit of a leg up over the big players in the space, which often requires weeks of customization.

For all businesses, great customer service is essential, but because it can be time-consuming and complicated to manage, there’s a prevailing sense that the ROI is marginal. They instead turn to web-based and cloud services to automate and make CRM easier to deal with, in hopes of seeing more of a return on the time and energy invested.

Across the board, companies are investing more and more in online customer service (Salesforce acquired Assistly for $50 million in September), and there’s an abundance of opportunity in this market. As a testament to this fact, Help Scout is announcing that it has raised $435,000 in seed funding from a full roster of 17 angels and VCs, including Dharmesh Shah, David Cancel, Dave Balter, Zelkova Ventures, TechStars, and more.

Help Scout launched in May and has signed up over 500 companies so far. It’s still early, but part of the reason the service is attracting 100 companies per month is that its affordable at $10/month for individuals and $20/month for businesses. For startups and small businesses, this pricing makes it an appealing alternative to the bigs.

For more on Help Scout, check them out at home here.