Welcome back to our Industry Exposed series! For this first instalment in 2016, we welcome Abinash Tripathy, co-founder and CEO of Helpshift, a platform that enables app developers to communicate with their users and customers in order to engage and retain them. Abinash gives some detailed and comprehensive answers on some of the most important aspects of managing an app community.
Abinash Tripathy is co-founder and CEO of Helpshift, the world’s leading customer support platform for mobile. Abinash is utilizing his 20+ years of experience with technology and CRM to re-imagine CRM for the post-PC era. Prior to founding Helpshift, Abinash created and ran a number of early and growth stage companies where he was responsible for conceptualizing and delivering the world’s first IP-based Voicemail/Unified communications, Mobile Photo Messaging (in Japan) and MMS products to the market. He started his career at Oracle where he wrote the first in-house CRM solution.
Can you briefly present Helpshift and its business model?
Helpshift is a customer support platform that helps businesses better engage and retain their customers in a mobile environment. Our goal is to bring Customer Relationship Management (CRM) into the post-PC era where mobile customers can receive help at the point of need and in their preferred channel - mobile. We believe tailoring the customer’s support experience to mobile’s unique characteristics is crucial to increase retention, drive higher ratings, and improve the overall mobile experience. We designed the in-app help experience to quickly assist users when searching for answers to their problems via a searchable native FAQ -- localized in over 34 languages. If users are unable to resolve their issues, they can then start an in-app chat with the support team. We also built a dashboard specifically to help customer support teams efficiently collaborate to solve customer issues at scale.
Which problems in the mobile ecosystem are you trying to solve?
The number one problem we're trying to solve is helping companies reduce their churn rate and increase customer loyalty. As an unintentional byproduct of driving customer loyalty, we’re also helping businesses offset climbing mobile acquisition costs. The cost per loyal user hovers around $4.14 and shows no sign of slowing down. The problem is this － companies believe that by pouring a ton of money into driving installs this cultivates a growing, thriving user base. But, what happens after the point of download? We have enough data in the industry now that shows, after install, 80 percent of new users churn within the first 60 days, and that percentage continues to increase as more time passes. After the first 90 days, 90 percent of those initial installs have abandoned the app. If you're unable to retain those users, and turn them into loyal customers, suddenly all those hard earned dollars to acquire users has gone to waste.
The number two problem is once churn is reduced, how can brands continue to deliver their initial promise to those loyal customers. The answer is through great customer service within the customer’s preferred context - and in the case of mobile apps - that’s within the app itself. As a company, you want to provide ample support to the customers who engage with your product frequently; by providing a simple way for those loyal customers to receive immediate help, whether through FAQs or in-app chat allows customers to get back to interacting with your product and spending more money. Indirectly we're helping companies realize a lot more top line revenue from those users.
Success depends on your most loyal users coming back, staying in your app, spending more and more and more. With in-app customer support you're able to easily segment, prioritize, and cater to that small set of prolific spenders inside your app.
If you look at the Gaming Vertical it's a free-to-play model. Roughly one to two percent of your player base makes up all of your revenue, while the other 98 percent are casual players. It's extremely important to segment and prioritize that two percent of your audience and ensure they receive top-tier support when they need it.
I mean, today there's no shortage of consumer choice. For every category, let's say you want to buy a pair of jeans, there's 100 apps that offer that same service. Each of these apps all look and feel the same. They all have the common objective of selling you jeans. But what distinguishes a company or an app from another app is the service they deliver to their customer that goes way beyond the app. The app is purely a storefront. It's that human touch that users and customers value. In-app, native service is a way to illuminate that human touch and leverage that interaction as a competitive advantage.
So we're reducing churn, increasing loyalty, and lifting revenue.
What are the strongest reasons behind user churn on mobile?
I would say the number one reason for churn is just too many poorly executed apps that ignored the nuances of their product’s user experience. The way to mitigate the sucky app problem is to implement an in-app feedback loop for customers to share their experiences before, during and after launch. After collecting and analyzing customer insights, put this feedback into action. If you notice feature requests or bug reports work this into your product roadmap. This means you're learning fast and iterating fast. With user insights you can quickly make necessary adjustments to avoid sucky app syndrome.
The second biggest reason for churn is that when the customer did face a problem, there was no one around to offer a solution. We recently conducted a study that revealed 1 in 5 mobile users actively seeks in-app help. That means almost a quarter of all app users have questions, issues, or problems that they are actively looking to get addressed. The app economy is highly competitive and users are fickle; they jump from one service provider to another. There also has to be a mind shift in the way customer support services their users. The key is proactive help by targeting customers who exhibit signs of needing help, and this comes in many forms: in-app FAQs, in-app messaging, push notifications, and two-way communication through in-app chat. By consistently delivering exceptional customer service, you’re not just simply resolving an issue, you’re driving loyalty.
What is the earliest time at which you should prompt your users for an app store review?
Before I answer this question here are my 3 rules about rating prompts.
- Don’t interrupt your user’s experience to beg for a review.
- Don’t ask users for a rating or review after your app crashes. That’s just dumb.
- Avoid time-based triggered rating prompts.
A lot of apps out there simply ask a user to review based on some superficial engagement logic like: the user has opened the app seven times or has opened the app daily for seven days. Time triggered rating prompts are dumb, there’s no easy way to determine how likely a user is going to leave a 5-star review - you’re simply guessing the criteria for a user most willing to leave a rating. is the most dumb way to serve that rating request.
Instead prompt users for a rating after they’ve experienced a really positive interaction. How do you actually determine the customer is having a positive experience?
The intelligent way to do that is to find moments within your app that are meaningful to the user in a very positive way. For gaming this could be beating a very difficult opponent; while an app like HotelTonight would prompt users after a successful booking. Those are the moments where the user is very happy because there’s a sense of accomplishment. This is the time to serve a rating or review request.
The other place to consider prompting users is after a helpful customer support event. For example, let's say the customer faced a problem, reached out to the company through an in-app support channel, and the agent was able to solve the issue and delight them. This is another crucial moment your users will feel that they’ve accomplished something because the support agent was able to serve speedy resolution and now the user can resume activity in the app. To summarize, the goal is to garner those 5-star ratings and reviews. This happens through prompting the right user, at the right time, and in the right format. Identify memorable moments for the user, have a system in place to track when those events occur and serving a timely prompt at the moment of accomplishment, or after a successful human interaction.
How should social media be integrated into your app customer support strategy?
Social channels like Twitter are very limited. You can't really service a customer with 140 characters. Generally a support team is always deflecting contact from a Twitter rant into a support channel like email or an in-app customer support portal. Social media is an easy avenue to shame a company publicly and elicit a response to an issue. So, it became a very important channel on the web. People started leveraging social media for support issues simply because companies were not providing a direct channel of communication to their users, or were providing sub-standard customer service. But in mobile, most of the social activity on mobile is happening within a very closed network of the app itself.
If you really look at the most successful companies out there, they’ve fully invested resources into mobile and the mobile experience. I can also talk about our customers. We work with the Microsoft Outlook team, and Outlook provides very good direct in app support, so users never have to vent their grievances on Twitter to receive responsive support. Because there is a direct and very easy way for users to receive help right in the app, there’s little incentive to vent frustrations on a public channel like Twitter. If you look at Microsoft Outlook, again they've got hundreds of agents standing by to answer the thousand of tickets filed from within the app itself, and probably only one or two people monitoring social media for any outliers. Social media channels are reserved for outliers. If you provide great in app direct support people are going to use it, they are going to be very friendly with you, as long as your support is good. Now if you have that channel and you don't support customers of course they're going to go off into social media and rant. It comes down to getting a direct in app support channel in place, and providing great support, and inevitably you'll see less negative chatter on social media. Don't focus that much on social support, focus on high quality and speedy in-channel support.
What should be the share of automated customer support vs. human interaction?
Even the most sophisticated customers rely heavily on human support for problems that cannot be resolved through self-service. Because mobile has ushered in an era of immediacy, 60% of people prefer to find answers using their smartphone rather than calling a contact center. Our team of data scientists found that across 1.3B devices 1 in 5 seek in-app help and of those who viewed an FAQ article, only 7% of those customers continued to file a support ticket. Automation in mobile customer support is largely through providing a native knowledge base or FAQs. A powerful in-app knowledge base has two benefits; the first being that customers are able to leverage the existing technology they are familiar with to resolve issues immediately. The second benefit is more on the organization side: if customers are able to find their answers using informative FAQs, there will be no need to submit a support ticket. Ultimately this increases productivity levels across your organization as agents are free to assist customers with more difficult issues, while common questions are deflected from the support queue. Reducing ticket volume through self-service depends largely on your ability to manage knowledge base content. Your knowledge base content must always reflect the most updated information in order to reduce ticket volume -- or the need to talk to a human for issue resolution.
The best practice when it comes to automation in customer support is content management and from there collect self-service analytics for greater customer insights. By tracking the articles your customers view, the order in which they view them, time spent viewing each article, and the customer sentiments (i.e. “Did you find this FAQ helpful”) gives a much clearer picture of their app experience. For example Supercell deploys content managers for all the available languages offered across their games. First, they ensure in-app FAQs are available in many different languages to provide all that knowledge content and localize for the players in different parts of the world. As common problems arise, one of these knowledge base content managers will update or publish an article in the FAQ right away and push it out to millions of users immediately. The idea is that by analyzing common issues or frustrations and proactively informing users through self-service methods, updating and informing users keeps contact volumes low.
Now, what about your VIP customers, do they receive human interaction?
A robust FAQ is crucial no matter what--the bare minimum in my opinion-- whether it's a VIP user or a free user. You can distinguish yourself from the competition by offering premium level service (i.e. human interaction) should a VIP user want to talk to a human. Make sure this interaction is not just available, but also instantaneous. VIP users expect that level of attentiveness and they should because by way of purchasing goods (virtual or physical) they are investing in your product. The key to driving loyalty from this subset of customers is in part due to the level of reliable, immediate service reserved for cohorts of elite users. Keep this interaction between agents and VIPs immediate. Spend money to staff up a live response team that's available for VIP customers. A lot of the gaming companies create separate VIP teams that secure financial dollars to ensure those VIP teams are well staffed with the necessary resources to provide extraordinary service to those high spenders. Let’s just face facts. Take the gaming industry. Two percent of your players are paying you all the money. Why would you not keep them happy? Why would you not throw all your money in there to keep them happy?
What’s the best strategy when updating your app? How can you prevent bad reviews from ensuing technical issues? (note: previous ratings become reset with an update)
The best strategy for app store updates should be driven by a combination of qualitative feedback and quantitative data. After an initial release the next update should be focused on bug fixes to minimize as many common issues as possible quickly. This will ultimately lower incoming support requests and allow you to improve app store ratings before your download velocity is impacted. As more users begin to provide feedback through your support portal, keep track of the most requested items, and then prioritize accordingly. Quantitative feedback is the data you receive from analytics and crash reports and should be used as a way to guide your product roadmap and prioritize feedback for upcoming release schedules. But quantitative feedback is only quantitative feedback. The real product management happens when you're able to determine the emotion of the user, and that's only through the qualitative feedback. If you let reported problems linger chances are you're going to lose that customer audience very soon.
Microsoft Outlook follows a similar product release process and they’ve done this very successfully. Every two weeks, the Outlook team ships a new version to the app stores. In those two weeks the team has optimized the feedback process through an in-app feedback channel, filtered through this feedback, prioritize top issues nagging customers, fix those issues and deploy to the app store. For quantitative data they referenced their crash reporting tool to determine the number of crashes per week and ensure those bugs were included in the next build. Using a combination of qualitative data collected from a private feedback channel and merging that information with quantitative feedback is the key to success. So they've optimized feedback as the way to improve the overall app experience and quickly iterate product based actionable customer feedback.
My number one prescription for guaranteeing success is twofold: first, put some sort of crash reporting tool to track all your crashes, and prioritize fixing those issues. Second, focus on the qualitative feedback from your users, and ensure to highlight new features or experience enhancements to let your customers know you’re listening and value their feedback.
Which new features can we expect in the coming months from Helpshift?
Stay Tuned - March is going to be a very exciting month for Helpshift new feature releases and suite expansion. :)