Last month, we previewed a number of the new Beacon 2.0 features, explaining our approach to designing an experience that’s actually scalable for support teams to maintain, while delighting customers every time.

We covered a lot of ground in that article, but we left out the chat experience. Today we’ll talk about what happens when customers want to chat with someone on your team.

Chat is all about setting and managing expectations

Our approach has always been to design for the customer experience first, then work our way backward. In designing the new Beacon, we kept one guiding principle top of mind: Customers have wildly different expectations for chat compared to email.

Many products call it “messaging” and blur the lines between a chat and an email, showing you a chat UI whether someone is available on the other end or not. In our experience, this approach is a recipe for disappointed customers:

Frusterating chat conversation

What happens when expectations aren’t aligned

We’ve been careful to only show customers a chat UI when someone is available on the other end to help. When there isn’t, they’ll see a contact form instead:

Help Scout Beacon chat/

Beacon when no one is available (left), versus when your team is ready to chat (right)

We also learned that not everyone wants to chat. Sometimes your question isn’t urgent or you don’t have time to go back and forth with someone for 10 minutes. So we decided to give customers a choice:

Help Scout Beacon chat

Choose Message (asynchronous) or Chat (synchronous)

Once you decide to chat with someone, there’s a waiting game, which is where Help Bot steps in. Currently all Help Bot will do is send a couple of messages to set expectations and ask for the customer’s email address. Later we’ll look into making Help Bot even smarter, but for now it does a good job bridging the gap between the start of a chat and when someone accepts it:

Help Scout Beacon chat

Waiting for someone to accept a chat

Once you are connected with a customer, what they see looks fairly similar to other chat interfaces they’ve experienced. Our goal wasn’t to reinvent the wheel — only to set and manage expectations along the way.

Help Scout Beacon chat

A live chat in Help Scout

At any point in the chat, customers can close the Beacon and be notified of new messages in-app. This is what it looks like:

Help Scout Beacon chat

In-app notification

When the chat is completed, Beacon asks for some feedback and the customer is on their way:

Help Scout Beacon chat

Satisfaction rating after a chat

Next up: Managing chats in Help Scout

The chat UI is just a small part of the overall Beacon experience and flow. Next month I’ll be previewing the most challenging part of the new Beacon: managing chats in your Help Scout mailbox.

Other products either lump chats and emails all into the same queue, or they have completely separate apps for chat and email. Both of these approaches are sub-optimal for various reasons, so we built a separate Chat queue into the existing Mailbox, which is only visible to support agents when they’re available to chat.

It also has a completely different design that better aligns with customers’ expectations and the need to handle multiple chats at once:

Help Scout Beacon chat

Chat list

As you can see, there’s a lot going on here! We’ll dig in further next month.

If you’re interested in following along as we make progress, sign up here. Email me when Beacon 2.0 launches!🎉
Nick Francis

Nick Francis

Nick is co-founder and CEO of Help Scout, where he is on a mission to make every customer service interaction a more human one. He lives and breathes product design, customer experience, and building a thoughtful, thriving company.

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“The simplicity of Help Scout makes the work so much easier. It's not complicated by thousands of plugins or tabs — it's just you and the customer solving a problem.” — Joey Blanco, Customer Storyteller