The idea of in-app support is pretty simple. Whenever you have a question when using an application, you can click one button to get instant help from a support agent.
No matter if you are a mobile or desktop user, there's no need to search the web, browse support forums, email or call the in-app support. You're provided with answers almost instantly. Good customer service doesn't really get much faster than that if you don't plan on getting a product bundled with a dedicated support agent.
With the recent release of Amazon's Mayday, a built-in support system for the new Kindle Fire, there has been a lot of discussion on the feasibility of such solution. When your product goes big, you run the risk of not having enough staff to cover all the inquiries.
When using the Mayday function, you get to see and hear the agent, while the agent can only hear you. Support agents will be able to write on your screen or even directly take control to show you how to use the product.
My question is, how many users need this kind of function? A developer's ultimate aim should be to create a product that is self-explanatory and doesn't require any additional support. Some media outlets suggest that Mayday's launch is a move towards the less-tech savvy clientele (link no longer available). This could be an easy gateway for people who don't get along with new technology to well. However, it will come at a bigger price tag for them, as the price of the cheapest model will go up from $200 to $229.
Is the in-app support worth the extra 30 bucks? I don't think so, especially when these kind of function have been available for a while now. Here are a few products that already have a similar kind of support available and don't charge extra for it.
Direct chat in-app support
Companies like Rushcliff, a medical software producer, and ActiveCampaign, developer of a marketing automation application, have both created their own in-app support and made it a part of their offering.
"Our clever technical team integrated chat into our software in a pop up box style so that users can effectively leave the chat open all day and periodically chat to us when they need assistance," said James Austin from Rushcliff.
Using this chat, customers can get answers as soon as questions arise, without the need to leave the application.
ActiveCampaign had a similar idea. They added a direct chat function to their platform, as "it was just the logical thing to do," said Jon Maldia from ActiveCampaign. "This allows users to contact us right where they are having the issue," he added.
With a bit of effort put into coding, both these companies created their own, scalable version of Mayday.
Outsourcing built-it support
In-app support is not only reserved for business with a dedicated programming team though. A number of companies have been offering built-in support for app developers (link no longer available) for a while now. When making an app, the developer can use a ready-made software development kit, or SDK, that places a direct support function in their app. This way companies get the full benefit of a direct support function without having to worry about designing and coding it. What's more, they are not limited to a single device, like Mayday is.
Various providers offer different support functions in their SDKs. Some, like Helpshift offer a basic ticketing function that can get you started on providing quick help. Other, like ShowKit, offer functions similar to Mayday, except for the video feed.
While on the topic of video feed, it seems to be the biggest problem with the Amazon's built-in support function. It's really hard to scale, since agents can't take more than one call at a time. The whole effort can go to waste if users have to wait for ages before their call gets answered.
Future of built-in support
Will Mayday be popular among Kindle users? Will they use the function a lot? How will Amazon address the problem of scalability of the support? It's to early to tell. Let's see how Jeff Bezos tackles the problem first before passing a judgment.
In my opinion, the popularity of Kindle can create a problem when a large volume of support cases will start flowing in. Its video feed is the culprit here. In general, solutions based on one-to-one communication will have a hard time scaling.
When it comes to in-app support, it's definitely a step forward, since it simplifies and speeds up the communication between a user and a company. It just has to be done right, in a way that doesn't hinder its natural characteristics.
Photo courtesy of Ben Schumin
Update [Oct 22, 2013]
We've decided to embrace the idea of in-app support in our own product. It's simply too appealing not to use it.
LiveChat users will be able to consult our support whenever such need arises straight from our web application.