9 Best Intercom Alternatives For Saas and Online Businesses in 2018
At Convertize, offering the best customer experience has always been a priority. Since the first day we launched our A/B Testing software we have offered in-app support with Intercom. So why did we look for Intercom alternatives in 2018? And why did we choose to combine Crisp & SendInBlue as the best way of providing customer support?
In this article, we compare the 9 best Customer Messaging Apps & Intercom Alternatives
- Crisp: Best technical alternative but poor customer support
- Drift: Often seen as the 2nd after Intercom, but poor loading speed
- GoSquared: Best customer support
We also consider whether combining different types of software could provide a better all-round package. Our research included the very best Help Desk and Email Marketing Automation software.
- Why did we compare the Intercom Alternatives?
- What is an Intercom alternative?
- 9 best Customer Messaging Apps & Intercom Alternatives
- Combining several software Packages as an Intercom alternative
- Why did we choose Crisp
In truth, we have not moved away from Intercom entirely. The main reason for this is the “Switching cost”.
Intercom is fully integrated with the Convertize app, and moving to Crisp completely would require days of work from our Tech team. The team is already working continuously to improve our app, so a total switch would involve considerable cost.
Instead of diverging entirely, we simply reduced our reliance on Intercom. To replace this service, we have begun to use Crisp to support Nudgify (the Social Proof app) and SendInBlue to automate our Email Marketing.
When we started with Intercom we had less than 100 users in the app. With this in mind, it was both convenient and cost effective to use Intercom for “almost everything”.
We used Intercom in a number of ways:
- As a Messaging app (which is their core product)
- As an Analytics platform. This allowed us to track the performance of our PPC and SEO campaigns by segmenting the utm parameter (Yes, we also used Google Analytics and Mixpanel, but it was convenient to have all the data in one place).
- For Leads and Customer Management. Segmenting users with tags provides a simple CRM system.
- For Email Marketing Automation.
- To track customer segments by category.
Overall the app came in very handy. It offloaded a lot of background tasks from our Tech Team and offered an all-in-one solution to managing our customer base.
If Intercom was so helpful, why did we start to look for alternatives? This is why:
1. Intercom charges for Visitors, not REAL users
If you use Intercom to Acquire customers, they will count each visitor that you log into their system. Over time, you will build up tens-of-thousands of logged users.
They have recently changed their pricing policy to charge for Active users. However, you should beware of how they define an “Active user.” According to Intercom’s pricing policy, an Active user is anyone you have contacted at least once over the last 90 days. That includes users that have had their data updated. Each new visitor, regardless of engagement, counts as 1 for at least 90 days.
Even using Intercom to engage or support customers with an in-app message (to announce a product update, for example) will increase your cost.
So, with 3000 users, you would expect to pay at least $300 per month.
Also note that Intercom has a very complex pricing structure. Each module comes with a fixed + variable fee, so it’s incredibly difficult to estimate your monthly costs. You are forced to check them at the end of each month.
The pricing structure was a large part of our decision to look for Intercom alternatives.
2. Intercom creates False Expectations
At any time, your visitors can receive a triggered message offering assistance. This gives them the impression that someone – a real human – is there to help them.
- When you are offline, it creates a false expectation that somebody is available to help. Your visitors will quickly realise that their only option is to enter their email address and wait for a response
- When online, with your support team ready to enter the conversation, it feels like an ideal solution. But since customers receive “instant support”, they also want instant resolution!! If your team is not able to sustain that level of service, the false expectation will be exposed.
That’s why Intercom introduced “… typically replies in a few hours”
Why create a false expectation, when you are later forced to backtrack…?
How to overcome this?
- You can use Bots: Intercom offers Bots to assist your customers any time of the day. Strangely, though, Intercom do not use Bots to help their own customers. Humans don’t like Bots unless they behave like humans, and customers frequently ask for a “human please”.
- You can make things clear to your customers: Tell them that they will have to wait and DON’T USE a messaging app or a Chat unless you are ready to offer instant resolution
It may seem contrary to sales principles, but it’s a fact that false expectations reduce customer satisfaction. That’s why we considered moving to standard customer support app like Zendesk as an Intercom alternative.
3. Multiple agents reply to the same request, differently
There is currently no way to merge conversations in Intercom. So if, for whatever reason, a customer opens different windows with the same request, you will end up having different agents replying (possibly differently) to their requests.
The best example is Intercom’s own website. The support team usually takes a few hours to reply to any request. The consequence is that you – as a customer – create different “tickets” for the same question, in the hope that you will receive a quicker response from another agent.
After a few days, you will have received as many answers as tickets, sometimes with different answers.
This creates confusion for your customers, and gives them the impression that you work in a disorganised and unstructured way.
4. Multiple Conversations are left open
Once a conversation is closed, it will still be visible in the Intercom window. This means that, if a customer needs to re-open a conversation, it will take them quite some time to work out which window to re-open. Your customers will get lost, and your customer support team will as well.
This adds to the confusion and further downgrades the customer experience.
5. Intercom is good for Messaging, not for Marketing Automation
Intercom mainly works with users’ registration data rather than their behaviours or website behaviours (unless you have created some tags and synchronised them to the database.)
There is no link between each Email template. Each of them has its own targeting; you can’t trigger an email newsletter based on the open or click of another.
To address this, we considered using Email Marketing Automation software as a way of replacing Intercom’s “Messages” feature.
6. Intercom customer support is not convincing
It seems that Intercom is a living paradox: they sell a customer support tool, but don’t offer good customer support.
- It takes them hours to reply to requests
- Their agents copy-and-paste templates, rather than offering specific replies to specific issues. It creates endless back-and-forth discussions before you finally get a proper answer. This can take days.
- If you are based in Europe, there is often no agent available when you try to reach them.
- If you do reach someone in the US, they sometimes ask you to wait until the following morning to speak to someone in their Dublin support centre. (Why, really?)
The customer support they offer makes you wonder if their system is worth copying. Why would you us a Messaging app for your website, if the Messaging app they use does not appear to work?
7. Intercom pricing structure is too complex
In Brainfluence, Roger Dooley makes an important point about the Pain of Paying:
“Don’t sell like a Sushi Chef”
Nobody likes standing at the checkout and handing over money, so it makes sense to keep pricing simple. It seems like the Intercom team is unaware of the Pain of Paying principle; their pricing is far too complex.
- The software is divided into 3 offers, each with a different price
- They charge per volume (active people)
- They charge per seat (agent)
From the Venture Capitalist perspective, their’s is a good business model. Once you start using Intercom, and your business begins to grow, they will charge you a lot and make their investors happy.
But do you really get value for money? We didn’t think so, and that’s why we wanted some Intercom alternatives.
This is the first question we had to answer when we decided to replace Intercom.
- We needed to understand how we used it (What did we use and why.)
- We needed to identify the features we wanted to keep
Since Intercom is an all-in-one customer support solution, alternatives could be either one software system or several.
The obvious place to start was with software that offers the same features: so called “Customer Messaging Platforms”.
This is how we conducted our comparison of the 9 best Intercom alternatives (below).
A less obvious approach would be to combine different types of software, each of which is equal to, or better than, one of Intercom’s features.
We explored both options, and considered every possible solution before deciding on how to replace Intercom.
We evaluated each Intercom alternative using 5 criteria:
- Features: The score is based on Must-Have features and Nice-to-Have features
- UX and “User-friendliness”: The score is based on how intuitive the UX is
- Loading speed: It is proven that loading speed impacts the User Experience, so we tested the Loading Speed and gave it a score from 1 to 5 (5 being the fastest)
- Customer support: The score is based on how well and how quickly they replied to our requests
- Pricing readiness: How easy it is to understand their pricing and estimate the monthly cost
|Features||UX and |
|Loading Speed||Customer support||Pricing Readiness|
Intercom appears to be the best overall solution for our needs, but their pricing structure really is a pain.
wants to be seen as the best Intercom alternative, but they fall behind on some must-have features and have a sales ethos, similar to Hubspot. They want you to pay $1000 per month and their plans are organised to achieve this goal. They also have serious loading speed issues (the slowest app in our test.)
is a good alternative to Intercom if coupled with Drip.com, but we didn’t like the fact they you can’t customise the in-app messages and tag conversations. On the plus side, GoSquared has the best customer support of ALL Intercom alternatives: The support team knows the product perfectly and is very responsive to any query.
is the new kid on the block. Despite this, it is already better than Drift on key features and has the most competitive offer at £25/month for 4 agents. Their main problem is customer support. Crisp is currently a small team where the 2 co-founders (Baptiste and Valérian) also assist customers. Overall, we didn’t have a good experience when sending questions or making suggestions.
Crisp’s co-founders have a very French attitude of making the customer feel stupid. (Trust me on this; I’m French). The best improvement that Crisp could make would be to set up a REAL Customer Success Team and get the co-founder to stop answering customers via Chat or Emails.
We also had issues with their UX. The platform is not intuitive. Crisp has been designed by Tech people, for Tech people. The good news is that they are fast at developing their product and adding features. The bad news is that the current experience of their customers is not always good.
To compare and evaluate Intercom alternatives, we have identified 16 key features, either from Intercom itself or Intercom alternatives.
We then segmented these features into 2 groups: Must-have and Nice-to-have
|Leave a note for another team member||Tag Conversation||WYSIWYG Editor for in-app messages (Cues)||Filter Chat Conversation by Status||Filter Chat Conversation by Agent||Display during office hours only||Prompt Email after conversation has started (no gate)|
- Leave a note for another team member: To ask another team member for help (usually IT)
- Tag Conversation: To retrieve feedback, such as complaints or suggestions, at a later date
- WYSIWYG Editor for in-app messages (Cues): To style your in-app messages
- Filter Chat Conversation by Status: To manage your conversions like a Help Desk and archive them
- Filter Chat Conversation by Agent: To quickly access your own conversations.
- Display during office hours only: To reduce false expectation
- Prompt Email after conversation has started (no gate): Less frustrating than forcing the user to enter an email first
|Customer Messaging Software||Display only one trigger per visit||Exit Intent Trigger||Live View||Co-browsing||Single Conversation (by Default or Option)||Generate random name for Visitors||Collision detection||Merge conversations||Merge Users|
- Display only one trigger per visit: To avoid being too intrusive and repetitive
- Exit Intent Trigger: Useful when used to acquire customers
- Live View: To see who is currently on your website
- Co-browsing: The ability to co-browse with customers can help you to provide assistance
- Generate random name for Visitors: More user-friendly for your customer team
- Another agent is writing (collision detection): A common feature offered by Help Desk software
- Single Conversation (by Default or Option): To have one global thread with your customers
- Merge conversations: To avoid multiple discussions on the same subject
- Merge Users: To avoid duplicate users
To compare prices, you need to break down your needs based on the most complex pricing model. In our case, that was Intercom.
We compared the monthly prices for 1 Website, 3 Agents and 3000 Users.
We also considered “extras” such as Email Campaigns (not always included), Knowledge Base and Bots.
|Pricing model||Monthly Price for Chat and In-app Triggers (1)||Monthly Price adding Email Campaigns (1+2)||Monthly Price adding Knowledge base|
|Monthly Price adding Bots
|1||Intercom||Charge per volume of active users, per option, per agent, per everything they can||$315||$315||Included||Included|
|2||Crisp||Charge per Team||£25||£95||£95||N/A|
|3||Drift||Charge per volume of users and Agent||$95||$95||Included||$500|
|4||GoSquared||2 Plans with Everything, per Team||£95||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|5||HelpCrunch||Per agent, BUT emails are counted separately||$57||$120||N/A||N/A|
|6||Reamaze||Charge per Team||$40||$40||Included||N/A|
|7||Acquire.io||Charge per Agent||$75||$75||$200||$200|
|8||Customerly||Charge per Team and Emails||€29||€49||N/A||N/A|
|9||Chaport||Charge per Agent||$29||N/A||N/A||N/A|
Crisp is a clear winner in terms of both features and price.
When you break down Intercom’s features, this is what you find:
- Messaging app / Live Chat
- Shared Inbox / Help Desk
- Lead and Customer database / Simple CRM
- In-app notification
- Knowledge Base
That leaves a lot of combinations! The software comparison platform Capterra lists:
- 241 Help Desk softwares
- 230 Live Chat softwares
- 188 Knowledge Management Software
After researching the best individual solutions for each feature, we found that the best solution was to combine 2 types of software:
Since we have a strong expertise in Email Marketing, we know all-too-well that sending emails is a specialist job. Only Email marketing software can handle deliverability issues seriously. That’s why we wanted to manage our email sequences through a leader in this market.
Here is our comparison of the 8 Best Help Desk & Knowledge Base software tools:
|Rank||Software||Main offer||Messenger||Messenger rating (5)||Prompts, Nudge, in-app messages||Shared Inbox||Knowledge Base||Search knowledge base from the Messenger window||Multisite/ Multidomains|
|1||Hubspot Service Hub||Marketing, sales, and service software||3|
|2||ZendDesk||Customer Service Platform||2|
|3||FreshWorks||Customer Service Platform||3|
|4||Kayako||Help Desk Software||2|
|5||HelpScout||Help Desk Software||2|
|6||HappyFox||Help Desk Software||2|
|8||Wix Answers||Knowledge base||-|
Overall, Hubspot appears as a serious Intercom alternative, but we easily get lost navigating their platform: it’s a kind of do-everything platform for Marketing, Sales and now Customer Support. When on the FREE version you see all menus and many of them are “locked” meaning that you need to upgrade to get access to them.
Zendesk is serious alternative to Intercom, but their Chat feature is very poor and moving our team to a standard ticketing system would be another “switching cost”. If you consider Intercom vs Zendesk, you should probably read Outreach: “Why We Switched From Intercom To Zendesk”.
Kayako was the 2nd most serious contender: they have a great offer where you can integrate your knowledge base with the Chat. But we lost confidence in their product when encountering bugs during the testing phase. We were not convinced by their support, either, and the way they handle issues.
SupportHero is a very interesting option if you want to keep Intercom, since their knowledge base integrates with Intercom. It now competes with Intercom Articles.
WixAnswers, although not offering a Chat solution, has a very interesting FREE knowledge base offer that you can display in a widget – just like Intercom – on your website. But it was not enough for our needs.
To conclude, we felt that moving to Zendesk or similar services would mean offering a very different customer experience. It also appears that there is currently no Help Desk software on the market that seamlessly integrates a Knowledge Base with a Chat solution.
As a means of replacing Intercom’s email management function (called “Messages”), we compared Email Marketing Automation Software packages. This would provide an easy way of setting up Email Sequences. Our research is outlined in greater detail in our blog discussing the 8 best Email Marketing Automation Software Tools.
In our case, we decided to move all our lists to SendInBlue and re-organise our campaigns this way:
- A list for Blog subscribers, with a Blog email sequence
- A list for Saas SignUps and Customers, with a Welcome email sequence specific to our Saas
- A list of inactive Blog subscribers, ready to be deleted
In each list, we use a set of Tags to better segment our users.
Over the long run, it’s possible that we will move to Drip.com for Saas SignUps and Customers and keep SendInBlue for our Blog subscribers.
But if you don’t have the resources for that kind of setup, the easiest option would be to move to a Customer Messaging App, since it’s a more straightforward Intercom alternative.
We tested each of the above software packages over a period of 2 weeks.
- We quickly excluded Drift due to their loading speed issue and pricing policy.
- We almost went for HelpCrunch, but noticed some bugs and speed issues. We also didn’t like the way they count emails in a separate pricing plan (it’s too complicated).
- GoSquared coupled with Drip.com was a very strong proposition. However, the fact that we couldn’t tag conversations made this a no-go.
- In the end, we concluded that Crisp was the closest equivalent to Intercom and the most competitive offer. At £25/month for 4 agents, this was the best offer for us.
Crisp customer support really is a pain in the neck, but we prioritised features over customer support (given that it’s a reliable software platform, we shouldn’t need to speak to them too often.) Let’s hope that they will improve as they grow.
There is currently no real equivalent to Intercom. Therefore, if you are choosing an alternative, you need to know what you want first.
For Customer Messaging, Intercom offers one of the best products with the most user-friendly interface. They do, however, lack some of the Nice-to-have features developed by their competitors (Exit Intent for example).
If Intercom starts offering a serious Email Marketing Automation feature like Drip or AutopilotHQ, it will be a very strong product.
Regardless, price is a growing issue. Moving all customers to the new pricing structure, gives more reasons to look for alternatives:
If money is not an object:
- Use Intercom for it’s Messaging app + In-app messages
- Use Drip.com for Email Marketing Automation
If you want a simple interface and simple pricing:
- Use GoSquared for it’s Messaging app + In-app messages
- Use Drip.com for Email Marketing Automation
If you want a cheap and good Intercom Alternative:
- Use Crisp for both Messaging and Email Marketing Automation
If you want co-browsing and bots:
- Use Acquire.io: their co-browsing feature is really good
If you only want a Chat with the Intercom style:
- Use Chaport for its Messaging app
On the HelpDesk and Knowledge Base side, I would like to recommend Kayako or HelpScout. In both cases, they need to improve their Messaging apps.
You might wonder why we didn’t include any Chat software like LiveChat, Tawk.to, Chatra.io. We actually tested a few of them and quickly concluded that NONE can really be an Intercom alternative:
Chat softwares are designed to have temporary one to one conversations, they don’t offer in-app messages and lead management in the way Intercom does.
If you liked this article, please share it or post your comment below.