In my time running online businesses, I’ve used various ways of handling customer support emails. Everything from just hanging my email address out on the website to using fancy helpdesk solutions.
I’ve used Zendesk, HelpScout, and Helpwise. I then decided to simplify things and just switch back to email. I’m now managing everything directly in FastMail and customers can just send emails or submit one of the many forms across this site (powered by Fluent Forms).
Well, my friends at WP Manage Ninja have released a brand new solution called Fluent Support.
They’re adding this to their lineup which already includes some plugins that I’ve already reviewed, such as Fluent Forms (see my Fluent Forms review) and FluentCRM (read about my transition to FluentCRM).
I use both Fluent Forms and FluentCRM already. I’m a fan of their products. I’m a fan of their development speed and accessibility. I also like how well-integrated their tools are.
Fluent Support adds to the mix.
It is a Wordpress-based customer help desk. It integrates fully with several other Wordpress systems, but obviously works well with FluentCRM and Fluent Forms.
The potential of this for any Wordpress-based business is strong. Consider this…
- Full, seamless integration with the CRM itself, so you have full display of all their tags, lists, and other CRM data. No need to look things up in separate screens.
- Use fully custom forms across your site… any of which can send support tickets to any of your support inboxes.
- You can have a nice support portal inside your site for logged-in users, with full ticket histories.
So, let’s take a look and see how this thing stacks up…
Do You Actually Need A Help Desk?
Before diving in, you do need to consider whether you actually need a help desk.
For many, simply using email is enough. You can set up forms on your site using any plugin (although Fluent Forms is what I use and recommend) and have it just send you an email. Then, you reply back and handle everything via your inbox.
If you’re the only one in your business, this may be totally fine.
Where a help desk really comes in handy is:
- You have other people who help handle incoming emails and you need organization between team members. Email sucks for this because you could end up forwarding emails to other team members and it can be a real mess. Trust me, I know. 🙂
- You want better organization and tracking of tickets that goes beyond what you can do in a typical email platform.
- You want shortcuts, such as automated workflows, canned responses to speed up replies, etc.
So, that’s up to you. 🙂
I’ve been handling communications fine via email, but there have been some complexities when it comes to organizing things.
Having things back to a ticketed nature, with statuses and with easily trackable nature and full history, is attractive.
So, Let’s Play With Fluent Support
Like most plugins from these guys, they have a free version that contains baseline functionality and then you have the PRO plugin that adds the fun stuff. So, 2 plugins total.
So, I install and activate. I’m asked to name the business, of course. I also need to select a page on the site to act as my support portal. You can either choose a page you’ve already got or have it auto-create one. Then, we’re all set.
For this early stage of the product, it is pretty full-featured already. No doubt because they originally built this for themselves to manage all their own in-house support needs. Then… decided to turn it into a product. 🙂
When you first get into it, you’ve definitely got a blank slate. So, you’ll need to set it up the way you want it to be and you need to figure that out in advance.
You will set up your different “businesses” under Business Settings. I think they should change the name of this to “Inboxes” because that’s what you’re doing.
When you set up a new inbox, you can choose whether to make it web-based or email-based.
I personally find this distinction a little confusing. Essentially, the web-based option is supposed to be limited to your website whereas the email-based option supports email piping and means your customer can email you back via email.
Personally, I don’t think there should be a distinction. I think all inboxes should support piping and tickets could either be submitted via form or via email. In reality, it looks like that’s the way it is already. Plus, you can always set up Fluent Forms to submit new tickets, too.
Let’s talk about email piping…
How Email Piping Works In Fluent Support
Email piping is what enables emails to be captured and stored in a database and ultimately displayed on a website. The fact that Fluent Support supports email piping is quite cool because that means you can continue to let your customers and subscribers send you actual emails without forcing them to use your forms.
Simply put, email is familiar. Email is simple. It is always nice not to force your customers to log into your site and submit a special form.
Email piping can be quite technical to set up, however Fluent Support makes it dead easy. It looks to me as if it is provisioning an email pipe with Amazon Web Services to do the work. From your perspective, it is as simple as clicking the button to add an email-based box. It will auto-generate an email address to forward emails to.
The only techie part you’ll need to do is set up your email system to auto-forward all your incoming emails to your chosen email address to your piping address. They’ve already got documentation in place to set this up on a number of different platforms (see the links at the bottom of their article on piping).
I personally manage all my emails using FastMail. In the case of FastMail, every inbox email address you set up is called an “alias”. Each alias has it’s own settings. So, I just set it up so that all email that is sent into, say, my Blog Marketing Academy support email address will get a copy auto-sent to the piping script.
Once I did that, I basically just sent an email to my support address. Within a few seconds, sure enough… the email showed up as a support ticket inside of Fluent Support.
Surprisingly simple, really.
Shortly after I did this, I happened to get an email from an existing member as part of a conversation we were already having. And here you can see how that ticket shows up…
What’s really cool about this is how it so quickly associated that incoming email with her profile in my system. It conveniently displays all the tags from the CRM so I can quickly see what is going on. I can add/remove tags right then and there. And if I click on the purple button, it links right to the FluentCRM profile where I can access all kinds of things.
Now, what’s really cool is that this email shows up in her support portal history. When I view the site as her, there’s the ticket…
She could also easily submit a new ticket (or respond to an existing one) right from the website.
So, the system works pretty well. It reminds me a lot of when I was using Helpscout combined with the Help Scout Desk plugin. Helpscout is a quite capable helpdesk solution and the Help Scout Desk plugin enabled an integrated web-based portal on top of Wordpress.
The difference in the case of Fluent Support is that it is much more budget-friendly and doesn’t require 2 separate tools.
Most good help desks offer some kind of automation. Where based on certain rules you set up, you can tag tickets, auto-assign to certain people as well as other similar actions.
Fluent Support does it, too.
You can create a workflow. A workflow can either be manual or automatic.
A manual workflow would allow you to perform a series of steps at once (kind of like a macro), yet trigger it manually when handling a ticket.
An automatic workflow would be triggered based on rules and run automatically. For instance, you could trigger it based on certain words being in the ticket subject or body. You can also trigger it when the ticket is first created or when the customer actually responds.
There are a number of potential actions you can do as part of your workflow.
These actions include:
- Add Response. Essentially, auto-reply.
- Assign Agent. In a multi-person team, you can assign the ticket to certain people based on criteria.
- Add Internal Note. Add a staff note to the ticket, which is an internal response seen by staff but not seen by the customer.
- Close Ticket. Just get rid of it.
- Add Tag(s). You can tag the ticket using one of the tags you set up in Fluent Support.
- Remove Tag(s).
This is all very convenient for designing internal processes to help speed up and properly route communications.
If you find yourself saying the same thing over and over, canned replies can be a time-saver. Or… if you have certain internal processes and tone you want to be used in your business and you want to ensure that your assistant executes the process, canned replies enable this.
It works quite simply in Fluent Support. Just name your canned reply and type out the message you want sent.
Once done, you can either easily select and insert these replies when replying to a ticket.
Simply click “Templates” and you can quickly access canned replies.
This can definitely be a useful feature and something you’re very unlikely to have within regular email.
Other Features Of Note
Fluent Support is actually pretty feature-rich already, even though this is still an early stage product.
You’ve got full reporting so you can see stats of how well customer support is working. You can keep track of wait times on tickets as well as break it down per agent so you can track staff performance.
You can track customers within Fluent Support and anybody that submits a ticket gets a profile automatically. This customer list is different from what is in FluentCRM.
You’ve got a full activity log of support desk activity so you can see what’s going on globally.
You can set up custom fields so you can collect customized data on support tickets. Those fields can be public (meaning they show up on ticket forms) or internal for staff usage.
You can set up an internal tag structure and categorize tickets.
You can set up different products and have it show up on your ticket form so customers can choose which product they’re asking for support on. This could just as easily be thought of as departments, though.
Obviously, you’ve got direct integration with FluentCRM. So, you can optionally add anybody who submits a ticket to your email list and tag them in certain ways.
Basically… it does a lot. 🙂
My Overall Thoughts (What’s Good And Needs Improvement)
Overall, I’m pretty impressed with Fluent Support. They’ve done a good job here. Even though it is just being released publicly, it is clear they’ve been using this themselves for awhile and this isn’t some half-baked tool.
I did notice a few odd choices of language throughout the interface. Likely due to the fact that English is not their first language. Those are minor issues that will be fixed. Keep in mind, I am testing using a beta. It is close to what would be released publicly, but it is still a beta.
I really appreciate how simple they made the email piping. I think email-based support is quite important so that we’re not forcing users to log in and use fancy forms. The email piping not only worked, but it was fast and very easy to set up.
Now, I know the team always looks at these recommendations. It is one of the things I like about these guys. They’re responsive and they don’t take a million years to develop things. So, here’s some things I’d like to see added to Fluent Support…
#1 – Add a Dashboard Widget and Toolbar Icon
A support desk is just begging for a widget to go on the main admin panel Wordpress dashboard. This would allow quicker staff access to the support tickets as well as an overview of what tickets might be waiting.
I also think they should add quick access to the support tickets via the admin toolbar. Alongside it, a numerical indication of how many tickets assigned to you are sitting there waiting on a reply.
#2 – Some Functionality For Handling Incoming Spam
When you enable email-based support, inevitably there will be spammy tickets coming into the support desk. So, some way to block this stuff from creating tickets/customers would be good.
For instance, I had yet another email sent to support asking for a guest post. I get these things all the time and I always just delete them because it is spam. Yet, Fluent Support picked it up, created a ticket and a customer profile for this person.
Having an option on workflows to not just close a ticket, but outright delete it and block it from adding anything to the database would be handy as a way to set up internal filters.
I could probably also set up filters inside of FastMail to only forward to the email pipe in certain instances. You could do this in other email systems, too. But, building some method to handle it within Fluent Support would be useful.
#3 – Tighter FluentCRM Integration
I like how Fluent Support automatically shows FluentCRM data in the ticket interface if they have a profile in FluentCRM. But, I think we could make this integration even better.
- Add triggers and actions inside FluentCRM automations specifically tied to support tickets.
- Have some kind of way to defer to FluentCRM for customer profiles rather than Fluent Support’s own customer database. In my business, FluentCRM would be lead and I honestly don’t care about the customer database within Fluent Support.
- Ability to put FluentCRM merge fields into canned replies from Fluent Support.
#4 – A Little More Control Over Interface
Now that Fluent Support is a public product, there are some things that could be user-adjustable to allow the product to adapt to different businesses and environments.
For instance, the ability to change the language so that “Products” is referred to as “Departments”.
Also, perhaps an option to enable team support versus a solopreneur who might be the only person managing the desk. If you don’t have multiple agents, then it is redundant having a “Support Staff” dropdown as a filter for tickets on the interface. Likewise, it is also redundant to have a “My Tickets” section or “Unassigned”… because one person is handling all of it so there’s no need for those statuses.
I also think there should be some built-in styling options for the support desk forms on the front-end. Right now, it is just using default styling similar to Fluent Forms. Yes, I could easily modify it using CSS, however it does make it simpler for less techie people to have a few styling options built into the interface.
I also think enabling the use of different support portals rather than an “all in one” would provide more flexibility. For instance, what if somebody wanted to display tickets for different departments/products in different parts of the site? A use case might be if somebody set up a special support section only for coaching clients. And they want those coaching conversations to show up separately from standard tickets. Modifying the shortcode for the portal to accept attributes for different inboxes would solve the issue.
Summary And Final Thoughts
Fluent Support is a very robust support desk package for Wordpress. There’s no doubt about it.
It is basically Helpscout for Wordpress. Only thing is… Helpscout costs a LOT more. Plus, most hosted support desks charge per-user. That can add up quickly.
Fluent Support can grow to support a very large team of agents and it doesn’t increase your costs one single bit.
And if you’re using other Fluent tools, this is almost a non-brainer.
When I was using Helpscout, I had no easy plug-and-play option to display CRM data alongside a ticket. It would have taken some fancy programming and usage of the API to make that work. Yet, now that I am using Fluent tools, all that is simple and automatic.
Let’s put this into perspective…
Switching to FluentCRM is going to save me $1500 per year.
If I were still using Helpscout for support, it would be running $35 per user. With even just one assistant plus myself, that’s $70 PER MONTH for a support desk (or $840 per year).
I later began using Helpwise, but even that tool charged per user and even comes with limits on how many inboxes or automations you can use.
Fluent Support alleviates all of that. No limits. No surcharges.
But, it goes beyond simply saving money. It is also about the tight integration.
Having a support desk that is tightly integrated into your software stack directly means there is no complication with making things work together. No dealing with APIs or third-party scripts. It is all right there.
When I switched to FluentCRM, the money savings was just a bonus for me. The real reason I did it was the simplicity of having everything in one spot. And I see Fluent Support as a natural extension of that.
So, will I implement Fluent Support here at the Blog Marketing Academy? 🙂
I might indeed. While I do appreciate the simplicity of doing it all via email, there definitely would be some improvements to organization and internal processes by moving back to a proper support desk.
I think it would be easier on my customers, too. They could easily view their ticket history right in their member accounts. The elegance of that from the perspective of a membership site owner is obvious.
Plus, email piping means I could continue to support standard email communication and make it easy on my customers. And I like that a lot. 🙂
I definitely recommend Fluent Support as a robust, yet cost effective customer support desk.
Anybody running a Wordpress-based business and/or a membership site should consider this tool.
For a limited time during their launch window, Fluent Support will be available as a lifetime license. Like I said… it is practically a no-brainer. 🙂