On September 7, 2017 Helpshift announced the appointment of a new CEO in a blog post. Salesforce veteran Linda Crawford, with a tenure in the CRM arena that stretches back to 1996, took over the role, being the successor of co-founder Abinash Tripathy. Before, she held various positions at Salesforce, Rivermine, and Siebel. Most recently she held the position of a Chief Customer Officer at Optimizely. This track record certainly qualifies her to have a go at growing an interesting company to the next level.
Helpshift itself is the company that created the mobile in app support market back in 2011 and, so far, has a keen focus on this area under the leadership of Abinash. Investors include Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, and Salesforce. Both, Microsoft and Salesforce, have been lead investors of the Series B financing round in June 2016.
The Bigger Picture
The customer service center market is extremely crowded and contested. Helpshift itself has a strong product and a good customer base, originating from the gaming industry but also running the customer service technology behind Microsoft Outlook Mobile. The company is targeting bigger accounts and is already amongst the ranks of Salesforce partners, having a deep integration.
However, the overall market is turning into a platform play, which will be dominated by two or three business platforms for bigger companies, and maybe a handful more that cover SMBs.
The platform companies are also providing strong business applications, including customer service, even in-app service. And then there are companies that build multi channel customer service solutions on these platforms, too.
Are they as good as Helpshift? Likely not. But they cover more use cases.
Helpshift, as a niche player, needs to find the right balance between the platforms and to extend the niche to make it more defensible.
MyPoV and Advice
A new CEO effectively could have come only from Microsoft or Salesforce. Both companies are heavily invested and could need an improved offering.
With the very strong focus on mobile in app support Helpshift is in my eyes betting on the right horse. The company is well placed to play a major role in what I see as the upcoming battleground of customer service: Ambient computing.
The challenge facing the company is in my eyes two-fold:
- There is only a minimal amount of AI and machine learning in the system. This prevents the system from scaling to the next level. Companies like AI have an advantage here, although they seem to have far less traction.
- The strong focus on mobile in-app support for time being serves as a disadvantage. Although more and more people are turning to their mobile devices and mobile apps the web is not dead – far from it. This means that many customers need two customer service solutions. And this makes companies like Salesforce, Zendesk, Freshworks, and others, a threat.
Especially the first one needs to get tackled along with lighthouse solutions in the world of ambient computing, starting e.g. by showcasing service that is driven by voice instead of typing. Cisco might have interesting use cases here.
Secondly, Helpshift could visually ‘hide’ the FAQ behind a chat interface. That would make the service solution easily attractive for web sites as well, reducing the threat by other companies. With this the company would stay a ‘mobile native’ but safeguard an open flank.
Thirdly, with the ties to Microsoft that are already there, it should be helpful to integrate into Microsoft Dynamics 365. This would increase their reach drastically.
The world is moving more and more into a platform play. Helpshift, as I see it right now, will not supply the platform, so the company needs to play with and on the strong contenders’ platforms – at least two of them.
Additionally, the company was not too strong on the marketing frontier. This improved since the beginning of the year and I’d expect this now getting a real push.
Having said all that: Abinash and Helpshift have done a great job so far. This is definitely a company to look at when it comes to building a customer service element into an app.
It will be very interesting to continue observing Linda, Abinash, and their team.