Over the past month Reclaim Hosting has been in the process of switching from Zendesk to Intercom.io for doing customer support. Zendesk was predominantly a support platform we used to answer tickets, and it was quite good at that. Nonetheless, Tim Owens is never satisfied and is constantly experimenting—a characteristic which explains so many of his successes over the last four years. When he showed me Intercom, I began to realize how much useful data we could collect across the Reclaim Hosting environment.
By importing what we already had in WHMCS (the client management system that lays on top of CPanel) from our various servers, we were able to aggregate distributed data into Intercom. And once there, we could break the information down by the various schools who were using Reclaim. This allows us to track new sign-ups and ongoing usage. This is a crucial piece for us because we need to know how many domains a particular school has signed up. Previously you would have to login to each of the servers WHMCS dashboards (we currently have 10!) to see this information, whereas Intercom brings all that data into one place so we can see it centrally.
And that’s just part of what Intercom can do, it also allows you to integrate support into your various server dashboards directly. For example, at Reclaim Hosting we have a messaging space where you can submit any questions or issues you might be having in both the Client Area, as well as CPanel.
So, as soon as someone logs into either space they can ask questions and get support right on the page. We can also share an announcement with them, or a new feature we are rolling out.
I was particularly struck by Intercom.io after trying to get any useful information out of CPanel and WHMCS for UMW Domains. Beyond tracking the aggregate growth of the system over the last two years based on sign-ups, there is very little in the way of data. However, since we started having our community login to UMW Domains via a centralized authentication system (CAS), we were able to pull some more data from Banner. We can now find out when each students is scheduled to graduate, the group each person using Domains is part of (i.e., faculty/staff, student, or neither), their class (i.e., Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, or Senior), and how long they have been using the system. This is all data we have now imported into Intercom so we can easily filter and communicate with graduating seniors to help them transition off UMW Domains.
Such a system also gives us a sense of which faculty have been using CPanel, information which could prompt a follow-up to see if anyone needs help. We can also provide on-the-spot support for our community via the embedded messaging. All this information helps us reach out and support folks using UMW Domains in more targeted, personable ways—it also makes any reports I need to generate about how the system is being used significantly easier.
How does Intercom work beyond the initial import of data? Whenever a new student or faculty logs into umw.domains through CAS, we have an Intercom script in the footer of that site to track them as an active users, and populate a profile pulled in from WHMCS for any new users. This helps us get a more detailed look at how many people are accessing their CPanel. For example, in the last 18 hours since this was setup, 58 people logged in—all on a snow day! On the other hand, we still have no way of tracking all those people using UMW Domains who directly access the various applications they’ve installed without logging into CPanel.
I am not sold on analytics for the particulars of teaching and learning. I don’t think tracking how many times a student or faculty logs into CPanel necessarily tells us anything about how much they are learning. But when you’re running systems like UMW Blogs and UMW Domains, it can be really useful to capture and share global data to get a sense of how the system is being used so we can support it better, as well as continually re-evaluating its necessity. If no one is using UMW Domains, we want to know.