Daniil Kopilevych

Daniil is a Growth Marketing manager at HelpCrunch.com (customer communication platform)

5 True Intercom Alternatives in 2020

Are you a Customer Success superhero? Perhaps a sales or marketing executive at an e-commerce business or a SaaS founder?

Then you’ve probably tested, used or at least heard about Intercom. It’s an amazing customer platform that enables thousands of online businesses to communicate with and support their customers in many different ways.
But, like any other product, Intercom is not perfect for everyone. There are things that thousands of Intercom’s existing and potential users are missing or having major problems with:
  • High prices
  • Unscalable & unpredictable billing (per number of active users)
  • Not always attentive and helpful customer service
  • Unsatisfying email automation tools
  • Some missing features and long-to-fix bugs
That’s why many Intercom users now start looking for more suitable alternatives to it. And that is why you've ended up on this page, isn't it?

Let’s talk about Intercom first!

I guess before we start looking into Intercom competitors more attentively, let’s talk about what Intercom is. This will give us a clearer understanding of how to better judge its alternatives.

Intercom features

Intercom offers three core packages of features: Lead generation, Customer engagement, and Customer support (formerly known as Acquire, Engage, and Support). 
Each of them includes different combinations of tools tailored for the corresponding purpose. For instance, the ‘Customer support’ kit includes Business Messenger and Team Inbox combined with Help Center Articles, Answer Bot, and Customer Data.
It can be really confusing to even understand what each package, tool, or feature offers in terms of functionality, especially since they all have their super special names in Intercom. It’s like they’re deliberately trying to make it too complicated.
That’s why we decided to break them down and look at the following Intercom’s fundamental features:
  • Live chat (aka Business Messenger)
  • Ticketing (aka Team Inbox)
  • Knowledge base (aka Help Center Articles)
  • Email marketing (aka Outbound Messages combined with Campaigns)
  • Automated and targeted messages via chat (aka Outbound Messages combined with Campaigns).
It should be noted that these are not all features as Intercom also offers one of the best bots out there. But since they cost a fortune and are absolutely unnecessary for smaller businesses, we won’t concentrate on them that much.
It should be noted that these are not all features as Intercom also offers one of the best bots out there. But since they cost a fortune and are absolutely unnecessary for smaller businesses, we won’t concentrate on them that much.

Intercom pricing

So, it’s obvious that Intercom offers tons of features and tools, but how much does all this beauty cost?
If you want to get the cheapest thing from Intercom, you can get their Essential Customer Support subscription for $38/month and it will include only the Intercom live chat. Yep, that’s all you can get for $38/month.
If you need something more elaborate, you will have to take a look at Intercom’s All-in-one subscription, which will include live chat, ticketing, email marketing and chat auto and manual messages. Its most basic crippled version will cost you at least $87/month.
But that is not all you need to pay.
The biggest difference between Intercom and its closest alternatives is that Intercom Messages are priced based on the number of your active contacts. By active they mean users who have been active in the past 90 days. Even if their whole activity was to leave one short message and leave for good.
Most of Intercom alternatives don’t do this. Usually, you only pay a fixed price for the number of support agents you need, that’s it.
All in all, you can never tell how much you’ll end up paying for Intercom. One month, it can be a couple of bucks, the next one, you’ll pay a thousand.
A quick note:
This post was originally published on the HelpCrunch blog by Daniil Kopilevych, Marketing manager at HelpCrunch. The author goes in-depth explaining the pros and cons of HelpCrunch compared to Intercom and other alternatives listed in the article.

Intercom alternatives

After extensive research, we’ve chosen the 5 best Intercom alternatives that have a chance of replacing it for your business: HelpCrunch, Drift, Olark, Zendesk, LiveAgent.
We’ve tested every solution listed above for at least 2 weeks, which gave us a pretty good understanding of how each software may satisfy typical Intercom user’s needs.

1. HelpCrunch - affordable all-in-one Intercom alternative

Back in 2014, while working on another project our team was struggling to find a great all-in-one customer communication software. We used lots of disconnected tools, then switched to Intercom, but it had several major flaws that we couldn’t just get over.
That’s why at some point we decided to build a new all-in-one solution for users just like ourselves - and this is how the story of HelpCrunch’s began.

HelpCrunch features

Among all other Intercom alternatives, HelpCrunch is probably the closest you can get to Intercom in terms of functionality. 
But that is just the beginning. After you’ve installed HelpCrunch on your website, you can tweak other HelpCrunch features:
  • Live chat
  • Ticketing
  • Knowledge Base
  • Email marketing
  • Automated and targeted messages via chat
    For instance, if you run a SaaS business, you can easily send targeted in-app and email messages to your users based on custom data that you can transfer directly from your product to HelpCrunch.
    Also, in HelpCrunch you can automatically send email follow-ups if your chat messages remain unseen for a particular amount of time. This helps a lot in engaging your customers better and increasing retention.
    Thanks to one of the richest set of customization options, you can make the HelpCrunch chat fit your brand style as precisely as needed. From localizing a chat widget for different markets to customizing widget size & color, and changing button style and wallpapers - it’s easy to make it truly yours.

    HelpCrunch pricing

    Just like in Intercom, you can try HelpCrunch for free for 14 days. Unlike Intercom, you don’t have to leave your credit card for this.
    HelpCrunch offers 2 core pricing packages: Live chat and Live chat & Emails. Live chat package already includes the Live chat functionality itself, as well as Auto Messages and chat Ticketing features. 
    There are 4 regular plans you can choose from:
    • Standard Live chat - $15/mo/team member
    • Premium Live chat - from $25/mo/team member
    • Standard Live chat + Emails - $29/mo/team member
    • Premium Live chat + Emails - from $49/mo/team member
    You can also chat with the HelpCrunch support team about the Enterprise subscription, which can become your custom plan for specific business needs.
    HelpCrunch pricing depends on the number of agents you need. You get unlimited chats and contacts on all paid plans.
    You can also install the same live chat widget on any number of domains you want. You might also have to pay for additional emails if you need more of them.

    HelpCrunch rating

    HelpCrunch scores unbelievable 5 / 5 stars on Capterra based on 136 reviews. 
    On G2 it also got the highest rating among all other Intercom alternatives - 4.8 / 5. This one is based on 109 reviews.

    HelpCrunch vs Intercom

    HelpCrunch and Intercom are pretty similar products, especially when it comes to the Messages functionality. But there are some things that make HelpCrunch pretty special - like far richer live chat widget customization options or, and it’s quite obvious, really affordable pricing. 
    But the most striking difference between the two is that you get an unlimited number of contacts on any paid HelpCrunch plan - for $15/mo or for $500/mo, it doesn’t matter.
    You also get a personal onboarding assistant once you sign up for HelpCrunch -- to the point that if you’re migrating from Intercom or any other tool, they’ll migrate your data for you
    I personally tried importing contacts from Intercom to HelpCrunch and vice-a-versa - there were absolutely no issues in both instances. In HelpCrunch, you can even bulk edit them which is not possible in Intercom.
    Regardless of the feature naming, both platforms allow you to:
      • Talk to your website visitors and users via live chat in real-time
      • Send proactive auto messages on your website to initiate new conversations and convert visitors into leads
      • Send targeted in-app auto messages to nurture and support your existing user base
      • Send manual email campaigns to inform your customers about important company news, product announcements or special deals.
      • Manage all contacts from a single dashboard
      • Create help centers for customers' self-service.
    But in HelpCrunch, you can do all that for the price which will be 3-5 times lower.
    Also, HelpCrunch provides some neat multi-channel conversations functionality that Intercom doesn’t, such as:
      • ‘Resend chat message via email if unseen’, which allows you to automatically follow-up via email if a visitor/user doesn’t see your chat message.
      • Quickly switch between sending a new chat message and email for better multi-channel messaging experience.
      • Customer’s message sneak peek, which shows you what customers are typing before they even send a message. 
      • Knowledge base SEO settings where you can specify articles' meta titles and meta descriptions as well as target keywords for search engines.
    To sum up the comparison between Intercom and HelpCrunch, both products are rather similar and offer a familiar customer communication experience. They are especially great for SaaS and E-commerce companies that want to send targeted messages to their customers based on various attributes.
    Intercom is an amazing solution for large organizations with big budgets that need a robust package of customer support tools.

    In contrast, HelpCrunch is a better choice if you’re looking for a more affordable yet very similar alternative to Intercom without overspending and compromising on quality.
    Compare all features and pricing in side-by-side HelpCrunch vs Intercom comparison.

    2. Zendesk - support-oriented Intercom alternative

    Zendesk is a mature customer support platform that offers a wide range of features, sometimes even more than Intercom.
    Only a couple of years ago, Zendesk introduced their live chat software after acquiring Zopim live chat. But their ticketing functionality is at the heart of the whole toolset and has almost no real alternatives.

    Zendesk features

    Zendesk offers a wide range of features for every use case and pocket.
      • Live chat (Chat)
      • Ticketing (Support)
      • Knowledge base (Guide)
      • Cloud call center (Talk)
    Live chat widget has very limited customization options and looks quite outdated, while ticketing functionality is the essence of the Zendesk software and works like a charm. Zendesk ticketing has some advanced options under the hood that large teams will appreciate.
    It sure is one of the most reliable tools out there. But god is it complicated. I mean once you sign up, Zendesk’s doing its best to onboard and show you around, but the tool is so complicated that it’s really difficult to just dive in and understand how things work right away.
    All in all, every functionality that we tested worked fast and smooth. It feels like you get a very reliable piece of software that won’t let you down even if the UX/UI is not the best in class.

    Zendesk pricing

    Zendesk offers the longest trial period among other Intercom alternatives and Intercom itself — 30 days.

    The pricing for the whole Suite of Zendesk features starts at $109/mo for Professional and $179/mo for the Enterprise plan. 
    The cheapest solution you can get is Zendesk’s Support tool for ticketing. It can cost you something from $9/agent/mo to $125/agent/mo.
    You can also get free versions of almost every tool including Guide, Chat, and Talk. But note that you can only use them separately – meaning, you can’t use a combination of solutions for free.
    What’s also cool about Zendesk’s pricing policy is that you can purchase their tools separately and combine them in any way you need.
    The professional plan includes live chat, ticketing, knowledge base and call center tools. And it doesn’t include chat unbranding, customization options, roles and permissions, and other things that come with the Enterprise plan only.

    Zendesk rating

    On Capterra, Zendesk scores 4.5/5 stars based on 2243 reviews. 
    At the same time, G2 separates Zendesk ratings by corresponding tools: Zendesk Support is rated 4.2 / 5, while Zendesk Chat scores 4.3 / 5 stars. Zendesk Talk has the lowest rating of 3.9 / 5.

    Zendesk vs Intercom

    You can immediately tell the difference in the positioning of two platforms - the first thing Zendesk offered to configure once you log in is to get your support mailbox set up. Intercom, on the other hand, offers to configure your live chat widget first. 
    While testing the tools, I also found Zendesk to be a more customer-service oriented product as opposed to Intercom which is great for everything from marketing and sales to customer support.
    You can still see that Zendesk Chat is not 100% integrated into the whole Zendesk toolset which may cause some minor issues and inconveniences here and there. When it comes to customization, Intercom definitely offers many more options which also just look more modern.
    Also, if you run a SaaS company and want to send in-app messages to your users, that’s not really possible with Zendesk. To add to that, Zendesk doesn’t offer email marketing functionality which could otherwise enable you to send email campaigns to your customer base.
    Overall, Zendesk doesn’t feel as modern as it could be both for customer and agent side, while Intercom manages to constantly keep the innovation bar high for the UX/UI of their product suite.
    At the end of the day, I found that if I wanted to work most productively I’d need to have all 4 main Zendesk products opened in different browser tabs as there is no option of having all of them within a single dashboard. 
    Intercom is definitely more suitable for fast technology companies that need an all-in-one (marketing, sales, support) solution and have a budget big enough to not mind Intercom’s high and ever-changing pricing.

    3. Drift - sales-oriented Intercom alternative

    Drift takes a bit different approach to customer communication focusing on bot conversations for lead qualification. It’s kind of immediately obvious from the first visit and is stated in the header on their homepage. But what does this really mean? Let’s look into Drift’s features.

    Drift features

    Drift divides its tools into two categories -- Drift for Sales and Drift for Marketing. They also offer a separate package called Drift for Enterprise.
    In terms of functionality, it basically has three core features:
      • Live chat (Chat)
      • Targeted messages (Playbooks)
      • Knowledge base (Help)
    Additionally, Drift has many features that other Intercom alternative don’t really offer - like integrated calendar for booking meetings, sales video recording tools, automation bots, etc.
    One of the most distinguishing Drift’s inventions is something called ‘conversational marketing’, which basically means that you use chatbots and communicate with leads in real time via chat. It illuminates all redundant lead forms and stuff and concentrates on essentials.

    Drift pricing

    You can’t really test Drift’s paid subscription since it doesn’t offer a standard trial of any kind. But it does offer an extensive free subscription with rich functionality. It includes live chat with 1 agent seat, 150 sales email sequences, 100 contacts and calendar integration.
    There are three paid subscription plans available at Drift:
      • Standard for $50/mo
      • Pro for $400/mo
      • Premium for $1400/mo.
    All three subscriptions include only 1 seat and their prices are specified for annual subscriptions only.
    There was a time when Drift’s pricing could get even more aggressive forcing you to pay extra $10 for additional 1,000 contacts. But this year, they removed restrictions on the number of contacts you can have in your database. So, lucky us, I guess.

    Drift rating

    Drift is rated 4.5 / 5 based on 111 reviews on Capterra. On G2, it scores similar 4.4 / 5 stars, but this rating is based on 392 reviews.

    Intercom vs Drift

    Both Drift and Intercom are among the best and most expensive tools in their respective categories. Drift is definitely more suitable for sales-driven organizations with bigger checks and longer lead qualification processes & sales cycles.
    I guess the biggest difference between Drift and Intercom is that Drift isn’t really crafted for customer support. They don’t even have anything like ticketing in their software.
    However, Drift offers a surprisingly feature-rich free plan with email functionality, which makes it a great solution for small companies that only need one seat and don’t manage many contacts.

    Drift’s Free and Standard ($50) plans are pretty great deals for small non-product based businesses that also don’t require ticketing. Note that sending in-app messages and knowledge base integration are only available starting from the Standard plan.
    But if you really want to enjoy all those famous sales goodies from Drift including their bots and landing pages, you should go with the Pro plan for at least $400/mo. Service agencies, as well as other B2B organizations targeting enterprise and mid-size businesses are the ones who’ll be really satisfied with Drift’s platform.

    SaaS and e-commerce businesses with smaller average checks and higher priority for customer support would be better off looking at Intercom’s solution.

    4. LiveAgent - the simplest Intercom alternative

    LiveAgent was also founded as a ticketing system aiming to develop an all-in-one help desk software. Now, they truly are extensive and rich in functionality with the main focus on customer support rather than marketing and sales.

    LiveAgent features

    LiveAgent is refreshingly straightforward about their features unlike all those ‘engage, acquire, grab, convert with landings, bot and whatnot’. So, they offer 4 main tools in their toolset (and they’re all called exactly as they should):
      • Ticketing
      • Live chat
      • Call Center 
      • Knowledge base
    All in all, they don’t really offer anything extra or out-of-the-box. It’s the good old ticketing system with live chat and knowledge base.
    Two most interesting things about LiveAgent are these real-time notifications about someone’s clicking a chat button and real-time map of all website visitors.
    For instance, when your visitor simply clicks the LiveAgent’s chat widget on your website (without sending a message or even typing anything), the system automatically notifies your support agents about a potential chat and connects them to a chat conversation with a visitor. But it also can be quite irritating and time-consuming if you ask me.

    LiveAgent pricing

    LiveAgent’s pricing is very easy to grasp. There are 3 plans to choose from:
      • Ticket plan for $15/agent/mo
      • Ticket + Chat plan for $29/agent/mo
      • All-Inclusive plan for $39/agent/mo
    There is no free version, but you can start a 14-day trial on any of the plans. Super clear and self-explanatory if you ask me.

    LiveAgent rating

    On Capterra, LiveAgent is rated 4.5 / 5 based on 712 reviews. On G2, it has overwhelming 1,088 reviews with the rating of 4.5 / 5 stars.

    LiveAgent vs Intercom

    However, the first problems come after installing the LiveAgent’s live chat widget. It doesn’t look nearly as good as other alternatives to Intercom and the customization options are rather limited. 
    Chatbot, auto and manual messages via chat/emails are not present in LiveAgent, and UX/UI of the whole platform is just plain old (morally and technically) both for the customer and admin side. This are the biggest downsides of LiveAgent compared to other Intercom alternatives and Intercom itself.
    On the other hand, LiveAgent also offers a cloud call center and self-service forums which Intercom doesn’t have.
    On the plus side, LiveAgent offers one of the cheapest live chat solutions and most perfectly  balanced integration between its tools. You can chat with your website visitors, call them, respond to and solve tickets, create articles in the knowledge base, start a forum, and check your performance reports – all in the same window.
    And I can’t even compare the prices of Intercom and LiveAgent, they are just from different worlds.

    5. Olark – chat-only Intercom alternative

    Olark is a live chat solution for websites. Strictly speaking, Olark is not your most feature-rich Intercom alternative since live chat is the only big feature it offers. But if that’s all you really need, let’s see what it has.

    Olark features

    When I say that live chat is the only Olark’s feature, I really mean it. It’s a nice reliable live chat tool, though. It has all the standard live chat things like pre-chat and offline forms, shortcuts, chat rating. But then again, other Intercom alternatives have them, too.
    Setting Olark up is very straightforward. There is also a bunch of chat widget customization options. Unfortunately, you’re not able to upload your company’s logo, change widget wallpaper, and else to make it look and feel truly yours.
    You can also send targeted and automated messages via chat in Olark.

    Olark pricing

    Olark offers a 14-day trial on its paid plan and a very limited free version of their software with 1 agent seat and only 20 chats/month. Note that you won’t be able to start your trial without credit card details.
    Since they have only one real feature, Olark also offers only one paid subscription plan. For $17/mo for 1 agent seat you get its full functionality. Subscribe for 1 or 2 years in one go and pay $15/mo or $12/mo correspondingly.
    You can also purchase Olark add-ons (aka Powerups):
      • Non-branded chatbox for $59/mo
      • Chat translation for $29/mo
      • Visitor co-browsing for $99/mo
      • Visitor insights: $59-99/month

    Olark rating

    213 reviewers gave Olark only 4.2 / 5 stars on G2, while 445 Capterra users rated it 4.5 / 5.

    Olark vs Intercom

    Let’s make it clear right away. There is no way Olark can be a full replacement for Intercom for the simple fact of it missing some vital customer support features:
    • No email marketing functionality
    • No ticketing
    • No knowledge base
    So, we can only compare their live chat tools. Intercom’s messenger has an edge over Olark’s live chat in:
      • Offering more customization options (like adding company logo, wallpapers etc.).
      • Allowing for integration of your product with the platform, and therefore, giving you the ability to set up business-specific triggers and send automated messages to your users based on those.
    On the other hand, Olark can boast of offering some unique PowerUps that are hard to find in any other Intercom alternatives like Chat translation and Visitor co-browsing.

    Both platforms perform really well and it’s unlikely that you will face many bugs if any during everyday’s usage.
    Final Thoughts
    There are tons of great live chat software solutions available on the market.
    But when it comes to picking an Intercom alternative that does more than just live chat, you need to dig deeper.
    Just sign up for the one you liked the most and test it. Didn’t like it? Move to the next one. I’m sure there’s one Intercom alternative for you somewhere and you will find it very soon.

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