Great Customer Service is Accessible: Help Scout's Audit Journey with Deque

Help Scout’s tools create powerful customer experiences

Help Scout’s mission is “to empower businesses with tools that serve people in the most human, helpful way.” A flexible platform created from customer communication tools, Help Scout is an easy-to-use and scalable solution with thousands of customers and millions of end users.

Help Scout’s company culture is rooted in a responsibility to include and serve others. “Our teams represent different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences and we believe that helps us serve people in the most human, helpful way,” says Ana Henneberke, Engineering Coach at Help Scout. “To realize this vision, we include digital accessibility at the heart of every new feature we build so that we reduce the barrier to interacting with our product for people with disabilities or restrictions.”



Help Scout Logo

Having a truly accessible product allows us to pursue business with industries that have strong accessibility requirements.”

Corey Nilan Engineering Coach, Help Scout

People-focused mission and customer happiness drive accessibility forward

While Help Scout has always designed their tools with usability and human-centered design in mind, accessibility wasn’t always a main focus. In fact, customer feedback helped influence Help Scout’s accessibility practice.

Recognizing both an opportunity to improve products for their customers and an opportunity to expand into new markets, Help Scout explored ways they could complete an audit of their tool suite to fully understand their current state of accessibility. “An emphasis on accessibility not only improves the experience of our customers, but it also widens our potential customer base to new industries,” says Julie Cousins, Director of Product Engineering at Help Scout.

Screenshot of the Help Scout email tool.

Help Scout’s shared inbox tool provides in-the-moment information about the customer all in one view.



Screenshot of Help Scout's Mailbox tool overview.

Inside a mailbox, you can see all conversations and organize them into folders for quick reference.

Audit leads to substantial areas of accessibility improvement

The audit from Deque provided Help Scout with a strong understanding of their tools’ current accessibility as well as the scope of issues to be addressed. “After the audit we had a really good idea of how far-reaching some of the accessibility problems were,” notes Adrianne Hersrud, former Engineering Coach at Help Scout. “The audit provided us a really good picture of which issues impacted our customers and, by extension, their customers. It showed us what we needed to focus on first.”

After addressing the issues uncovered in the audit, Help Scout shifted its focus from remediation to holistically integrating accessibility best practices into the product development process: shifting accessibility left in product development. Once accessibility is baked into the design process, it then goes to development where engineers use axe DevTools Pro to perform accessibility checks and ensure that Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards are met. “We’ve placed a strong emphasis on making sure accessibility is considered throughout the development process–it’s baked into our design process, considered during technical investigation, and confirmed in acceptance testing before we release new features to customers,” says Corey Nilan, Engineering Coach at Help Scout. 


The future of accessibility is prioritized and intentional

Accessibility is now at the forefront of Help Scout’s products. The team enthusiastically prioritizes work that puts accessibility front and center and documents its achievements. Organization-wide, training through Deque University’s self-paced training courses ensures accessibility is woven into the fabric of Help Scout’s company culture. Training each employee also means that they create more opportunities for inclusive hiring by eliminating any internal barriers for employees with disabilities. “The audit and training have helped us get everyone aligned,” explains Julie Cousins. “Using that training as a starting point, we’ve been able to better incorporate accessibility design, implementation and testing into our processes.”

Today, Help Scout has the experience, perspective and knowledge to prioritize accessibility from the beginning of the development process and remediate issues as they arise. The team intends to continue the ongoing accessibility education within the organization and further develop accessibility practices within the software development lifecycle, thereby continuing to build accessibility into the core of their organization.


Screenshot of Help Scout platform showing multiple mailboxes.

The Mailboxes dashboard shows all of an organization’s mailboxes and docs at-a-glance.

Everyone involved in building our product at Help Scout understands that accessibility is a priority and not something that can be ignored.”

Corey Nilan Engineering Coach, Help Scout