What Is Helpdesk Software?
Keeping customers and users happy is critical to most organizations’ idea of success. You could be running a support desk for a product your company is selling or you could be an IT professional operating a helpdesk for a large in-house user base. The situation is generally the same (users of a service that occaisonally has problems) as are the goals (solve issues rapidly and keep people happy). With these helpdesk platforms, your IT department can get a better handle on user problems and shorten the time from complaint to resolution.
Helpdesk software is the heartbeat of a well-run helpdesk and is a vital consideration for business owners. In fact, it’s one of a company’s top priorities whether that company is a SMB or a large organization. Fortunately, you are not short of options from which to choose, as there is a wide range of helpdesk software available. Some solutions are better suited for SMBs, others are more suited for larger organizations, and still others are best for internal IT operations rather than organizations dealing with customer requests. Also, not all helpdesk software is created equal. For example, helpdesk software such as Cayzu, Freshdesk, HappyFox, Vivantio Pro, and Zendesk Support include social tie-ins that let tickets be raised from social media websites such as Twitter. This could be an important feature to a company that deals with a large customer base but one not nearly as important (or even relevant) for one using the system simply as an internal IT service platform.
Other helpdesk software, such as Jira Service Desk, provides additional security measures and identity management (primarily Single Sign-On or SSO) features, which may be key differentiators to some companies. SSO offers users the ability to one set of log-in credentials for multiple applications. Keep an eye out for these types of security features.
In this roundup, I tested the 10 top helpdesk software offerings, including Agiloft Service Desk, Cayzu, Freshdesk, Freshservice, HappyFox, Jira Service Desk, ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus 9.3, Vivantio Pro, Zendesk Support, and Zoho Desk. All of these helpdesk solutions are available as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions. This means you don’t have to install any of the helpdesk software onto a local machine. As SaaS solutions, all of the helpdesk software tested can be run on someone else’s servers—a fact that could appeal to many owners of SMBs.
During testing, I discovered that some helpdesk software stood out from the others in one important way: adherence to the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). ITIL is an established service framework used mainly by IT management companies. It is a set of best practices that include many checklists, procedures, processes, and tasks. Having ITIL effectively govern how your company does things can be both constraining yet beneficial depending upon your particular industry. ITIL should be followed whenever possible, even if it does seem to be a bit overbearing for smaller enterprises.
The helpdesk software tested falls into one of two camps: those that follow ITIL’s guidelines and those that don’t follow them. The more advanced services tested follow ITIL, including Freshservice, Jira Service Desk, and ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus 9.3. They would make more sense to larger businesses working in the service management industry, perhaps overseeing data centers or large corporations in which service-level agreements (SLAs) and penalties are more than simple buzzwords. If your business follows ITIL, then you should opt for a helpdesk software offering that adheres to ITIL’s framework.
But not all businesses that need helpdesk software follow ITIL or even need to. For example, if you are a software developer looking for something to handle incoming support requests from customers, then strong change management (something ITIL governs) probably isn’t something you need. And Freshdesk, one of the helpdesk software offerings tested, is not likely to be useful to a company that’s in charge of maintaining a large data center. Some businesses that don’t adhere to ITIL may focus more on customer service where tickets generated from social media are offered. These businesses would benefit from helpdesk solutions such as Cayzu, HappyFox, and Zendesk Support. So, first determine whether or not ITIL is something your business needs to follow, and then shop accordingly.
Most analysts have been predicting one trend as being a primary driver in the helpdesk space, and that’s artificial intelligence (AI). While that term means several things depending on which industry you’re discussing, in the customer service and helpdesk arena, it’s come to mean mainly chatbots.
Chatbots are increasingly sophisticated software services that generally take over, or at least front, the live chat capability of your support website. Customers who intiate a live chat believe they’re discussing their problems with a real person, but are actually chatting with a chatbot-style “AI” that uses careful questions and natural language query processing to find out what the problem is. If possible the chatbot resolves the issue itself, through a canned answer to a common problem, a display of alternate information resources, or some other AI-accessible methodology. If it can’t solve the problem, the chatbot simply hands off the customer to an actual person who is now armed with specific knowledge about the customer and the problem. It can even route the customer to the right customer service person based on that person’s expertise versus the customer’s issue. Sometimes the customers knows about the handoff, sometimes a live person simply takes over for the chatbot and the customer is meant never to know the difference.
While your mileage may vary in terms of success with a chatbot implementation, at least over the next couple of years, if you’re running any kind of sizeable helpdesk operation, you’ll most likely wind up using one at some point. In a recent survey of the helpdesk space, market research firm, Statista found that only 46% of consumers reported any kind of resolution to a problem within an hour of contacting the helpdesk. And almost one in ten customers stated their problem was never resolved. Those numbers need to change and chatbots represent a fast and effective way to not only increase problem resolution statistics but also manage frivilous or easily solved problems without impinging on trained customer support reps who can spend their valuable time working on the more difficult situations.
While not every contender here included support for chatbots even near the end of 2018, all of them do contain other key features required to make the grade as even the most rudimentary of helpdesk apps. Some of those common features include giving agents the ability to create support tickets, edit the tickets, and then close the tickets when the issue or question has been resolved. This ticket handling, and whether or not they do it well, was one of the basic standards I had in mind while testing the helpdesk software. Another feature common to all of the helpdesk software tested includes the ability to receive tickets by email. And finally, most of the helpdesk software offers a knowledge base, which provides different content for agents and customers. Freshdesk, for example, lets you create separate sections of the knowledge base that are accessible only to some of your customers or you can create private documentation for your agents with in-depth technical information. Products in this roundup offer automation features to help eliminate repetitive tasks. This capability is sometimes event- or time-triggered, especially in the case of Freshdesk.
Another key feature any good helpdesk app should have is the ability to communicate with other apps. The data gathered by service desk consoles can be invaluable to several other areas of the average business. For example, if you’re using your helpdesk app to handle customer service calls regarding a product or service the company is selling, then the data the system generates can give a serious boost to your customer relationship management (CRM) database, thus empowering your sales staff. If you’re using social media as a service desk channel, then making sure your social media management tools are tracking customer interactions is another great data source.
These are all examples of very basic capabilities that any helpdesk software offering should provide. Most of the helpdesk software tested met these requirements so keep those basic requirements in mind as you read the reviews. HappyFox, Vivantio Pro, and Zoho Desk were among the four helpdesk software solutions that won our Editors’ Choice award. HappyFox will satisfy the customer service needs of SMBs while Vivantio Pro and Zoho Desk are more suited to large businesses with their focus on ITIL and asset management.
I have added Freshdesk to the list of Editors’ Choice winners in this category. The tool, and its sister solution Freshservice, recently underwent a major facelift, complete with added features that improve ease of use and continued functionality. As a result, Freshdesk has also been dubbed an Editors’ Choice tool. Freshservice, while certainly a top performer among internal helpdesk tools, still ranks a notch below Vivantio Pro, our leader for internal support.
Featured in This Roundup
Pros: Wealth of integrations. Intuitive. Gamification features are quite helpful.
Cons: Management controls are lacking. Ticketing features could use work.
Bottom Line: Freshdesk is an easy winner of our Editors’ Choice award. It’s affordable, has a wide range of features, and it’s easy to use.
Pros: Helpful automation features. Wealth of integration functionality. Effective self-service tools streamline workflows.
Cons: Staff can only be assigned one role at a time. Integration can become costly. Rules-based automation tasks can be a burden.
Bottom Line: HappyFox is easy to use and affordable. It also has a robust feature set. It’s easy to give the helpdesk platform our Editors’ Choice award.
Pros: Mature. Adheres to the ITIL helpdesk standard. Includes asset and knowledge management.
Cons: Can be expensive. Requires training for best use. Minimalist user interface.
Bottom Line: Vivantio Pro is more enterprise-focused than most of the competitors reviewed here, but what it does it does extremely well. It’s one of the few ITIL-compliant packages we reviewed and it worked so well as to win our Editors’ Choice award.
Pros: Extremely easy to use. Free plan for up to three users. Easy to upgrade should you need more users.
Cons: Lacks on-premises functionality. Asset management is nonexistent.
Bottom Line: Zoho Desk is an ideal choice for smaller companies that want a platform that will grow with them. It’s always adding features, it’s priced affordably, and it’s an easy winner of our Editors’ Choice designation.
Pros: Numerous customization options. Integrates with corporate procedures. Complies with ITIL. Ample predefined reports. Includes decision-tree workflows.
Cons: Enterprise plan pricing level necessary for full feature set. Comprehensive configuration process.
Bottom Line: Agiloft Service Desk comes with a generous feature set but a high price and steep learning curve, making the product a better fit for enterprises rather than SMB customers.
Pros: Easy to navigate and use. ITIL change management support. Gamification features. Many integration options.
Cons: Geared toward internal users only. Lacks social media integration.
Bottom Line: Where Freshdesk is aimed at small business customer operations, its sibling Freshservice is aimed at the IT support operations of larger organizations. With support for advanced features and an intuitive interface, this is a great IT solution that’s well worth a look.
Pros: Plenty of features to please most users. Menu bar offers a simple way to access most important functions.
Cons: Licensing for on-premises lacks the flexibility of pricing for cloud services.
Bottom Line: ServiceDesk Plus 9.3 is an enterprise-oriented helpdesk application that’s complicated and comes with a steep price, but its strong set of features make it worth consideration.
Pros: Solid ticket management options, including social media. Support for ITIL and automatic workflows. Good integration options.
Cons: Potentially high price tag. Best features only available at higher pricing tiers. Lacks enterprise features such as change and asset management.
Bottom Line: Zendesk Support does a good job as an SMB-oriented helpdesk platform. While its support for ITIL seems to indicate more of an enterprise orientation, its lack of big business features such as change and asset management say otherwise.
Pros: Handles multiple brands or products with ease. Self-service portal is excellent, particularly with Google Analytics integration. Free tier is a bonus for small teams.
Cons: Automation tools aren’t comprehensive, although much improved since our initial review. Reporting engine doesn’t support custom reports or scheduling.
Bottom Line: Cayzu does well as a helpdesk platform aimed at smaller businesses and startups. It has a good set of features, strong third-party integration options, and a very nice price. But, if you’re looking for more enterprise-oriented capabilities such as advanced reporting and automation, then you’ll need to keep looking.
Pros: Trial usage is fully functional for a limited time period. Customizable dashboards and pre-defined reports with a nice list of supported widgets.
Cons: Atlassian Cloud doesn’t support multiple separate domains, sub-domains, or domain aliases in Google Apps. If your Google Apps account is associated with multiple domains, then only users from the primary domain are synced to Atlassian Cloud. Users can log in with email addresses only on your primary domain. No integrated knowledge base.
Bottom Line: Available from well-known enterprise vendor Atlassian, Jira Service Desk is a solid helpdesk entry for midsize and even large businesses. Good integration with Atlassian’s other products as well as nice customizability and advanced reporting make this a worthwhile platform to consider.
Pros: Functional. Lots of communication channels. Reasonable pricing structure.
Cons: Mostly do-it-yourself (DIY) integration with other applications. Outside vendor required for remote desktop or voice chat.
Bottom Line: The updated version of Kayako delivers an improved user interface at the same price. The same wide range of communication channels and enterprise security makes it a more viable choice than the previous version.
Pros: Broad range of options for ticket forms. Complete and thorough help system
Cons: Pricing quite a bit higher than other products. Forms and page navigation cumbersome for some operations
Bottom Line: Revelation is a solid helpdesk entry with good search, filtering, and reporting capabilities, as well as a new pricing scheme that might make it a more attractive option than its previous incarnations.
Pros: Ultra-low cost. Healthy competition encouraged with Mojo Number and leader boards.
Cons: Limited support for custom branding. Bare minimum reporting capabilities. Integration is lacking.
Bottom Line: Mojo Helpdesk offers entry-level pricing, but has a somewhat limited feature set if what you’re after is custom reporting and branding.
Pros: Contains most needed features. Includes ITIL service management tools. Offers asset tracking and more reports than other help desk solutions.
Cons: A lot of features but some seem unnecessary.
Bottom Line: Samanage’s IT Service Desk and Asset management suite has many features businesses may be seeking and offers a short free trial, but a lackluster interface means it’s not a fit for everyone.
Pros: Simple in appearance and execution. Covers all the standard help desk bases. Simple pricing structure.
Cons: Less-than-inspiring and dated user interface.
Bottom Line: TeamSupport is a decent helpdesk application but with a dated and sometimes convoluted user interface. It’s a good option for SMB operations, but make sure its particular features are really right for you before committing.
Pros: Simple, without missing key features. Aesthetically pleasing and easy to use. Plenty of pricing options.
Cons: Won’t have all of the features that larger businesses need.
Bottom Line: Desk.com is well worth it if your service desk just needs to be able to raise and close tickets. It’s not going to run your ITIL business but it doesn’t set out to either.
Pros: Fast and fluid user interface. Simple pricing structure and low initial cost.
Cons: No customer-facing ticket generation portal. No bulk-import capabilities for users or data from other systems.
Bottom Line: Teamwork Desk is a clean and snappy product that shows great potential. However, it’s still a newcomer in the helpdesk marketplace and has a ways to go before it reaches parity with the rest of the field.