📆 27 June 2022 🇮🇩 🕓 5:39 am

The Best 10 Help Desk Software

The number of people buying goods online has skyrocketed over the last two years. S&P Global research is projecting online sales volume to rise to roughly 825 million in the US in 2022 up from approximately 450 million in 2018. Now we’re heading into the 2021 holiday season already plagued by supply chain problems, which will inevitably mean more angry customer calls. To retain those customers and say competitive, you’ll need the best service desk solution your business can afford.

The same goes for IT professionals servicing in-house employees. Hybrid work will stay with us long after the pandemic disappears, but this distributed model means there’s less chance of an IT pro being able to visit a user in person. For this, a good help desk platform, particularly one that adheres to ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library), will be the crux of how IT departments keep their users happy.

Why You Need a Help Desk
Help desk software is the heartbeat of a well-run help desk and is vital for business owners. It’s one of a company’s top priorities, whether it is a small to midsize business (SMB) or a large organization. At the core, help desk solutions generally revolve around what’s called a ticketing system.

“Ticketing” refers to how customer or user problems reach service reps, namely as trouble tickets. No matter which channel your customer uses, any complaint gets put into a ticket format that contains all its basic information. That will include a problem summary, the customer ID, the time reported, the channel used, and which service rep was assigned to work on it. How a system manages these tickets is the primary differentiator between help desk solutions.

Fortunately, you are not short of options in this space. There’s a wide range of help desk software available, especially for SMBs. But even though many are focused on SMBs, there are also solutions specializing in larger organizations and still others aimed at internal IT operations rather than organizations dealing with customer requests. With all those players, you’ll find that not all help desk software will be equal. But what’ll differentiate one solution over another will often be dependent on your business’s individual needs rather than technology or product quality.

For example, help desk software such as Freshdesk or Zendesk Support includes 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 help desk 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 create one set of log-in credentials for multiple applications. Keep an eye out for these types of security features.

What is The ITIL Framework?
The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is an established service framework used mainly by IT management companies or those managing large custom software development projects. It’s a set of best practices that include checklists, procedures, processes, and tasks customized to make such scenarios more structured and efficient.

That leaves the help desk software we test here in one of two camps: those that follow ITIL’s guidelines and those that don’t. A few years ago, you might have said that the more feature-advanced solutions are the ones that follow ITIL. Those would include Editors’ Choice winners, Freshservice and HaloITSM as well as Jira Service Management and ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus 9.3.

But today, ITIL is less about more advanced capabilities and more about the product’s focus. Internal service desks aimed at managing enterprise data centers or large custom development projects will adhere to ITIL. But ITIL isn’t the best bet for companies looking to support products and customers. These platforms don’t necessarily have a less advanced feature set than ITIL platforms; they chase different goals, mainly around improving the overall customer journey as well as supporting sales and marketing with help desk data.

So, 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. Also, businesses that don’t adhere to ITILwill probably focus more on initiating trouble tickets via channels other than email, especially social media. If you’re in one of those organizations, look at the customer- and marketing-related features found in platforms like Editors’ Choice winners Freshdesk and HappyFox.

Chatbots Are More Human Than Ever
Most analysts have been predicting one trend as being a primary driver in the help desk space, and that’s artificial intelligence (AI). While that term means several things depending on which industry you’re discussing, it’s come to mean mainly chatbots in the customer service and help desk arena.

Chatbots are increasingly sophisticated software services that generally take over, or at least front, the live chat capability of your support website. Customers who initiate a live chat believe they’re discussing their problems with a real person but are chatting with a chatbot-style “AI” that uses detailed 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 hands off the customer to an actual person armed with specific knowledge about the customer and the situation. It can even route the customer to the right customer service person based on their expertise versus the customer’s issue. Sometimes the customers know about the handoff, sometimes a live person takes over for the chatbot, and the customer is meant never to know the difference.

The latest trend with chatbots is their evolution towards actual chatting. For example, at last year’s Cisco Contact Center Summit, Inference Solutions announced Inference Studio 6.3 as capable of extending the self-service capabilities of Cisco Unified Communications Manager (UCM), Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise, and Cisco Unified Contact Center Express (UCCE/X). That means when using Inference Studio 6.3 or a similar tool, even SMBs will be able to build customized intelligent voice agents (IVAs). This technology can not only automate those repetitive problems that suck up your technicians’ time, they can do it using voice, not texting in a chatbox.

You might think this would annoy customers, but research is showing the opposite. In its 2019 report, Smart Talk: How organizations and consumers are embracing voice and chat assistantsSmart Talk: How organizations and consumers are embracing voice and chat assistants, Capgemini Research Institute (CRI) found that “customers increasingly prefer to use voice assistants.” Going beyond consumers, the same report cited that “76 percent [of organizations] have realized quantifiable benefits from their voice and chat initiatives” and “58 percent [of organizations] say that these benefits met or exceeded their expectations.”

Look For These Features
While a well-managed chatbot can fundamentally change how your help desk operates and scales, even today, it’s not a mandatory feature. If you’re shopping for the absolute baseline of help desk apps, then you’re looking for only four capabilities:

The ability to create, route, and track a trouble ticket,
The ability to modify and close the ticket while maintaining a record of the closure,
The ability to receive tickets via more than one channel, and The ability to share ticket data with other systems.

There might be some argument on the multi-channel issue. Still, in this day and age, it simply isn’t enough, even for a small help desk operation that serves only internal users, to be able to take in trouble tickets using just one communications channel. At a minimum, you’re looking for phone and email, and you’re best off with the ability to create a self-service portal. Many organizations also opt to give their users or customers the option to send tickets via social media and even SMS texting from mobile devices.

The self-service portal is a desirable feature because it can add value to both basic help desk scenarios: the internal IT help desk and the external, customer-facing product support help desk. That’s because, in either system, a self-service portal offers many additional capabilities that can help departments other than product support or IT.

In the case of the IT help desk, a self-service portal lets IT direct users to a central web portal. There they can not only log a ticket; they can also help themselves with a knowledgebase that contains step-by-step instructions for solving everyday problems, like “How do I reset my password?” or “How do I access the VPN?” But a self-service portal could also be used as a central point for common IT-related tasks, like registering a new phone with the company’s mobile device management (MDM) system or a download library of IT-approved apps.

It’s the same for the customer-facing support site. In that scenario, a self-service portal can provide both the ticket registration and the knowledgebase. Still, it can also offer features like product registration, manual download of software updates, and back-end hooks to the customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation systems that will automatically market related products and upsell opportunities to appropriate customers.

This ability to integrate with other apps is another important feature that, while not mandatory for a successful help desk, is still a capability most buyers should be looking for. Because they operate at the nexus of operations and user or customer interaction, help desks collect precious data. How your users feel about your IT operation may not seem essential to every operation, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find the help desk also knows how those people are using their software to do business, where it’s breaking down, and how that’s impacting the organization.

On the customer side, it’s the same thing. The help desk knows what customers are buying most. It often also knows why and what buyers like most about what they buy and what they like least. Further, a help desk can slice and dice that data based on audience segment, geography, and a host of other factors.

Ticket Management Is Crucial
We’ve talked a lot about how customers or internal users might access the features of a help desk system, but your next most important consideration is how all those service techs will feel about it. As mentioned above, any issues that reach the help desk get there as “trouble tickets.” This starts as just a summary of the customer’s query and contact information and then gets routed to the right technician, even if that’s just the next one with some free time.

But from there, the ticket gets more robust. The customer’s interactions concerning that particular problem get recorded in the ticket. That’s helpful if the ticket goes from one tech to another or gets escalated. The technician’s responses and a description of the eventual solution also get recorded.

If you’ve integrated your help desk with your sales or martech systems, then you might have up-sell, survey, and even purchasing data to add. This makes tickets extremely detailed data repositories for multiple aspects of your business, not just technical support. Customer satisfaction, demographics, inventory data, payment processing are all potential components of helpful data you can get from a trouble ticket depending on how much care you’ve taken in configuring your ticketing system. And that’s before we get to the poor technician.

Technicians are a harried breed. Calls never stop, which means ticketing never stops. How those tickets get routed to your technician, how they access them, and how they route them onwards is a process that can be very different between businesses. There’s rarely only one right way. Part of that is because companies look to their help desks for different results.

For some, it’s just about fixing the technology. For others, it’s about customer satisfaction. For still others, it might be about establishing a personal relationship with customers to help move them into an up-sell opportunity. Depending on what you expect to mine from your help desk software and staff investment, how your tickets will get managed can be critically important.

First, sit down with your technicians and your sales, marketing, and business intelligence leads. Brainstorm about the kinds of data your technicians take in and how it might benefit other parts of the business. What different kinds of data could your techs reasonably acquire? For example, a few questions on customer demographics or product satisfaction might be OK at the end of the problem resolution phase, but asking an angry customer to complete a five-minute IVR survey before they even get to a technician is probably not a great idea. But precisely what data can you get from a few additional questions, and how do you want to capture and disseminate it?

Once you have a plan for that, you can start matching it to the features of your help desk shortlist. An evaluation period is critical here and not just for the help desk platform. Most of these services also offer integrations with third-party tools, and the ticket management module is where most of that will happen. Popular integration targets could include analytics tools, like Tableau; collaboration software, like Slack; even sales platforms, like Zoho CRM. All of these can sink their hooks into a ticket management system and establish a two-way data flow.

If you’re looking to enable those kinds of relationships, you need to evaluate a system end-to-end before buying, not just one component. Only then will you know (a) if you’re grabbing the data you need how you need it, and (b) if you’ve set up a system that won’t bog your techs down so much that they can’t get their jobs done.

It’s All About The Customer Experience
Getting back to customer issues, most companies implement help desks as customer satisfaction platforms. Therefore, they focus heavily on providing their customer service reps with the most effective tools to accomplish that mission. However, that’s often not a well-researched journey. Companies try out a slew of new tools and features, hoping “one will stick” to achieve the happy customer goal.

Just as we described above, for ticketing, a better way is to follow your help desk workflow chain, identify points of measurable success, and then spend some effort analyzing your customer experience. The basic star-based rating system from the end customer is often the only real effort many companies make on this front. While it’s certainly an important metric, it’s subject to a lot of whims, not the least of which are customers impatient to get back to their now-working products.

Another good metric to look at is the technician’s impression of the customer’s satisfaction. However, you’re better off doing this in a text box-based comment or summary than in some star rating system. Not only will you get deeper information that way, but you’ll also have an easier time integrating the data into your other systems, especially your CRM system.

The often-implemented but then-ignored call recording is another rich source of accurate customer dissatisfaction (or “dissat”) data. Appointing a staffer to at least review those calls that received meager customer ratings is a good idea since, at the very least, it’ll let you identify commonly encountered problems and probably the best way to fix them. It would help if you also worked to increase interactivity between your service desk and the customer.

Yes, there can be some danger in high-volume service scenarios in service reps spending too much time with a single customer. But if your service desk supervisor can manage around this, the benefits can be great. Establishing more conversation between a service desk rep and a customer can take the place of an end-of-session customer satisfaction survey. The rep makes easy notations in response to customer queries asked as part of the service conversation. It takes some training for the service rep, but the side benefit is a customer who feels more engaged with the product and the company.

One way to arm a service rep for a more robust customer conversation is to allow customer data to flow into the help desk system. We’ve mentioned that your sales and marketing departments can benefit from data generated within the help desk. And that can also extend to front-end operations and back-end business intelligence (BI) efforts in the form of product management and engineering or even accounting. But relatively few companies make this data highway a two-way street. It’s often handy to have the sales CRM, for example, inform the help desk technician of the customer’s purchase history. What other products have they purchased over how long a time, and how happy do they seem with those purchases, as well as some essential particulars of those deals? All that can make a service rep’s conversation more productive when gathering experience data while simultaneously making the customer feel more valued.

The trick is first identifying which systems outside the help desk system can aid the customer service rep conversation, then establishing that data exchange, and finally (but critically) finding a way to deliver that data to the customer service rep in a usable format. The agent needs to access and understand this data quickly and efficiently as part of a deeper conversation, often a technical one, so finding the key data points and making them dead simple to digest is important. Selecting a help desk system means looking for one that will allow you to customize the service rep’s front-end, in-call experience.

Get The Most From Your Help Desk With Integration
To make sure your potential help desk can integrate smoothly with other software or cloud services, look for a list of pre-built integration modules (you’ll generally find these listed on the help desk maker’s website) or support for Representational State Transfer (REST) APIs. REST has become a standard for integrating different cloud software services, which means you’ll be able to hire developers to build custom integrations if the help desk manufacturer doesn’t already support the link you want.

Before settling on a help desk solution, buyers should consider many other features, but most are offshoots of the four basic capabilities above. It will help if you look at how tickets are created, routed, and closed and make sure those capabilities work the way your business needs them. You’re looking at how the system communicates with your users or customers on one side and your IT or help desk staff on the other. Here, you need to think not only about which channels the system supports but how it supports them; that can be particularly important for larger operations that might need to tie a help desk ticket routing system into an email, social media, or Voice-over-IP (VoIP)-based call center. Finally, you’re looking for how the system collects and stores the data that runs through it and how easily you can leverage that data in other areas of the business.

All of our contenders support these capabilities with varying degrees of success. While our four Editors’ Choice award winners represent the best overall values, all of our contenders offer different ability levels in different feature areas. So it pays to read all of the reviews in case your business matches up particularly well with a more specialized contender that didn’t make the Editors’ Choice cut.

  1. Zendesk Support Suite.
  2. Zoho Desk.
  3. Freshdesk.
  4. Intercom.
  5. Service Hub.
  6. SF Service Cloud.
  7. LiveChat.
  8. Front.
  9. Hiver
  10. LiveAgent