What Is Helpdesk Software?
Helpdesk software, along with social media management platforms, are all that stands between your company and angry, negative customer feedback. When a customer has a pressing issue or question about your product, the tools you use need to work quickly and intuitively to empower agents and customer service representatives resolve tickets and requests satisfactorily and without undue friction and waiting. Your helpdesk is your first line of defense against poor customer experiences, and if you don’t choose the right platform it may well be your last.
Keeping customers and employees happy is a vital consideration for business owners. n fact, it’s one of a company’s top priorities whether it’s a small to midsize business (SMB) or a large organization. Fortunately, you are not short of options as there is a wide range of helpdesk software available—some better suited for SMBs, others more suited for larger organizations, and still more suitable for internal IT operations rather than organizations dealing with customer requests. Additionally, 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 sites, such as Twitter; this could be an important feature to a company dealing with a large customer base, but not nearly as important or even irrelevant for one using the system simply as an internal IT service platform. Or 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 but not to others.
In this roundup, we tested several leading helpdesk software offerings, including Agiloft Service Desk, Cayzu, Freshdesk, HappyFox, Jira Service Desk, Kayako, ServiceDesk Plus (SDP) 9.1, 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, we 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 work. It is a set of best practices that include many processes, procedures, tasks, and checklists. Having ITIL effectively govern how your company does things can be both constraining yet beneficial, depending upon your particular industry. We believe that 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 software that does follow ITIL—which were the more advanced services tested such as Freshservice and ServiceDesk Plus (SDP) 9.1—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. So, first determine whether or not ITIL is something your business needs to follow and shop accordingly.
All of the helpdesk software tested contains key features required to make the grade as even the most rudimentary of helpdesk applications. 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 we had in mind while testing the helpdesk software in this roundup. 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.
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, and 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 the three helpdesk software offerings that won our Editors’ Choice award. HappyFox would 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.
Bottom Line: A combination of intuitive automation and self-service tools, both key components of an efficient helpdesk, make HappyFox one of your best options for tracking and managing helpdesk tickets.
As helpdesk software goes, HappyFox (which begins at $19 per user per month) provides the functionality you’d expect from a ticket management system without requiring a lot of management overhead. Both the initial setup process and the day-to-day management could be handled by someone without a lot of technical experience, which is good news for smaller companies looking for big company help desk functionality. Even with a very competitive price, HappyFox is one of the most feature-complete ticket management applications we’ve reviewed, which is a big part of why it’s one of our Editors’ Choice winners in the helpdesk software category.
Agiloft offers a number of products, including their contract management suite which we previously reviewed. This review focuses on the Enterprise level of Agiloft’s Service Desk offering. Priced at $95 per user per month, this version of Agiloft Service Desk provides the essential features to qualify for inclusion in our helpdesk software roundup. All of Agiloft’s products have been built upon the same programming foundation, with a strong emphasis around the underlying database. Adding new fields to a form is a lot like adding a field to a database table so, if you’re comfortable with doing that, you’ll feel right at home with any Agiloft product. That being said, it doesn’t take a database programmer to make changes as the company has greatly simplified the process through the use of its web-based user interface (UI).
Zoho Desk is just one of Zoho Corp.’s huge suite of SaaS applications, including Zoho CRM$20.00 at Zoho, Zoho Projects$25.00 at Zoho, and Zoho Campaigns$5.00 at Zohoto name only a few. For its part, Zoho Desk is Zoho’s entry into the helpdesk space and, all in all, it does Zoho credit. Zoho Desk (which costs $25 per user per month for the Enterprise edition I tested) is a great choice for either internal helpdesk or external service desk scenarios. It integrates with Facebook, Google Analytics, Twilio, and Twitter to extend functionality and provide gateways for users to interact with agents using Voice-over-IP (VoIP) or social media, as well as to provide data analysis to managers monitoring customer interactions and service-level agreements (SLAs). All of that and a nice price tag earn it an Editors’ Choice award in our helpdesk category, along with HappyFox and Vivantio Pro.
ServiceDesk Plus 9.1 (SDP) from ManageEngine (now a Zoho company) begins at $395 for a 2-technician license and 250 nodes in the Professional edition. This package is among the most mature of all the helpdeskproducts I reviewed. That’s evident in its breadth of features, its focus on Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) capabilities, and especially in its on-premises-only deployment orientation at the time of our testing. However, in early 2016, the company began offering SDP in a cloud-based deployment, though you’ll need to contact ManageEngine for pricing information. The company also offers a version of SDP specifically for managed service providers (MSPs). What keeps SDP out of the Editors’ Choice winner’s circle is a dated and complex interface that’s definitely more difficult to use than something like Freshdesk$19.00 at Freshdesk or Editors’ Choice winners HappyFox$19.00 at HappyFox and the feature-comparable Vivantio ProFree at Vivantio.
Zendesk Support is arguably one of the most popular helpdesk solutions available today. Used by a large number of companies both big and small, Zendesk is a solid application. But, while the version that we tested can be had for only $5 per user per month, you can bet most of Zendesk’s customers aren’t running at this Starter tier price. Advanced functionality costs with Zendesk, opening the door to a potentially steep pricing structure, even though its advanced features aren’t enough to compete with an enterprise-grade platform like Editors’ Choice winner Vivantio ProFreeat Vivantio, though they are on par with our other Editors’ Choice winner, HappyFox$19.00 at HappyFox, but then again that platform is squarely aimed at small and midsized businesses (SMBs) not enterprises and other large organizations.
Cayzu (whose Pro tier begins at $12 per user per month) is a strong contender in the web-based helpdesk space, both due to its feature set and pricing. Cayzu’s support for multiple brands or products coupled with strong social integration makes it a great tool for companies looking to strengthen their customer service presence, while its deployment as a cloud service means it could be an effective solution for small to midsized businesses (SMBs) who don’t want to deploy helpdesk software onsite. Still, it lags behind the competition somewhat when it comes to automation and reporting, which is what keeps it behind the Editors’ Choice winners in this category, HappyFox$19.00 at HappyFox and certainly the enterprise-oriented Vivantio ProFree at Vivantio.
Freshdesk (which begins at $19 per agent per month, after the Free tier) is a great way to get your organization started with running a helpdesk. While its big brother Freshservice is geared more toward managed services, enterprise-grade helpdesks, and asset management, there is plenty to like here if you service external users. Still, while they both serve similar customer audiences, and though the gap between the them has closed considerably since the last time we reviewed this product in 2015, Freshdesk is still slightly behind our current Editors’ Choice winner HappyFox. However, our ranking for Freshdesk has gone up; it’s now only slightly behind HappyFox after this re-test. This lag is slight and focuses mainly on smaller features, including in-app texting and slightly more comprehensive customization capabilities. Analyze Freshdesk’s capabilities carefully, however, and if these features don’t matter to you, then you may well decide it’s the perfect solution.
Jira Service Desk (which begins at $10 per user per month) is a hosted helpdesk solution offered by Atlassian. Atlassian is an enterprise software company with one foot in the open-source world and the other firmly in the for-profit commercial software arena. Jira is used by a number of well-known open source projects as their primary software development issue tracking tool and is a key component in managing software bugs and their eventual disposition. However, its user interface (UI) lags behind prettier tools such as Editors’ Choice winner HappyFox$19.00 at HappyFox(though Atlassian did go to some lengths to at least make its UI as simple as possible), and its features are inconsistent and not as well rounded as those of our other Editors’ Choice winner Vivantio ProFree at Vivantio.
Freshservice (which begins at $29 per user per month, after the Free tier) is the big brother to Freshdesk. Both are general-purpose helpdesk systems and Freshservice includes most of the same helpdesk features as its sibling. However, Freshservice is focused more toward internal operations, especially those at the high-end of the midsize business scale and enterprises. As such, the social media element is largely dropped, but you can still see the similarities between the two. In addition, Freshservice adheres to the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) standard and includes a full change management stack as well as some limited asset management features. While all of this combines to bring Freshservice close to Vivantio Pro, our service-oriented helpdesk Editors’ Choice winner, the latter still maintains a slight lead in process flexibility and features, although that does come at a price that’s higher than Freshservice.