Help desk software that creates better customer experiences for your business
Boost customer retention, strengthen brand loyalty, and maximize your customer service productivity with a help desk software.
A guide to the best help desk software
More than three-quarters (77 percent) of customers say they’re more loyal to businesses that offer top-notch service (Zendesk Customer Experience Trends 2021).
Add to that the fact that, in 2021, customer support tickets increased by 30 percent year over year and it’s clear: excellent customer service is a critical component of a successful business.
This helps explain why seamless, omnichannel help desk software is now the standard. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find the solution that’s the right fit for your business. Especially if the software for your help desk also needs to support IT or HR service for internal employees.
To help you identify and choose the best system, we’ll start by explaining the basics of software for help desks: what it is, the different types, and how it benefits your team. Then we’ll walk through 10 of the top help desk tools. To wrap up, we’ll explain how to think about deciding on the ideal software for your organization.
Feel free to skip around by clicking through the table of contents below:
- What is help desk software?
- What are the essential features of a knowledge base software?
- What are the benefits of using support desk software?
- What are the different types of help desk tools?
- What are some challenges with help desk software?
- Who uses IT help desk software?
- What are some tips to improve customer service help desk?
- Top 10 help desk software solutions
- How do you choose the right SaaS helpdesk software?
- Try help desk software for free
What is help desk software?
Help desk software is a software product that customer service and IT teams use to serve employees and/or customers. Its core functions are to help service teams systematically manage support requests, provide self-service options, track and report performance, and ideally far more.
When it's used by an IT team, the goals and processes of a help desk are defined based on government and corporate best practices such as ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). According to Mikkel Svane, CEO of Zendesk, the goal within ITIL when dealing with incidents is to "restore normal service operation as quickly as possible and minimize the adverse effect on business operations.”
Put simply, help desk support software is designed to give you the tools to make your customers feel heard. Here's a basic rundown of how it works:
- Customers contact your business through email, phone, text, web, chat, and social media with questions and issues
- The system generates a ticket for each issue and automatically associates them with a customer’s history if applicable
- Tickets are assigned manually or automatically depending on business rules
- As agents work on tickets, they can easily collaborate with other team members for help
- When the agent resolves the issue, they let the customer know through their preferred communication channel
- Admins can create workflows and assign different levels of responsibility to agents
- With analytics, you can track customer satisfaction scores, internal KPIs, and more
Why use help desk software?
The best reason for using a help desk software solution is that it lets you keep pace with all the available ways to meet your customers’ needs. Methods of communication are constantly changing and updating, and there’s no telling which channel your customer base will shift to next. Using help desk software helps your buyers find your support options the moment they need assistance, no matter what their favorite platforms are.
Additionally, help desk software is a vital tool for making the most of your support personnel resources. Using a help desk system can greatly reduce phone calls, allowing agents to devote more attention to solving trickier issues. By allocating their energy where it will have the most impact, your customer service team will be able to handle tickets with greater ease and mastery, increasing customer retention and ensuring smooth operations throughout.
What is the difference between a help desk and technical support?
On the surface, help desks and tech support may seem interchangeable. Both of them help customers solve problems with their product or service in order to ensure that the customer continues purchasing it. But there is a pretty key difference that distinguishes one from the other, and it has to do with their objectives.
The technical support team, essentially, is responsible for solving the customer’s technical issue. The help desk, on the other hand, is the customer-facing point of contact that receives the complaint, alerts the tech support team of the issue, and ensures a smooth and timely resolution. For issues that don’t require a tech expert, the help desk can typically troubleshoot problems and guide customers to resolutions on their own. But for the more complex technical issues, the tech support team is there to use their expertise.
The overall objective for both teams is to solve the issue. But each one also has its own unique goal. The tech team’s goal is to solve problems fully and quickly using their tech expertise, while the help desk’s goal is to ensure the entire experience — from putting in the request to issue resolution — is fast, stress free, and successful.
What are the essential features of a knowledge base software?
Not all help desk solutions are created equal and not all help desk solutions do the same things. Even so, to be considered a true help desk solution the software must have the following features:
Systematic handling of customer questions and issues
Help desk software handles customer questions or issue intake, management, response, and resolution via a ticketing system. This ensures the support agent and any others involved in resolving the issue can track the problem until its successful resolution and provide status updates along the way.
Customer requests may come through a variety of channels—social media, phone, live chat, text, or email. Multi-channel support means you can choose from whichever channels are right for your customers.
The two most commonly used self-service options are knowledge bases and customer portals. Top help desk software provides both, enabling service teams to put their institutional knowledge to work for the organization for customers and internal employees in a centralized portal.
Tracking and analytics
Analytics and tracking help managers uncover insights regarding their team’s performance, customer satisfaction, and more. This can help improve the service operation and the business as a whole by uncovering customer pain points.
Automation, apps, and integrations
Support agents use help desk apps, integrations, and automations to create a customized work environment customized based on their existing tools and workflows. These features allow agents to automate ticket management, consolidate internal collaboration, access contextual customer data, and much more.
What are the benefits of using support desk software?
There are many benefits that upgrading your help desk support services can provide. The most basic—but also most powerful—is the manual work that help desks save by providing an alternative (centralized) location for customer tickets that would otherwise be dispersed throughout email chains and spreadsheets.
Here’s a look at a few more benefits of support desk software that you should know:
Transparency in internal and external communication
Serving hundreds (or thousands) of demanding customers every day is hard enough on its own. Add in crossed communication lines and siloed customer request info, and it’s almost impossible. Support desk software consolidates requests from multiple sources and translates them into tickets you can track in one shared inbox. Through the shared inbox, agents can see the ticket history as well as exactly who's taking what action with each ticket in real-time.
Contextually relevant ticket routing
As your organization grows, finding the right person to talk to about a specific issue gets increasingly difficult. But with help desk IT support software, you can set up workflows based on pre-filled ticket information to ensure customers get connected with the right agents. And, if the primary agent on a ticket needs some help to solve it, they can reach out to other team members within the support desk software without confusing the customer.
Continuous learning and improvement
Customer feedback is crucial for any company, and help desk management software can help you collect and share it throughout your organization. You can then apply this feedback to inform service improvements, product development, sales and marketing tactics, and more. Reporting and analytics can also help inform management decisions about staffing, training, and standard operating procedures.
What are the different types of help desk tools?
There are seven types of software for a help desk that differ based on how the software is hosted, whether it's internal or external, the kind of company it's designed for, and if the underlying software code is open source.
Each type has a specific set of benefits depending on your company’s size, complexity, and customer service needs. Let’s take a look at each:
1. Enterprise help desks
As the name implies, this type of help desk tool is designed for large organizations that need help desks capable of operating at a massive scale. Enterprise help desks provide an array of features such as asset and account management, knowledge bases, collaboration tools for IT tech support, and no (or very high) limits on users. They’re an ideal option for enterprises that need to support both employees and customers.
2. Internal and external help desks
Also known as service desks, internal help desks are designed to support internal teams such as IT and HR in their efforts to serve employees. Internal help desk functions very similarly to external help desks. The main distinction between internal and external help desk tools is who uses them to request support; employees use the former and customers use the latter.
3. Web based help desk
Web based help desk software solutions are SaaS platforms hosted on the software provider’s server. These help desk solutions are typically sold as monthly or annual subscriptions, which include the cost of maintenance, updates, and security. SaaS help desks are fantastic options for small and mid-sized businesses that don’t have the budget or infrastructure to host and maintain their own on-premise help desk system.
Advantages of using web based help desk
Web based help desks — or SaaS helpdesk software — are worth a closer look because of their current prevalence on the market and their impressive flexibility. Since many companies have moved to working remotely, customer service teams have had to learn how to operate from home, or in a space that’s not in the office. SaaS helpdesk software allows customer services teams to manage tickets quickly, access customer data securely, and provide excellent customer service no matter where they are.
Another advantage of using a cloud help desk tool is its flexibility. SaaS help desk platforms are typically designed to be customizable and scalable, allowing your team to tailor it to their needs. Then, they can add on features and capabilities as customer service demands increase.
4. On-premise and cloud-based help desk software
An on-premise help desk app’s core functions are just like the functions of a cloud-based help desk. But, with an on-premise help desk, the software underlying the tool is hosted “on-premise” rather than in the cloud, as is the case with a cloud-based help desk.
On-premise IT help desks allow companies with strict data security needs to keep their data on their own servers. And they’re customizable, so they can interoperate with your company’s internal systems. But this requires regular maintenance that must be handled internally.
Cloud-based help desk software stores data on remote servers owned by your software vendor or a third party. With this data stored in the cloud, it’s typically easier to scale up and down based on demand. Plus, you don’t have to take on the IT burden of maintaining the software.
5. Open source and closed source
Help desk software that’s open-source allows users and organizations to copy, modify, or delete the underlying code. This flexibility allows companies with highly skilled programmers to completely customize the software to suit the company’s needs. This kind of customization goes well beyond basic plugins and integrations.
Closed source help desk apps, on the other hand, are proprietary. What you see is what you get and only the software developers can copy, modify, or delete it. Of course, APIs, SDKs, 3rd-party app integrations, and plugins mean there’s still plenty of room to customize closed source help desk software.
What are some challenges with help desk software?
One of the biggest challenges of using customer service help desk software is ensuring that the customer service team adopts it correctly, and uses it consistently. Having the platform itself won’t magically solve all of your customer support issues. It’s critical that when introducing a help desk tool into your operations, you have a strategy for making sure that every feature is optimized to be used as intended. Otherwise, you’ll only clutter your own workflow with the very tool that’s supposed to streamline it.
Another challenge with help desk software is knowing how to use the data it generates. Even though everyone has witnessed the power of data, only 14% of companies are making that data accessible to employees. If you decide to adopt a new help desk software, make sure it has powerful reporting and analytics features, so your employees can harness the power of data and use it to improve processes — not just in customer service, but company-wide.
Who uses IT help desk software?
Customer success teams, service agents, and their customers are the primary users of IT help desk software. Agents use the software to track, prioritize, and solve customer support tickets. Customer support managers also use help desk software, but their focus is usually on reporting and setting up workflows, though they may be pulled in for help on certain, escalated tickets.
As mentioned earlier, not all help desk solutions are created equal. Zendesk, for example, is more than just help desk support software; it's a cloud-based software and engagement platform for customer service that offers omnichannel support. Since it’s deployed so broadly, Zendesk’s top help desk software might also touch social media teams, salespeople, and marketing staff.
Other help desk solutions (also called “service desks”) may be geared exclusively towards internal IT teams. In that case, the system is used by IT support agents, engineers, managers, to provide support to internal employees.
What are some tips to improve customer service help desk?
The best helpdesk software in the world won’t do you any good if the foundation of your customer service help desk is shaky. Follow these tips for improving your help desk services.
- 1. Make your first impression count. The first interaction a customer has with your reps needs to embody the kind of service they should always expect from your business. It should be polite, friendly, clear, and direct. Of course, the tone and the overall delivery of the service depends on your brand and your industry. But no matter what kind of business you’re in, politeness from the get-go will never lose you points.
- 2. Don’t leave them in the dark. Especially for complex problems that require tech support, customers are often left wondering about the status of their tickets. Even if everyone is busy on your end, it might look to the customer like nothing is happening — and that feeling can quickly devolve to dissatisfaction. Always keep customers updated with the status of their ticket, and be transparent about the steps that are being taken to solve the issue.
- 3. Look to the past. If a customer has had previous tickets, they’re worth examining in case their issue is recurring. The best help desk software will have tools for storing and organizing all past interactions and tickets, so you can easily pull up a customer’s history, complete with notes from past interactions. Having past records so close at hand helps support agents start the problem-solving process a few steps ahead, since they don’t have to start from scratch.
- 4. Make it speedy. There’s no other way to say it — people want their problems solved quickly. Obviously, not every issue is going to be fixable instantaneously, no matter how much the customer might want it. The key is to clear the way so that your tech experts and support agents have the time and resources to fix complex problems quickly, without being overwhelmed with the same simple requests over and over again. By empowering customers with self-sufficiency tools like a self-service portal and a knowledge base, you can reduce the amount of incoming requests, and free up your experts to fix the issues that require more expertise.
Top 10 helpdesk software solutions
Customize your help desk and make Zendesk your own
Zendesk helps streamline customer support with time-saving tools like triggers and automations. It's support desk software that is intuitive and easy to use because it's built with both customers and service desk agents in mind.
Great customer support starts with the right tools, and with Zendesk, you've got everything you need to build the best customer experience possible.
Fast, personalized responses
Customer service desk agents can create and share their own macros to quickly respond to recurring customer inquiries.
Personalized views let helpdesk agents see their queue filtered by ticket status, assignee, group, or other conditions.
Get even more from Zendesk products with over 500 apps and integrations, available on our Apps Marketplace.
Help desk support software: Better together
Zendesk’s web-based IT help desk solution allows support teams to collaborate and share information using private comments on any issue that may arise. It also displays real-time updates about who is viewing a ticket at any given moment.
Help others help themselves
Combine your help desk software with a customizable help center, knowledge base, online community, and customer portal so customers get better self-service and agents see improved efficiency and faster resolution.
With Zendesk’s reporting and analytics tools, you can get insight into what matters most — from the performance of your team to your customers’ satisfaction scores.
Zendesk’s help desk software features include:
- Custom views
- Self-service options
- Integrated voice software
- Analytics and reporting
- Live chat and messaging
- Collaboration tools
- API, SDKs, and app integrations
- Automated routing
- Custom branding
- Omnichannel support
- Multi-language support
HappyFox is a full-featured, cloud-based IT help desk solution designed for a variety of industries and team sizes. It includes all the essential features of a help desk including smart automation, ticketing management, advanced reporting, and more. However, compared to an option like Zendesk, HappyFox has relatively few app integrations.
Also, since HappyFox offers neither a free plan nor a free trial, you’ll need to pay just to try the software. They offer four plans, each of which requires a minimum of five help desk agents. As you’d expect, the feature sets of each plan varies. Below, you can see the features included in their Enterprise Plan.
- Smart rules-based automation
- API, SDKs, and webhooks
- Workflow macros
- Live website chat
- Advanced reporting
- Ticket routing, categorization, and tagging
- Unlimited shared inboxes
- Branding customization
- Knowledge base management
- Multi-channel communications
Learn more about Zendesk for HappyFox
3. Help Scout
Like HappyFox, Help Scout is powerful enough to support large customer support teams of 500 or more. But Help Scout is a bit more small-business-friendly with no minimum number of users and a 14-day free trial. Help Scout supports robust reporting, native knowledge bases, a robust API, and a broad range of integrations.
The Standard and Plus plans are priced at $20 and $35 per month per user, respectively. And to get pricing for their Company plan, you’ll need to contact them for a quote. Also, if your business is a startup, or it has a focus on environmental sustainability or social impact, you may be eligible for a significant discount.
- Rule-based automation
- Extensions and integrations
- Templated responses
- Website live chat
- Ticket routing and prioritization
- Collaboration tools
- Customisable branding
- Knowledge base content management
- Multi-channel support
4. SolarWinds Service Desk
This IT service management system helps businesses standardize their service requests and processes, ensuring faster resolution times for tickets. SolarWinds Service Desk pricing starts at $19 per feature per month, which is best for smaller teams who only need the most essential functions like ticket management and a service portal. It offers a 30-day free trial for anyone willing to test drive it.
The incident management software allows you to manage tickets no matter where they’re coming from, whether it's through a mobile app, mobile service portal, phone call, or live chat. Plus, generous automation makes it easy to handle tasks like ticket creation, escalation, and routing.
- Relationship mapping
- Change management
- IT asset management
- Configuration management database software (CMDB)
- Help desk knowledge base
- Procurement tools
- Service automation
- Service desk chat
- Service desk reporting
- Risk management
Learn more about SolarWinds Service Desk for Zendesk.
5. JIRA Service Management
JIRA Service Management by Atlassian is a cloud-based, internal IT help desk system designed for IT teams. Its features include automation, self-service, incident management, conversational ticketing, and more. You can hook up their native knowledge base, but you’ll need a separate subscription to Confluence.
You can try out JIRA in a limited capacity with their free plan but you’re restricted to three agents or ten users. Or, you can start a 7-day free trial of their Standard or Premium plan, which both support up to 5000 agents.
- Conversational ticketing
- Incident postmortems
- Change management
- Reports and metrics
- SLA management
- Asset management
- Email automation
- Knowledge base (with Confluence subscription)
- Incident management
- Self-service portal
Learn more about Jira for Zendesk.
6. Salesforce Service Cloud
For organizations who need a robust, enterprise-level technical support software, Salesforce Service Cloud is certainly worth a look. It leverages AI-powered automation, 360-degree customer views, and advanced service analytics to provide a solution that facilitates excellent service and improvement over time.
That said, it’s easiest to unlock the full power of Salesforce Service Cloud—including the 360-degree customer view—if you’re already using other popular Salesforce software, like their CRM. Otherwise, you’ll need to set up integrations or use the Salesforce API to pull in relevant data from other programs.
- Knowledge management
- Workflow automations
- Webhooks, SDKs, and APIs
- 3rd-party integrations
- Omnichannel routing
- Support operation analytics
- Asset management
- Remote access
- Self-help portal
- Customer forums
- Workflow automation
- Call center management
Built to help IT teams work smarter, not harder, SysAid is one of the top IT help desk software solutions out there. This platform focuses heavily on automation, with features designed to manage as many tickets as possible — hands free.
Available as SaaS, on-premise, and as a mobile app, the basic SysAid Help Desk solution includes key features like self-service, automated reporting, and ticket automation. The more inclusive enterprise help desk software plans — ITSM and ITSM+ — offer more features like workflow automations and BI analytics. There is a 30-day free trial, but if you’re interested in pricing details you’ll have to contact them directly for a quote.
- Dedicated customer success manager
- LDAP integration (Active Directory)
- ITIL package
- Advanced custom fields
- Third-party integrations
- Task automation
- Business value dashboard (in beta)
Best for small to mid-sized B2B businesses, Vivantio is a help desk solution founded in 2003. Requesting a free trial requires giving a lot of information about your business, including what kinds of customers you serve and the number of ticket types you manage. But the platform offers a wide range of plans, starting with the basic Value Plan at 32￡ pounds a month per user, to its enterprise help desk software Visionary Plan at 102￡ per month.
The essentials in the Value Plan include features like simple SLAs, branded self service portals, and a mobile app. And with the mid-level Vital Plan, users get access to popular features such as knowledge management, Kanban calendar view types, and custom dashboards.
- Ticket hierarchies
- Intuitive interface
- US & UK support centers
- Call center management
- Surveys & feedback
- Real-time chat
- Queue management
- IT asset management
- Workflow configuration
9. Zoho Desk
Offering context-aware customer service helpdesk features, Zoho Desk is one of the leading cloud help tools on the market. Receive requests and respond to them across platforms without breaking your stride, all the while compiling valuable customer data onto a single easy-to-use platform.
The Zoho Desk free plan allows up to three agents, and includes basic features like email ticketing, private knowledge base, and mobile app. But the most popular plan, chosen by 50% of its users, is the $23/month per agent Professional Plan, which also has multi-department ticketing, round robin ticket assignment, and automatic time tracking.
- SLAs & escalation
- Help center theme gallery
- Private & public knowledge base
- Customer happiness ratings
- Reports & dashboards
- Ticket sharing
- Scheduled reports
- Help center customization
- Zia - Artificial Intelligence
Learn more about Zoho Assist Remote Support for Zendesk.
Made for rapid deployment and no-code customization, Freshdesk is an emerging favorite among cloud based IT help desk systems. Popular features included AI powered service management tools that give data-based recommendations, a knowledge base, and multichannel communication support.
You can try Freshdesk for 21 days without committing. Or if you’re a small business, the reasonable Growth Plan is priced at $18 per month billed per month. The Starter Plan has many of the best help desk tools to get you started, including a workflow automator, self service portal, and incident management. On the other end of the spectrum, the $95 per month Enterprise plan also comes with the AI powered Freddy Agent Assist feature.
- Reporting and analytics
- Mobile app
- Service catalog
- Canned responses
- Approval workflows
- Release management
- Team dashboards
- SLA management
- Chatbot powered by Freddy AI
How do you choose the right SaaS helpdesk software?
Siloed tools like email inboxes and spreadsheets get in the way of excellent customer (and agent) experiences. With the right help desk system, support teams are equipped with all the tools they need to provide quick, personal service.
While the help desk software that’s best for your company depends on your customers and your team, there are several critical things to consider when choosing your solution.
When evaluating any SaaS help desk software, consider the following questions:
Does the help desk software fit your business?
Your help desk software needs to fit your business’s growth goals, budget, service priorities, customer profile, existing workflows, and systems. After all, you should be spending time serving customers, not patching together a help desk solution.
What customer support processes can you automate through the help desk software?
A great way to get a sense of how much value a potential help desk solution will add for your team is to think through which existing processes you can automate through the software. The more internal logistics you can automate, the more time your support agents have to focus on providing top-tier customer service.
Does help desk software help you to support clients more effectively?
The last thing you want in a help desk software is a system that gets in the way of your customers, service agents, and managers. If you haven’t already, define what it means for your organization to deliver effective customer service. Then, determine whether your help desk software brings you closer to your definition of effectiveness.
What communication channels does the IT help desk solution integrate with?
Help desk management software that doesn’t integrate with the service channels your customers use isn’t very helpful. But it’s not enough to just integrate with all the necessary channels. The integrations should be seamless, easily facilitating communication from all the communication channels your customers use in one place.
How does IT help desk software measure customer satisfaction?
You can measure customer satisfaction using a variety of metrics including (but not limited to) Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), Customer Effort Score (CES), and Net Promoter Score (NPS). Regardless of how your organization measures customer satisfaction, the top help desk software should support your efforts to do so.
Will this help desk software work if your company grows?
Best IT help desk systems are customizable enough to support any workflow and to handle the most complex business—yet flexible enough to scale at any pace. So while one system might meet your present needs, you should also consider how your service operation might grow and change… and whether your help desk software can grow and change with it.
Try help desk software for free
Get the right information from customers
Dynamic request forms and ticket fields give support ticket agents extra context, so they’re better prepared for the conversation and can offer more personalized customer support.
Never miss a deadline
SLAs are built-in so help desk agents can set their own parameters, and use up-to-the-minute measurements to keep an eye on the status of specific tickets.
Take your help desk on the go
Our native mobile apps enable help desk agents to respond to customer service requests—even when they’re away from their desks.