How help desk software solves support problems

Published July 29, 2019
Last updated October 14, 2021

When we say “customer expectations,” the word that comes to mind is “rising.” Or it should be. Again and again our research shows that customers are comparing you to elite, cream-of-the crop customer support. Not fair if you’re a startup with under 25 employees, but still true. Critically essential to meeting customer expectations, and hopefully occasionally delighting your customers too, is helpdesk software.

Businesses often start out on the support front with a shared email inbox, which is almost never sustainable—multiple agents digging around not sure who has taken care of what, how or if a problem is being resolved. You’ve got mail! And a recipe for irritated customers, or worse, irritated former customers.

What does help desk software do?

A helpdesk is technology that executes a few core tasks, and ideally far more, acting as a partner as you scale. Traditionally, a help desk defines its goals and processes based on government and corporate best practices such as ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). “The goal within ITIL when dealing with customer issues or incidents specifically is “to restore normal service operation as quickly as possible and minimize the adverse effect on business operations,”” Mikkel Svane, CEO of Zendesk, once said. Not all helpdesk solutions are created equal and not all helpdesk solutions do the same things. That said, the basics:

  • handle customer questions and issues in a systematic way: from intake, managing, and organizing, to response and resolution, and ultimately, reporting
  • Allow for omnichannel service. This means that you choose the channels that are right for your customers—phone, live chat, texting, email
  • Self-service capabilities. What does your ideal knowledge base look like? The right service desk lets you take your team’s institutional knowledge and put it to work for your company, internally, and all your customers
  • tracking and analytics. How quickly was a ticket first answered and ultimately resolved? How happy was the customer?
  • integrations. Apps, widgets, and add-ons can be lifesavers in the present and integral to future growth

Some solutions are free, of course, but they are inevitably limited. With others, a free trial will give your team a sense of what’s possible and help guide your decision on which path to choose, at least initially. It’s advisable, to put it mildly, to evaluate after a few months and then on an ongoing basis. You might start with only an email solution but a few months down the line realize that your customer base loves live chat or texting.

Customers and employees alike expect the same kind of customer support: personalized, efficient and convenient. And the Zendesk / Culture Amp research found that employees in companies using Zendesk as an internal help desk are 11% more likely to be highly engaged. That is a significant competitive edge. In the wings of every industry, affecting every company that uses or is considering a help desk are issues like the growing influence of the Internet of Things (IoT), security and ITIL-compliant status, the absolute imperative to adopt best-of-breed technologies. And the name for the helpdesk solution matters a lot less what help desk programs and service desk software seek to accomplish: Enabling your employees to efficiently address the problems of your customers. Whether a company is familiar with help desk software from a free trial or has a favorite out of the box solution, what follows will shed some light on how a help desk… helps.


What’s in a name?

It goes by quite a few names:

  • help desk
  • service desk
  • helpdesk ticketing system
  • IT service management
  • help desk tracking software

Maybe one of these terms dominates in your industry, or it’s what your company has come to call it internally. “Some argue that help desk is an outdated term referring to an IT-centric support capability born in the late 1980s (think mainframes), with little attention to the end user,” said Trent Seed, CTO of Oomnitza. “They may say service desk was coined to describe a new focus on serving end-users in a timely manner.” But all of these terms essentially describe the same kind of thing.

Who uses a help desk software?

Customer satisfaction is critical to most every successful business, and there are two main kinds of customers: the external kind, the people you created your business to serve, and also the internal kind, your employees. Helpdesk software that’s seamless and omnichannel is now the standard. But what does it mean, long term, to satisfy your customer’s needs? Do positive interactions have the same long-term impact as negative ones? According to The 2018 Zendesk Customer Service Survey Report, for 97% of respondents, bad customer service changes buying behavior, and for 87%, good customer service—by phone, live chat, email, et cetera—changed buying behavior.

Why a helpdesk works internally

Overall, the Zendesk / Culture Amp research found that employees at companies that use Zendesk as internal help desk are more likely to have faith in their leadership. According to the survey, companies that use Zendesk as an internal help desk are 17% more likely to have a score above that of the global benchmark** on the question “I have confidence in the leaders at the company.”

But internally, two departments interact the most with and have the most significant day-to-day impact on employees: IT and HR. Often quietly heroic, they are under the most pressure to deliver the best employee experiences, to ensure that employees, on premise and remote, are successful and happy in their jobs—and thus in the greatest need of a strong help desk software.


Your HR Heroes

“HR is undergoing a transformation of operational HR processes to become automated and data-driven,” says Ann Catrina-Kligman, global director, HR shared services, at Zendesk. “Such data insights are enabling HR to move from being a back-office, reactive administrative function into a data-driven strategic partner with the business, using proactive insights to shape talent strategies and the future of work.”

Your IT Stars

The IT team makes choices that affect every single person at your company and works closely with them to troubleshoot and solve problems from lost laptops to OS upgrades to issues with security badges. They work with your people on Slack, live chat, via email, and face to face. Using help desk software is non-negotiable.

In fact, a helpdesk is crucial for teams of every ilk, not just IT-related or those whose lives revolve around ticket management. With the high volume of daily tickets that internal help-desk teams must address and the amount of tools their teams use on a daily basis, staying abreast of employee requests with limited resources is a real challenge—and collaborating well with other teams is essential. Companies can create and leverage a flexible, easy-to-use internal portal that allows teams to support employees locally and across the globe, giving them a one-stop shop for everything from requesting paid time off to checking out regional events and the latest opportunities for volunteering. “We are set up so our customers (Zendesk employees) can easily find what they need. This relieves stress on departments such as IT, HR, marketing, and finance, and delivers a great experience for our stakeholders,” says Jim Gearhart, senior director, enterprise business applications and development, at Zendesk. On average, 59% of surveyed agents working at companies using Zendesk as internal help desk agree that “other departments at our company collaborate well with us to get the job done” which is 4% higher than companies who use Zendesk for an external help desk.

The critical role of self-service in your service desk

Internally and externally, when seeking out customer service, people want to be able to find answers on their own—they get frustrated if they have to waste time searching high and low. Even if the volume of requests can be high, the type of questions that people have is often fairly standard. For IT, that may include device policies, software access, and equipment repair.

On-the-go customers love self-service. And they expect a competent, compassionate human to be available if that’s what they need. More and more, though, there’s a drive in your customer base to be DIY—go out and fix the problem themselves. This is great, as any problem a customer can take care of easily frees up your agents for tricky tasks, and it also helps with costs. Integral to self-service in your help desk is a knowledge base.

Truly, this is one of the most powerful possibilities of help desk software: a knowledge base that allows the centralization of institutional knowledge. Subject-matter experts within the company can create articles on an ongoing basis to address the most frequent requests and questions that come in to customer support. Employees or customers can search for and find the answers to common questions in one intuitive help center. IT teams, HR departments, and customer-facing agents in turn benefit from scaling support with self-service, saving service desk resources for more complex issues.

It makes solid financial sense. A Gartner report, aptly titled Knowledge Management Will Transform CRM Customer Service, estimates that CIOs can reduce customer support costs by 25% or more when proper knowledge management discipline is in place. The free trial comes to an end, but the ultimate savings far outweigh the investment.


What help desk software means when you need to scale your customer service

Customer support and the teams that take care of your employees deserve an intuitive platform that allows them to scale support, foster customer loyalty and appreciation for your brand, and keep employees engaged throughout their lifecycle at a company. Take the case of an IT team: These hard-working professionals need the right tools to respond to employees efficiently.

  • A survey found that although 64% of IT organizations have target resolution times, 76% frequently miss those targets.
  • An easy to use, extensible platform allows the team to scale support across their business

The best help desk also makes key insights possible, including how teams can improve performance with a terrific knowledge base, automations and integrations... all centralized in one integrated hub. At times, the effects of spending on internal resources can seem like a mystery. But investing in an internal help desk has explicit rewards. For one, it’s highly relevant and apparent for employees—in particular, it might increase their confidence in company performance. Companies that use Zendesk as IHD are 21% more likely to have a score higher than that of the global benchmark on the question “the company effectively directs resources (funding, people and effort) toward company goals.” What’s more, companies that use Zendesk as IHD are 10% more likely to have a score higher than that of the global benchmark on the question “the company will be successful over the next three years.”

An excellent internal help desk fosters healthy collaboration and encourages engaged employees. And the benefits ripple out: Data also shows that if the companies have Zendesk as internal help desk, their external customer support agents perform better. Specifically, our research showed 17% shorter first reply time and 19% shorter first resolution time, 40% shorter requester wait time, and 1 point higher CSAT.
Focusing on internal excellence helps you retain talent and optimize internal collaboration—and the rest of the business benefits.

One rep’s story on scaling

Brandon Knapp recounts his experience on a rapidly growing customer support team that had ballooned from 13 people to 60 in three years: “In the early days, our support process was simple: Start grabbing tickets from the queue when you get to work on Monday and clear the queue out by happy hour on Friday.” That stopped being a viable customer service strategy as ticket volume skyrocketed. Knapp cites strategies for effective scaling that include custom ticket fields, a time-tracking app, a dynamic, ever-expanding knowledge base (“Be sure to keep supporting those articles by updating the content and keeping the conversation going in the comments section”), and an omnichannel approach that includes live chat, which can resolve customer issues seven times faster than email.

How help desk software can deliver great customer service with AI

The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2019 uncovered insights about AI in CX. It might be a surprise, but consumers largely think of AI as an emerging technology:

  • Across countries, nearly two-thirds of customers either don’t think they’ve interacted with a customer support bot in the past six months or don’t know.
  • On Zendesk specifically, more than one million tickets have already been solved using AI tools, saving 225,000 agent hours and giving 2,800 years back to the customer.

Help desk software can leverage AI to help teams deflect tickets and scale support across the organization, while giving customers both internal and external the fast responses and seamless customer service they expect. A top-notch chatbot works right alongside your help desk team by using machine learning to help answer incoming questions. With content from your knowledge base, the AI can suggest articles to deflect tickets and help a person resolve their issues. There are limits, though.

“Bots have a wide array of uses, but there are right and wrong ways to use them,” said Jason Myers, head of customer success at Ada Support. “There are times when bots just don’t cut it when it comes to customer support.” Bots can’t tell when a customer is being sarcastic or mean, and even the best ones can only mimic a person. To achieve effective customer service via bots, brands need to understand chatbot abilities and limitations and make the most of both chatbot and human support. Businesses need to consider how to smoothly transition from bot support to human support, or bot-to-human handover best practices.


Automations tools such as macros and triggers streamline help desk support for repetitive questions. An example could be such as setting up automated email reminders when an employee still hasn’t selected their benefits for the upcoming year, or setting up a trigger to let employees know that their issue is being escalated.

The Zendesk CX Trends Report found that support teams using Zendesk’s AI features see a clear overall efficiency boost—they resolve tickets 21% faster and see a Self-Service Ratio that is two times higher, while handling about six times the volume of requests compared to their peers.

How a helpdesk leads to optimized performance

Nobody likes working in the dark, or showing up to a meeting without clear answers. Customer service teams need a help desk solution that shines visibility into how they are performing against goals such as customer satisfaction and overall efficiency—that’s crucial for pinpointing opportunities to make improvements, whether that be related to improving response times, decreasing backlog, or improving employee CSAT scores. Constantly tracking key metrics as they relate to support goals is not a nice to have; it’s a need to have.

The right help desk software provides a way for customer service teams to identify actionable insights to analyze trends, response times and satisfaction scores. This information empowers them to identify underlying problems and opportunities to improve team performance. The ideal service desk gives teams the power to measure and continuously improve service delivery performance with built-in reporting tools and best practice dashboards. Teams can also build their own custom reports to track incidents, events, problems, service requests, downtime and more, which allows them to uncover process inefficiencies and bottlenecks.

Helpdesk software can offer the ability to monitor engagement and gather feedback with easy-to-use tools, like CSAT surveys. And a help desk solution should complement other tools: Customer service teams can see if, for instance, live chat is helping to more efficiently resolve questions, and drill into specific areas to understand what they can improve to increase effectiveness and scale support through AI.