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 help desk software?
- What are the benefits of using support desk software?
- What are the different types of help desk tools?
- Who uses IT help desk software?
- Top 10 help desk software solutions
- How do you choose the right 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
What are the essential features of help desk 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 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. 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.
4. 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.
Who uses IT help desk software?
Customer success, 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.
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 service 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
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
- Customizable branding
- Knowledge base content management
- Multi-channel support
4. KB Support
If you’d like to get the software for your help desk up and running through your WordPress site, KB Support may be the system for you. You can install the KB Support plugin through WordPress and right out of the box it’ll enable you to start routing support tickets through web forms and email.
If you opt for the Professional plan you can integrate KB Support with MailChimp and WooCommerce. And the Enterprise plan features a native knowledge base as well as Zapier integrations. But if you need support on additional channels, you’ll need to use Zapier to integrate social, live chat, and text communications.
- Native automations
- Tracking and measurement
- Ticket routing
- Brand customization
- Knowledge content management
- MailChimp and WooCommerce integration
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
- Smart automation
- Knowledge base (with Confluence subscription)
- Incident management
- Self-service portal
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
Slack, the immensely popular messaging app, easily integrates with a broad range of help desk apps, enabling agents to use Slack’s beautiful interface and powerful features to bring all support interactions into a single place. For example, in the Slack for Zendesk Support app, agents can create tickets, add comments, and get real-time notifications on new and existing tickets delivered to any Slack channel.
Yet even on its own Slack is a powerful tool. You can set up channels for specific purposes, build out automations, and collaborate with others more effectively with video, text, images, and other rich media.
- Live chat and messaging
- Zendesk integration
- SDKs, APIs, and Webhooks
- Video conferencing
- File sharing
- Native integrations
- Community forums
- Workflow builder
- Customer surveys
Client portals (also called customer portals) are a key component of a top help desk solution. Huddle is specialized client portal software designed for complicated customer engagements that require secure document management, file storage, and task management. You can connect Huddle with your tech support software using Huddle Connectors in Microsoft Power Automate.
Huddle provides task management features but unless all you need is a self-service portal, it can’t replace your help desk, especially if you have a high volume of service requests. Instead, you can think of it as an enhancement of your existing help desk software for securely storing and managing shared client documents.
- Custom branding
- Microsoft Power Automate integration
- Secure file management
- Document version control, permissions, and audit trail
- Mobile security
- Task manager
Another indispensable component of every help desk app is a robust knowledge base. Guru is a unique knowledge base system (that integrates with Zendesk) that enables your team to create, share, access, and update internal and external knowledge bases. And it’s designed to fit seamlessly within your organization’s existing workflows by pulling data from your CRM, messaging apps, emails, and other systems and tools.
In short, Guru’s AI-powered integrations and browser extension bring your agents the knowledge they need, when and where they need it. And its integration with Zendesk means it works within the Zendesk Suite, eliminating the need to keep track of a separate tool. Prices for Guru range from $5 to $20 per user per month.
- Knowledge base management
- Full-text search
- Duplicate detection
- AI-powered suggestions
- Customer forums
- App integrations
- Private and public knowledge bases
- Browser extension
10. Document 360
Internal and external knowledge bases can provide a huge boost to just about any customer support team. Document 360, with its clean interface and markdown editor, makes creating knowledge base content as seamless as it can be. With real-time search and intuitive categorization capabilities, Document 360 also makes it easy for end-users of the knowledge base to quickly find the information they need.
And if you install the handy Document360 app, your support agents can search through the knowledge base, share article links or content, and create article drafts right from Zendesk. Pricing for Document 360 ranges from $49 to $299 per month.
- Category manager
- Zendesk app integration
- Markdown editor
- Advanced reporting
- Customer surveys
- Content management
- Full-text search
- Customer portal
- Community forums
- Secure document management
How do you choose the right 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 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.