Why Zendesk is the best alternative to Intercom
Last updated October 25, 2023
In today’s world of fast-paced customer service and high customer expectations, it’s essential for business leaders to equip their teams with the best support tools available. Zendesk and Intercom both offer noteworthy tools, but if you’re looking for a full-service solution, there is one clear winner.
Businesses often choose Zendesk over Intercom because:
We are CX-perts
Our tools are built to last
We offer a low total cost of ownership (TCO)
With more than 15 years of industry experience, Zendesk is an expert in all things CX and is uniquely equipped to support businesses of all sizes.
We know what it takes to get customer service right, and we help our partners perfect their processes by providing them with access to powerful customer service tools and comprehensive resources.
Built to last
The Zendesk platform is built to grow as your business does, resulting in less downtime, better cost savings, and the stability needed to provide exceptional support.
Many customers start using Zendesk as an SMB and keep utilizing our platform as they scale their operations, hire more staff, and serve more customers.
When selecting a customer service tool, it’s important to think about the overall cost of the solution as your organization uses it over the years.
Zendesk has a low TCO because it’s simple to configure, customize, and maintain. As a result, customers can implement the software quickly—without the need for developers—and see a faster return on investment. There aren’t hidden fees, either, so customers know exactly what they're paying for and can calculate the TCO ahead of time.
Read on to learn more about Zendesk and Intercom’s CX solutions. In this article, we’ll cover:
At a glance: Zendesk vs. Intercom
Compare Zendesk versus Intercom to determine who will be the best partner for your business at every phase of the customer journey.
Zendesk is a holistic CX solution for companies needing customer service software that grows with them as they handle higher ticket volumes, expand their staff, and start to see more complex support requirements.
Intercom bills itself as a conversational relationship platform that specializes in message-based customer communication for SMBs and mid-market companies.
Check out the research-backed comparison below to better understand how each solution can add value to your organization.
Exclusively focused on CX
Broad focus (sales, marketing, customer service, onboarding)
Agility + scalability
Fast time to value at enterprise scale
Fast time to value with limits to scale
Consistently highest ROI
Low ROI because of limited product depth and support
TCO - Best total cost of ownership at scale
Best TCO because of transparent pricing and limited technical resources required
High TCO because of the cost of product limitations and basic features limited to their Premium plan
CX best practice expertise and community
Rich customer community and support with a CX focus
Light customer community and support and limited CX focus
Zendesk vs. Intercom: Features comparison
Zendesk has an award-winning family of products that allows companies of all sizes to be more reliable, flexible, and scalable. We are a customer-first company, and we strive to help the like-minded businesses we serve by providing:
Let’s take a look at how Intercom’s features compare.
Unified omnichannel support experience
Apps and integrations
Comprehensive reporting and analytics
Robust self-service and knowledge management
AI and ML
Messaging and live chat
Advanced workflows and automation
Unified omnichannel support experience
Customers want fast and convenient support. Fortunately, Zendesk ensures teams can meet that expectation with a powerful, omnichannel approach to customer service. Using Zendesk software, support teams can communicate with customers on:
No matter how a customer contacts your business, your agents will have access to the tools and information they need to continue and close conversations on any channel.
Intercom also has an omnichannel customer service solution, but it’s fairly limited, with no native voice capabilities and minimal voice integrations.
Prioritize the agent experience to maximize productivity and customer satisfaction while reducing employee turnover.
Zendesk offers a top-of-the-line agent workspace so customer service representatives can easily manage communications across channels. Agents can find everything they need within their workspace—from resource recommendations to complete customer history. Our Agent Workspace helps:
Enhance cross-functional collaboration by breaking down data silos between sales and support
Guide customers to content that introduces product-driven solutions
Save agents time by eliminating the need to toggle between systems and apps
Support teams track customer conversations across channels
Agents identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities
Intercom also offers an agent workspace that allows the user to view their:
Sales teams can also view outbound communications, and any support agent can access resources from the Intercom workspace. However, the workspace does come with some limitations.
For instance, Intercom doesn’t offer a customizable workspace, conditional data field capture, true problem-incident relationship workflows, threaded collaboration, agent-level applications, or knowledge workflows that allow agents to provide feedback on resources or create new articles.
Apps and integrations
Apps and integrations are critical to creating a 360 view of the customer across the company and ensuring agents have easy access to key customer context. When agents don’t have to waste time toggling between different systems and tools to access the customer details they need, they can deliver faster, more personalized customer service.
With Zendesk, organizational data silos can be a thing of the past. We make it easy for anyone within your company to access contextual customer information—including their conversation and purchase history—to provide better experiences. In fact, the Zendesk Marketplace has 1,300+ apps and integrations, from billing software to marketing automation tools.
“The Zendesk Marketplace includes over 1,000 integrations including all the top business tools, and the Sunshine platform allows for infinite possibilities of customization to meet business needs.”
—Heather Wintermantel, head of global customer experience at Zendesk
Intercom’s integration capabilities are limited, and some apps don’t integrate well with third-party customer service technology. This can make it more difficult to import CRM data and obtain complete context from customer data. For example, Intercom’s Salesforce integration doesn't create a view of cases in Salesforce.
Comprehensive reporting and analytics
Track customer service metrics to gain valuable insights and improve customer service processes and agent performance.
Zendesk offers robust, pre-built reports for sales and support teams. Here are our top reporting and analytics features and an overview of where Intercom’s reporting limitations lie.
Dashboards: Intercom users have only 10 canned dashboards for conversations and one dashboard for tickets per day. Zendesk offers pre-built dashboards for any channel containing information such as product metrics, agent activity, and more.
Custom metrics: Intercom does not provide custom metrics, meaning you will miss key insights specific to your business.
Metric correlation: Intercom does not allow users to compare two chosen metrics (e.g., first reply time vs. CSAT over the past year). This missing context can hinder business growth and support improvements.
Metric drill-in: Intercom users can’t double-click on a metric to view additional data, preventing users from identifying the underlying cause of agent performance.
Intercom provides less comprehensive reports, but users can review metrics for:
Robust self-service and knowledge management
Provide self-service alternatives so customers can resolve their own issues. This serves the dual benefit of adding convenience to the customer experience and lightening agents’ workloads.
Zendesk takes knowledge management to the next level. Our AI bots and self-service resources help deflect tickets away from busy agents, allowing them to focus on more complex matters. Zendesk supports knowledge management in a few different ways:
Knowledge base: You can create and customize your own knowledge base and publish content.
Article recommendations: Our bots can intelligently suggest the best resources to resolve a problem by scanning messages for keywords.
Content maintenance: Our Content Cues feature uses AI to assess incoming tickets and identify recurring questions so your team can create helpful articles. It also flags resources that would benefit from an update.
Intercom enables customers to self-serve through its messaging platform. Users can request resources from a chatbot or via live chat. Agents can easily find resources for customers from their agent workspace.
Automated intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)
AI and ML make customer service functionalities like chatbots, sentiment analysis, ticket creation, and workflow automation possible. All these features are necessary for operational efficiency and help agents deliver fast, personalized customer experiences.
Zendesk is a full-service customer support solution with a robust AI chatbot solution. Zendesk AI is ready out of the box, with pre-trained AI models based on trillions of data points from real service interactions and come with several benefits such as:
Advanced bots: Zendesk bots come pre-trained to understand the top issues specific to your industry. Bots can automatically classify requests by intent–such as knowing if an issue is about a refund request or a password reset–for more accurate answers.
Intelligence in the context panel: A smart panel in the Agent Workspace shows agents AI-powered insights about customer sentiment, language, and intent. AI also provides action and reply suggestions to help resolve customer issues.
Intelligent triage: AI uses intent detection, language detection, and sentiment analysis to classify incoming requests and route tickets to the right team member.
Macro suggestions: AI suggests new shared macros—canned responses or actions that agents can easily apply when managing tickets—administrators should create to maximize agent efficiency.
Users can benefit from using Intercom’s CX platform and AI software as a standalone tool for business messaging. But to provide a more robust customer experience, businesses may need to consider integrating Intercom’s AI tool with a third-party customer service platform, as it falls short of a full-stack offering.
Chatbot training: Fin AI isn't ready out of the box, so businesses will need to train the chatbot to answer customer questions accurately.
SLA management: Intercom’s Fin monitors service-level agreements, sends push notifications, and automates SLA reporting.
Workload management: AI automatically balances team workloads based on agent utilization and time away.
Messaging and live chat
In 2023, conversational messaging will play an essential role in customer service. Customers increasingly expect to receive fast, convenient, and personalized support.
Zendesk is ready to support messaging via live chat, email, SMS, and social media. It can also accommodate digital-first support using rich, interactive conversation elements like:
If a customer starts an interaction by talking to a chatbot and can't find a solution, our chatbot can open a ticket and intelligently route it to the most qualified agent.
Advanced workflows and automation
Advanced workflows are useful to customer service teams because they automate processes that make it easier for agents to provide great customer service.
When it comes to advanced workflows and ticketing systems, Zendesk boasts a more full-featured solution. Due to our intelligent routing capabilities and numerous automated workflows, our users can free up hours to focus on other tasks.
Some of our powerful workflow and automation tools include:
Intelligent ticket routing: Use skills-based routing to direct users to the most qualified agent to resolve their issues.
Side conversations: Increase internal collaboration by allowing agents to discuss an issue with teammates in the Agent Workspace.
Real-time reporting: Review live customer service data and gain key insights.
Ticket field customization: Collect all the information agents need to resolve a customer’s problem.
Ticket tagging: Organize support tickets with tags to streamline resolutions.
Event-based triggers: Trigger an immediate action when certain conditions are met.
Time-based automations: Trigger automations using a pre-set schedule.
Intercom is the new guy on the block when it comes to help desk ticketing systems. This means the company is still working out some kinks and operating with limited capabilities.
Although Intercom still has a ways to go with automation development, the company’s software does offer standard features like:
Ticket assignment: Set up specific conditions and route tickets to agents according to business rules.
Conversation attributes: Categorize customer conversations with conversation topic attributes or keywords.
Automation: Intercom’s software currently can't trigger actions based on the contents of customer SLAs, but agents can view them.
Collaboration: Mentions often get lost in Intercom because they aren’t trackable or well-managed.
Conversation linking: Intercom allows users to link conversations but provides limited incident-reporting capabilities.
Conversation data capture: Intercom’s tool only supports basic form field customization and doesn’t offer a way to organize fields through conditionality.
Total cost of ownership (TCO)
Businesses should always consider a tool’s TCO before committing to a purchase. Many software vendors aren’t upfront about the cost of using their products, maintenance costs, or integration fees. Altogether, this can significantly impact affordability in the long term.
A low TCO gives business leaders peace of mind knowing that the purchase price and ongoing operational costs will fit well within their budget before signing a contract.
Zendesk’s TCO is typically lower than Intercom’s because:
Our system scales with you, so you won’t need to combine our software with another solution unless you want to.
We use a transparent pricing model so businesses are fully aware of what expenses they will encounter.
Our tool is simple to set up and implement, so teams can start using it faster.
Intercom does not have a low total cost of ownership because:
Customers are charged for acquiring more customers and incur costs when running into the product's limitations.
Pricing plans: Zendesk vs. Intercom
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Zendesk and Intercom’s pricing tiers.
Zendesk vs. Intercom pricing
For small businesses
For most businesses
As you can see, Intercom does not publicize most of its prices. However, some users do report that the platform can get expensive, especially due to hidden costs and add-ons, so do your due diligence and get a clear answer from a sales rep if you choose to pursue Intercom’s solution.
Customer stories: Learn why so many businesses are choosing Zendesk
With over 100,000 customers across all industries and regions, Zendesk knows what it takes to interact with customers while retaining and growing relationships.
Customer stories are another big part of the equation when comparing Intercom vs. Zendesk. Here, we’ll dig into three different companies that chose Zendesk in the Intercom vs. Zendesk debate.
Sendcloud is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that allows users to generate packing slips and labels to help online retailers streamline their shipping process.
Since getting started with Zendesk, Sendcloud has added a host of support tools, including:
Sendcloud adopted these solutions to replace siloed systems like Intercom and a local voice support provider in favor of unified, omnichannel support.
“Zendesk is great for small and growing businesses because you can pay as you grow into their services. It’s always a good value for money and very easy to use. The app store is constantly growing as well, so every few months I can spend a few hours browsing the new additions and finding new ways to make life better for our support agents and customers.”
—Bas Smeulders, co-founder and COO at Sendcloud
In addition to positioning Zendesk as a superior Intercom alternative, our affordable and user-first approach to customer service helped Intercom redefine its support team’s role in the organization, fostering customer success.
Fintech startup Novo had to pivot to new ways of working in 2020, just like everyone else. But the company’s story isn’t just one of pandemic-induced change—in the first half of the year, Novo’s client base grew from 2,000 to tens of thousands.
The support team faced spiking ticket volumes, numerous new customer accounts, and the need to shift to remote work.
Novo has been a Zendesk customer since 2019 but didn’t immediately start taking full advantage of all our features and capabilities. At first, the company relied on Intercom for its live chat support needs, but with the rapid changes and sky-high service needs, it quickly became apparent that the support team needed a full-service solution.
Brian Kale, the head of customer success at Bank Novo, describes how Zendesk helped Bank Novo boost productivity and streamline service.
“We built an agent view directly in Zendesk, so [our agents] no longer have to switch into our database to view customer attributes. In the moment, it saves a couple of seconds, but over thousands of tickets? That saves hours. That alone has been one of the most impactful things.”
—Brian Kale, head of customer success at Bank Novo
Monese is another fintech company that provides a banking app, account, and debit card to make settling in a new country easier. By providing banking without boundaries, the company aims to provide users with quick access to their finances, wherever they happen to be.
As you can imagine, banking from anywhere requires a flexible, robust customer service experience.
When the company started in 2015, it used Intercom for live chat. However, as Monese grew and eyed a European expansion, it became clear that the company needed to centralize data in a single solution that would scale along with them.
Like so many others, Monese determined that Zendesk was the best solution to provide seamless, omnichannel support because of its scalability and reliability.
Frequently asked questions
As customers come closer to purchasing, they often find themselves weighing the same pros and cons. In our experience, when future clients start thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of Intercom vs. Zendesk, these are the questions they want answers to.
Ready to switch to Zendesk?
Intercom built additional tools to aid in marketing and engagement to supplement its customer service solution. But we doubled down and created a truly full-service CX solution capable of handling any support request.
Businesses of all sizes can rely on the Zendesk customer service platform and benefit from workflow management, powerful AI tools, robust insights, and more. If that sounds good to you, sign up for a free demo to see our software in action and get started.
Related comparison guides
If you want to see how we stack up against the rest of our competitors, check out more of our data-driven comparisons below.
What is a ticketing system? (+3 ways companies use them)
Want to avoid getting overwhelmed by support tickets? Use ticketing systems to manage the influx and provide your customers with timely responses.
9 ticketing system tips for outstanding customer service
Customers expect fast response times from your support team. Here are tips for creating a ticketing system to streamline workflows and boost efficiency
Customer relationship management: A guide
In this customer relationship management guide, Zendesk explains how CRM software can help build relationships with customers, boost engagement, and lead to better business outcomes