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The best help desk software solutions for a better customer experience

Help desk software creates better experiences for your customers and your employees. Learn how to pick the right tool for your business.

Your complete guide to the best help desk software

Last updated May 5, 2023

If customers are the beating heart of your company, then communication is the lifeblood. Having the necessary tools to communicate effectively and provide a great customer experience is crucial if you want to keep your customer base.

Over 80 percent of customers say a positive customer service experience increases the likelihood they’ll make another purchase, according to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023. Our report also revealed that customer support tickets surged by 30 percent in 2021, 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 right solution for your business, especially if the software for your help desk also needs to support IT or HR services for internal employees.

Let Zendesk be your guide in helping you understand the ins and outs of help desk software.

What is help desk software?

Help desk software is the technology that businesses use to provide support to their customers or employees and make information sharing easy.

The core function of help desk software is to help customer service, IT, and HR teams manage, organize, and prioritize support requests from one unified place. The best help desk software:

  • Makes it easy to serve customers over the channels of their choice.

  • Provides self-service options.

  • Tracks and reports performance.

  • Automates workflows.

  • Facilitates team collaboration.

  • Personalizes the experience.

Put simply, help desk support software is designed to give you the tools to make your customers feel valued. 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 it 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?

Help desk software solutions let you keep pace with the different ways to meet your customers’ needs. Communication methods are constantly evolving, so using help desk software helps your customers find your support options the moment they need assistance, no matter what platforms they prefer.

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.

Help desk vs. technical support: What is the difference?

On the surface, help desks and tech support may seem interchangeable. Both of them help customers solve problems in order to ensure that the customer continues purchasing the company’s product or service. But there is one key difference that distinguishes one from the other, and it has to do with their objectives.

The technical support team is responsible for solving the customer’s technical issue.

The help desk is the customer-facing point of contact that receives the complaint, alerts the tech support team of the issue, and facilitates 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 lend their expertise.

The ultimate goal of both teams is to solve the customer’s problem, but each one also has its own unique goal. The tech team’s goal is to resolve issues fully and quickly using their tech expertise. Meanwhile, the help desk’s goal is to make sure the entire experience—from submitting the request to issue resolution—is fast, stress-free, and successful.

When agents and admins have to juggle multiple tools, getting the right information is difficult, which can frustrate the customer. Effective help desk software makes it easy to collaborate across teams or capture a single view of the customer, enhancing the customer experience.

6 different types of help desk software

Types of help desk software

Enterprise

Designed for large organizations that need help operating at a massive scale.


On-premise

Allows companies with strict data security needs to keep their data on their own servers.

IT

Provides users help to solve technical problems with devices or software.


Cloud-based

Hosted on remote servers owned by a software vendor or a third party and great for remote teams.

HR

Helps HR manage and solve employee matters, issues, and questions from multiple channels.


Open-source

Allows companies to modify the help desk source code for customization and flexibility.

Web-based

Hosted on the software provider's server and usually subscription-based.


Closed-source

Allows customers a user-friendly and customizable experience with third-party security and support.

Whether you’re a modest startup or corporate giant, there are help desk software options for your business. 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 the six different types of help desk software.

1. Enterprise help desks

As the name implies, this type of help desk tool is designed for large organizations that need help 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.

Though designed for the use of 1,000+ employees, enterprise help desks can still be used by smaller companies as they expand. Joining a low-risk/high-reward program like Zendesk for Startups can help you reach your growth goals. You’ll gain access to Zendesk products as well as expert resources that help you build a successful business strategy and grow your network.

2. IT help desks

An IT help desk assists users with solving technical problems related to devices or software. IT help desks can harmonize with a searchable self-help center so users can resolve simple issues on their own. They also enable access to IT members who can troubleshoot issues and help with products, processes, and services.

The software creates a ticket in a centralized location for the IT team to address. Teams can easily share information, improving communication between departments and leading to faster resolutions. The best IT software recognizes similar issues and groups the tickets together so teams can resolve multiple tickets at the same time.

3. HR help desks

Human resource help desks—or HR help desks—help HR teams manage and solve employee matters, questions, and issues that come in from multiple channels. This platform eliminates the frustration of endless email threads by streamlining questions about benefits, payroll, and other company policies into a centralized place.

Much like IT help desks, a self-service portal can be integrated with HR help desks so employees can quickly and easily search and find answers to common questions. This saves agents valuable time and allows them to handle more challenging issues.

The HR help desk also gives team members insight into recurring cases. This information helps the team understand and proactively eliminate repetitive issues by establishing new processes.

4. Web-based help desks

Web-based help desk software solutions—or SaaS help desk software—are 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.

Since many companies have shifted to remote work, customer service teams need the flexibility to operate from different locations. Web-based help desks let teams manage tickets quickly, access customer data securely, and provide excellent customer service no matter where they are. They’re also often customizable and scalable, so your team can tailor the solution to their needs and add features and capabilities as customer service demands increase.

5. On-premise and cloud-based help desks

On-premise help desk software allows companies with strict data security needs to keep their data on their own servers (or “on-premise”) rather than on the cloud. They’re customizable, so they can interoperate with your company’s internal systems. But this requires regular maintenance that you must handle internally.

On-premise help desk software allows companies with strict data security needs to keep their data on their own servers (or “on-premise”) rather than on the cloud. They’re customizable, so they can interoperate with your company’s internal systems. But this requires regular maintenance that you must handle internally.

6. Open-source and closed-source help desks

Closed-source help desk apps are proprietary, meaning they don’t allow the source code to be modified, unlike open-source software. Closed-sourced software tends to be more user-friendly, and since only the provider has access to the code, it's usually more secure. The providers typically offer a level of support to help you troubleshoot issues and make any updates.

With APIs, SDKs, third-party app integrations, and plugins, there’s still plenty of room to customize closed-source help desk software. Though open-source software may technically be more flexible, only companies with highly skilled programmers can completely customize the software to suit their needs.

8 essential help desk software features

Not all help desk solutions are created equal. A true help desk solution should have the following help desk software features:

1. Multi-channel support

Customer requests may come through a variety of channels, and the best help desk software should meet the customer where they are. The solution you choose should provide support over multiple channels, including traditional means like phone and email as well as social messaging, social media platforms, SMS, and chatbots.

2. Unified view of the customer

As customers embrace more—and newer—communication channels, your help desk needs to consolidate all customer information. This means the customer’s profile, conversation history, and order details are housed in one place so the customer doesn’t have to repeat information if a new agent takes over or they’re transferred to another department.

3. Knowledge base and community forum

Having a community forum where customers and agents can come together is an important element of a help desk. Not only do these threaded discussion boards empower people to find answers and help other users solve problems, but they also create a sense of community that boosts the overall customer experience.

Including a knowledge base is beneficial for different reasons. It allows customers to quickly find relevant articles and resolve issues on their own, reducing the number of support tickets. Some customers prefer to skip the interaction with agents, especially when it comes to common questions, so creating a self-service portal can enhance the experience for that segment of your customer base.

4. Tracking and analytics

Issue tracking software helps your team find, analyze, and address issues. A great tracker lets agents search for similar tickets so they can see how they were resolved in the past and then resolve multiple open tickets simultaneously.

Tracking software can generate detailed reports to help you gain important customer insights and spot trends. These reports can also monitor performance and identify areas of improvement for your team and problem areas in the customer experience.

5. Automation

Automation helps deliver an amazing brand experience at scale while freeing up agents to focus on more complex issues. Zendesk, for example, features an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot called Answer Bot. It learns how to respond to customers for fast, effective resolutions by pulling information from your knowledge base. Over time, Answer Bot determines which responses are best suited for specific questions.

6. Apps and integrations

Support agents use help desk apps and integrations to create a customized work environment based on their existing tools and workflows. You want a solution with an open and flexible platform that enables you to scale, extend, and optimize as your business changes. These features allow agents to consolidate internal collaboration tools, access contextual customer data, and much more.

7. Customer feedback

Customer feedback provides valuable information that allows your company to understand what the customer wants—and doesn’t want. Customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys are an easy way to obtain information to see how your audience feels about your overall brand experience and how you can improve.

Other common ways to collect feedback include looking at online reviews, social media posts, comments, sales or agent feedback, support tickets, and returns.

8. Agent efficiency tools

Collaboration tools that efficiently connect team members with internal and external partners are essential for saving agents valuable time. In the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023, 26 percent of organizations said they have work to do when it comes to enabling cross-departmental collaboration. Give agents the tools they need to collaborate and share information so they can respond faster with the right answers and details for each issue.

Essential features of help desk software

What are the benefits of using support desk software?

<div id="benefits></div> <p>When a business doesn't have effective tools, it's extremely difficult to deliver a high-quality customer experience. Using only one or two channels—like voice and email—can make requests tough to track and prioritize. This leaves customers with slow response times, a lack of support channels, and an experience that isn't personalized. </p> <p>Here are the benefits of support desk software that help make your business scalable:</p> <h3>Makes things easier for customers</h3> <p>The best help desk makes life easy for your customers by quickly solving their problems, which is crucial considering that consumers expect fast and simple support. Our CX Trends Report found that 60 percent of shoppers now have higher customer service standards compared to previous years. A great customer experience is linked to customer loyalty and higher CSAT, which bring increased retention and less customer churn. </p> <h3>Sets teams up for success</h3> <p>Providing better tools results in more productive agents. When employees have a help desk that makes their jobs easier—thanks to one unified workspace, automation, and self-service options—they get time back to focus on the important stuff. They can consistently do their best work, and in turn, provide a better customer experience. </p> <h3>Keeps your business in sync</h3> <p>Your business will stay in sync when customer information and context, tools for tracking and analytics, and easy-to-automate workflows are all in one place. These features save your team from having to toggle between different tools and systems to address an issue. It allows them to better understand the customer journey and focus more on the customer experience.</p>

What are some challenges with help desk software?

1. Bad time to value: The best help desk software shouldn’t be complicated. Look for help desk software that offers a quick and simple setup, customization, and easy administration so you can spend less time and resources on the software—and more time on your customers.

2. It doesn't integrate with existing business systems: What good is help desk software that doesn’t integrate with your current workflow and the service channels your customers use? Find software that integrates seamlessly and is adaptable, so you can go wherever your customers go next.

3. It doesn't scale: Customers need to feel supported, and if your software can’t grow with them, they won’t hang around for long. Look for software that can keep pace and scale up and down based on the needs and demands of your customers—both internal and external.

Who uses IT help desk software?

Customer success teams, support agents, and their customers are the primary users of IT help desk ticket software.

  • Customer success agents track, prioritize, and solve customer support tickets.

  • Customer support managers compile reports, set up workflows, help with escalated tickets, and provide additional employee support.

  • IT support agents field employee questions and facilitate IT service requests with ticketing system software.

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. Because of the dynamic capabilities of Zendesk, social media teams, salespeople, and marketing staff may also use the help desk software.

10 tips to improve your customer service help desk

The best help desk 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. Meet customers where they are: Offer support on the channels customers use most, such as WhatsApp, social media apps, text, voice, and email.

2. Review support data to spot trends: Analyze metrics like CSAT, volumes by channel, ticket volume spikes, ticket reopen rate, time to resolution, and more for trends to help you improve customer expectations, channel preferences, and internal and external requests.

3. Personalize the experience: With all your key customer data and context in one unified workspace, you have the information you need to tailor the customer experience and provide personalized support.

4. Offer 24/7 support with a chatbot: Deploy an AI chatbot that can help customers solve basic issues and answer common questions when live agents are off the clock.

5. Save agents time by allowing customers to self-serve: Empower customers with self-service resources so they can conveniently find answers through chatbots, help centers (or knowledge bases), and online forums.

6. Integrate your tech stack: Integrate customer support and CRM platforms so you can offer better personalization, improve customer service, and identify recurring customer issues.

7. Solve problems faster: The best help desk will provide tools that give your tech experts and support agents the time and resources to fix problems quickly, without being overwhelmed with the same simple requests repeatedly.

8. Invest in the right software: A great help desk experience starts with investing in the right software to improve the internal and external experience.

9. Enhance the agent experience: A help desk is only as good as the people behind it, so invest in your team and prevent agent burnout by equipping them with the appropriate tools.

10. Communicate proactively and transparently: Some tickets are complex and take longer to resolve, so communicating with customers proactively and transparently creates a positive customer experience and helps build a relationship.

The 10 best help desk software solutions for 2023

1. Zendesk

Product screen: Agent window

Customize your help desk and make Zendesk your own

Zendesk helps streamline customer support with time-saving tools like triggers and automation. It's support desk software that is intuitive and easy to use because it's built with both customers and 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.

Product screen: Custom macros responses

Fast, personalized responses

Help desk agents can create and share their own macros to quickly respond to recurring customer inquiries.

Product screen: Custom view of tickets

Custom views

Personalized views let agents see their queue filtered by ticket status, assignee, group, and other conditions.

Apps Marketplace logos

Apps Marketplace

Get even more from Zendesk products with over 500 apps and integrations, available on our Apps Marketplace.

Help desk support software: Better together

Team up

Zendesk’s web-based IT help desk solution allows support teams to collaborate and share information using private comments on any ticket. 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 resolutions.

Gain insights

With Zendesk’s reporting and analytics tools, you can get insight into what matters most—from the performance of your team to your customer satisfaction scores.

Product screen: Help desk support window

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

2. HappyFox

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, HappyFox offers neither a free plan nor a free trial, so you’ll need to pay to try the software. The company offers four plans, each of which requires a minimum of five help desk agents. As you might expect, the feature sets of each plan vary. Below, you can see the features included in the 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 slightly more small-business-friendly with no minimum number of users and a 14-day free trial. Help Scout offers solid 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 the Company plan, you’ll need to contact Help Scout for a quote. If your business is a startup or 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

  • Analytics

  • Ticket routing and prioritization

  • Collaboration tools

  • Customizable 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. SolarWinds Service Desk pricing starts at $19 per feature per month, which is best for smaller teams who need only 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 coming in from different channels, whether that includes a mobile app, phone call, or live chat. Plus, generous automation makes handling tasks like ticket creation, escalation, and routing easy.

  • 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 its native knowledge base, but you’ll need a separate subscription to Confluence.

You can use JIRA in a limited capacity with the free plan, but you’re restricted to three agents or 10 users. Or, you can start a seven-day free trial of the Standard or Premium plan, which both support up to 5,000 agents.

  • Conversational ticketing

  • Incident postmortems

  • IT asset management

  • Change management

  • Reports and metrics

  • SLA management

  • Asset management

  • Service desk chat

  • Smart automation

  • Knowledge base (with a Confluence subscription)

  • API

  • Incident management

  • Self-service portal

Learn more about JIRA for Zendesk.

6. Salesforce Service Cloud

For organizations that need 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 customer view—if you’re already using other popular Salesforce software. 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

  • Third-party integrations

  • Omnichannel routing

  • Support operation analytics

  • Asset management

  • Remote access

  • Self-help portal

  • Customer forums

  • Workflow automation

  • Call center management

7. SysAid

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 comprehensive enterprise help desk software plans (ITSM and ITSM+) offer more features such as 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 SysAid directly for a quote.

  • A dedicated customer success manager

  • LDAP integration (Active Directory)

  • ITIL package

  • Advanced custom fields

  • Third-party integrations

  • Task automation

  • Business value dashboard (in beta)

8. Vivantio

Vivantio is a help desk solution that’s best for small to mid-sized B2B businesses. Requesting a free trial requires providing 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 $42 a month per user) and running up to its enterprise help desk software Visionary plan (at $142 per month per user).

The Value plan includes features like simple SLAs, branded self-service portals, and a mobile app. 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

  • U.S. and U.K. support centers

  • Call center management

  • Surveys and feedback

  • Real-time chat

  • Queue management

  • IT asset management

  • Workflow configuration

9. Zoho Desk

Offering a context-aware customer service help desk, 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 while compiling valuable customer data into a single easy-to-use platform.

Zoho Desk’s free plan allows up to three agents and includes basic features like email ticketing, a private knowledge base, and a mobile app. But the most popular plan—chosen by 50 percent of its users—is the $23 per month per agent Professional plan, which also has multi-department ticketing, round-robin ticket assignment, and automatic time tracking.

  • SLAs and escalation

  • Help center theme gallery

  • Private and public knowledge bases

  • Customer happiness ratings

  • Reports and dashboards

  • Ticket sharing

  • Scheduled reports

  • Help center customization

  • Zia (an AI-powered assistant)

10. Freshdesk

Made for rapid deployment and no-code customization, Freshdesk is an emerging favorite among cloud-based IT help desk systems. Key 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 and 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 AI-powered agent assistance.

  • 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 help desk 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, personalized 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 take into account when choosing your solution.

When evaluating any SaaS help desk software, consider the following questions:

Try help desk software for free

Gather information for better customer conversations

Dynamic request forms and ticket fields give support agents extra context, so they’re better prepared for the conversation and able to 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 with you, wherever you are

Our native mobile apps enable help desk agents to respond to customer service requests even when they’re away from their desks.