I recently implemented a help desk to help handle the support requests from my various products as well as the SwissMadeMarketing products. With a service- or product-based business, you’ll inevitably get to a point where handling support via email just becomes too messy and that’s exactly what help desk software is made for. Most importantly, as soon as you hire people to help with your support, a helpdesk will make your life a lot easier.
This post is not an extensive review, since I didn’t test every help desk solution out there in great detail. I did, however, spend some time poking around, looking for (genuine) reviews and user feedback, combing through feature lists and weighing pros and cons. Since I already did all that work, I figured I might as well share what I learnt with you.
Read on to see which free and paid helpdesk solutions are right for you.
The standard features included in almost any kind of customer support software are things like ticket creation (let’s you follow one thread of conversation from beginning to conclusion of a support request), multi-user support and smart categorization for the requests (e.g. keep the technical issues separate from pre-sales questions and feature requests). If you’ve ever submitted a support ticket anywhere, I’m sure you’re familiar with the basics. Plus, the software should have a clean and intuitive interface and all that.
Apart from these basics, there were two main features that struck me as essential, when it comes to a help desk:
Email piping simply means that you can set up your support desk to work seamlessly with email. Whenever you write an answer to a ticket, the customer will receive an email containing the entire answer and they can also simply reply by email to send an answer back to the ticket. If a desk doesn’t support email piping, that means the customer needs to go to the support site and log in every time they want to reply to a ticket. As a customer, I find this annoying, so I definitely want to afford my customers the luxury of email piping.
The second feature is having a knowledgebase included in the helpdesk. The knowledgebase simply contains answers and instructions concerning the most common questions and issues. Ideally, there’s also a dynamic search function which displays possibly related KB articles whenever someone submits a ticket and starts typing. The advantage of this is clear: It can decrease the volume of support requests, when answers to the most common questions are presented right inside the support desk.
With that said, here’s a run-down of all the programs and services I had a closer look at.
HelpSpot is one of the “big” fully-featured help desk solutions, used by many large corporations. Something that sets HelpSpot apart from most other solutions is that they have an emphasis on integrating the support desk with existing websites. You can see an example of this on HelpSpot’s own support section, here. It’s not the only solution that can be seamlessly integrated into your site, but here, it seems the standard option, while for other desks, it’s more of an “also possible”.
HelpSpot also comes with a wide array of automation features and all sorts of advanced stuff I’d never even heard about, before I started researching support software. For smaller businesses, it’s likely that many of these features will remain untouched. Still nice having them, though.
Finally, I couldn’t help but notice that HelpSpot has a silly pricing model. Potentially, it could have been one of the most straight-forward models, since you simply buy one license for each member of support staff. So, one person using the system = one license and each license is a one-off payment. Simple and fair. Except that there’s also bulk prices for larger amounts of licenses and there’s also an annual support fee of $49 and this is also per staff member. It’s like they wanted to have a USP of no running costs, but then couldn’t help themselves adding some continuity in there anyway.Click Here to Visit HelpSpot
Among marketers I know and on various webmaster forums, the most common answer to the question “what help desk do you recommend?” was: “Kayako“. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re the best, but it’s a good indication that they’re very popular and that they’re doing something right.
There are three versions of Kayako:
Kayako Resolve is the support desk part of the solution, wich includes support tickets, email integration, a knowledgebase and all that other good stuff.
Kayako Engage also includes a help desk, but has an emphasis on real-time support, including a live-chat feature for your site, click-to-call and visitor monitoring (which I assume is some variation of site analytics).
Kayako Fusion is a combination of the two solutions above. It’s the all-in-one package.
In most cases, Kayako Resolve is likely the thing you’re looking for. On the features-front, Kayako offers everything you could possibly want plus a whole lot of stuff you didn’t even think about. There’s no doubt that this is a fully-featured solution. Plus, with the newest (v4) version, they also have quite an appealing user interface, for both the support staff and the users/customers.
Kayako is available as a hosted solution (monthly fee) or as a self-hosted, downloadable version (single fee).Click Here to Visit Kayako
ZenDesk is another very popular support desk and chances are, that you’ve already encountered and used it as a customer at some point. ZenDesk has a very appealing interface for support tickets and the knowledge base. Plus, it shows the customer which support member they are assigned to, including an image. This gives it a nice, personal touch and generally means that the desk is pleasant to use. This is an important factor for making a positive impression during the customer support process.
Another positive factor is that the pricing starts at a very low $9 per month per staff member. Although this version is fairly limited, it makes ZenDesk accessible even to small businesses.
Unfortunately, ZenDesk tainted their reputation a while back by hiking up prices unexpectedly, even on their existing customers. Not surprisingly, this caused a lot of outrage and all-caps twittering. An official apology was issued shortly after the initial price increase and the mistakes were largely un-done. The reason I’m mentioning this here is that this raised a red flag for me. Sure, they went back on their decision, but who wouldn’t, when the alternative is losing tons of customers? It’s hard to tell whether it was a genuine mistake or whether it was greed getting the better of them. At any rate, this is what made me cautious about choosing ZenDesk.Click Here to Visit ZenDesk
Here are the free solutions for customer support, that I took a closer look at.
Among the free solutions, I saw HESK recommended the most. It’s a free and fairly simple solution with a nice user interface. It comes with (almost) all the essential features, but doesn’t hit you over the head with a massive feature list.
HESK might be a perfect solution for small businesses and those just starting out. The only thing I don’t like about it is the fact that it doesn’t support email piping. This means that your customers need to come to your support site and log in with a username and password, every time they want to see a reply or ask a follow-up question.Click Here to Visit HESK
As the name implies, osTicket is an open source support desk solution. It’s a more complex and feature rich solution than HESK, or at least, it can be.
Of all the free products I found, this is potentially the most fully-featured and that’s in large part due to it’s open source nature. There are many plugins and mods available for osTicket. On the one hand, this means it’s highly flexible, on the other hand, it means you have to get into it and study the software, the extensions and so on, before you have your perfect custom solution. Depending on how much of a geek you are, this is either a headache to be avoided or the best thing ever.
Bottom line: if you are technically savvy and aren’t afraid to invest some time in installation and customization of the software, osTicket could be the perfect solution for you.Click Here to Visit osTicket
Trellis is a free helpdesk software made by Accord5. It’s the solution we settled on for the support desk for IM Impact and SwissMadeMarketing and there are two main reasons for this: first, it’s free and that’s nice. Second, of all the support software I looked at, I really like the balance of features offered by Trellis. It does everything I want my helpdesk system to do, but isn’t cluttered with features I won’t need or overloaded with options that make it difficult to use.
It does still require some time to install and set up properly, but very likely less so than osTicket. With Trellis, we were able to implement a nice system that includes email piping and a good knowledgebase and were able to do so for free and with little time invested.Click Here to Visit Trellis
Trellis is the software we settled on for ourselves, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the “best” solution available. There are two factors that played an important part in the decision.
The first is that while I intend to grow my business, I also intend to keep it fairly lean in terms of manpower. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll end up running a huge company with dozens of people on a support staff anytime soon, since I automate as many aspects of my business as possible and I don’t deal in physical goods (believe me, physical goods generate far more support requests than digital products). If I did expect this kind of growth, I would have gone with one of the paid solutions.
The second factor is that my business partner Sam is a programmer who can handle installation and setup of a helpdesk software with great expertise. He knows what he’s doing and it doesn’t take him long to get something like this up and running. If it were just myself, it would be a greater time investment. Why is this important? Because time is money. It’s not worth it to spend hours upon hours fiddling with software just to get something for “free”, if a couple of bucks a month will get you a hosted solution where you never have to do any technical stuff yourself and there’s support staff you can call on. Even with Sam involved, we decided to only dedicate a very limited amount of time to installing a free help desk. If we would have run into any major complications, we’d have chosen a paid, hosted help desk.
And that’s a valuable bit of advice for pretty much any aspect of your business.
Thanks for reading and I hope you find this article useful.
All the best,
I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better marketer and product creator. Read more about my story here.