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The ultimate guide to help desk software

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

help desk software illustration

In this guide, you'll learn:

  • What is help desk software?

  • Why is help desk software important for businesses?

  • Additional benefits help desk software

  • Core features of help desk software

  • Use cases of help desk software (with examples)

  • How does help desk software work in different industries?

  • Types of help desk software

  • Who uses help desk software?

  • Small business challenges solved by help desk software

  • Enterprise challenges solved by help desk software

  • Types of customer support channels

  • Choosing a customer service help desk software

Help desk software newbie? Or curious to dive deeper into customer support technology? This guide will take a deep dive into the essence of help desk software and how it enables businesses to scale cost-effectively, boost agent efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

Let’s get started!


What is help desk software?

Help desk software is a platform with a set of built-in tools to collect, organize, respond to, and report on customer interactions. Most modern help desk solutions manage one or many support channels, including email, phone, chat, social messaging apps (e.g. Facebook and Twitter), and self-service.

Unlike clunky email accounts, businesses can use a help desk to streamline communications more efficiently, provide faster answers to their customers, and boost customer satisfaction.

A brief history of customer support technology

history of help desk software


Companies relied on face-to-face interactions to resolve customer issues. Only the wealthy were able to directly communicate with store owners via the telephone switchboard.


Call centers were born. Companies start to invest money in setting up departments, training agents to support customers via phone.


Developments in Interactive Voice Response (IVR)* start to pick up so customers can receive support without talking to an agent, but still too complex and expensive for many companies to use.

*First point of contact when customers call your business. For example, Press 1 to speak to a customer service representative.


Hello Internet! IVR technology becomes affordable and integrated with computers. Pre-Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software emerges, and the term ‘Call Center’ is coined.


The boom of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) for customer service due to high operational costs and international customers. Reactive phone support becomes the norm, and customers have the choice to contact businesses via phone or email.


Big breakthrough technologies with personal computers, smartphones, instant messaging, social media, and help desk software. Customers start using Facebook and Twitter to provide companies feedback. Live chat becomes the preferred channel for customer service.

Present & future:

Providing exceptional customer service is defining a company's future. Due to the 2020 economic crisis, support leaders are turning to technology to provide immediate answers. Self-service solutions will evolve drastically, and automation will play a key role in meeting modern customers’ expectations.

Why is help desk software important for businesses?

Customer support is the driving force for any business. In fact, by the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Regardless of your company size, customer expectations are on the constant rise. The modern customer is looking for fast, accurate, contextual, and quality service through their preferred channel. That means delivering on expectations in real-time, be it talking on the phone with an agent or helping themselves through a help center.

Support agents must be able to deliver their part in that process. How? By helping customers solve their issues in a simple, streamlined way. This is where help desk software comes into play.

To put these into a business context, here are the top three business cases for using help desk software for customer support:

  1. Customers have problems and questions around a product or service.

  2. Businesses need to respond in a timely manner or provide resources to these problems and questions.

  3. They do this because they care about:

  • Retaining customers

  • Building brand loyalty

  • Growing the business

So how does help desk software support the above business cases?

Create a knowledge center to support user self-service


  • Streamline and scale operations

  • Decreases customer effort

  • Save money through ticket deflection

  • Increase customer and employee satisfaction

Provide online and offline touchpoints (phone, email, live chat, social media) for customers to contact you for support


  • Customers expect to contact businesses on their preferred channel

  • Increase customer satisfaction (CSAT), decrease dissatisfaction (DSAT)

Consolidate and structure tickets from various support channels


  • Boost internal collaboration

  • Provide excellent customer support

  • Increased operational efficiency

Automate tasks to create internal efficiencies and better customer experiences


  • Support teams can focus on more complex customer issues

  • Improve agent productivity

  • Quick response times

  • Increase collaboration between agents and departments

  • Less development work

Support managers can track and prioritize incoming tickets


  • Increased agent productivity

  • Faster response times to customers

  • Adhere to service level agreements (SLA)

By using help desk software, businesses can create better customer experiences while building and running more efficient support operations that support goals in customer retention, brand loyalty, and business growth.


Additional benefits of help desk software

Complete branding

Modern help desk software enables businesses to customize the look and feel of customer and agent-facing support options. For example, knowledge base, help widgets, and contact forms can match your business’s tone, voice, and vibe. Take it a step further with custom Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

Scale smarter

Supporting a high volume of customers can be overwhelming, and these challenges are multiplied when a company starts expanding its business to new regions. Whether your business is experiencing rapid growth or merely testing the waters in a new market, it is unlikely that you will have the resources to hire and train a new multilingual support team from day one. With help desk software, you can scale smarter to new regions and support these users with a multilingual knowledge base.


Core features of help desk software

Ticketing system

A help desk ticketing system is key for ticket management across customer interactions from all communication channels (e.g. chat, phone). This makes it much easier for support teams to manage, track, and prioritize tickets, as well as view customer history, and respond with context.

Knowledge Management

A knowledge management system is a sophisticated layer to help desk software and comes in different forms. For instance, a help widget embedded on a website or within a product, an internal knowledge base for employees to a customer-facing help center. Its main goal is to provide self-service tools for end users—customers and support agents—to find answers and solutions without any human interaction.


Automation helps support teams provide faster responses to customers by offloading manual, repetitive work, and streamlining complex tasks with the use of automated triggers. For example, close tickets after X minutes, update agent statuses, automatically route incoming tickets to queues, prioritize and assign agents to VIP groups, and many more.

Reporting and analytics

A reporting and analytics system, built into modern help desk software, enables businesses to gather and analyze common support trends across teams and customers in real-time. Whether you want to monitor agent performance or support KPIs, data is aggregated across all channels into one view to make easier actionable decisions. For instance, create help center articles, push top customer issues to product teams, forecast agent success rate, or improve support team workflows.

Other help desk features:

SLA management

A customer support service level agreement, also called SLA, is a measurable commitment between a product or service provider and a customer—and there’s usually more than one. This holds a company accountable for reaching their support goals. These SLAs can include:

  • How fast does an agent reply to a customer’s ticket?

  • What is the maximum amount of time a ticket can be left open and resolved?

  • What is your promised response time? (e.g. A response in 2 hours)

Agent performance management

With customer support software, support managers can monitor, analyze, and optimize agent performance based on key performance indicators (KPIs) and real-time dashboards. Additionally, these insights can indicate knowledge gaps in order to improve agent training and onboarding processes.

Team collaboration

Help desk software allows your agents to work smarter and more efficiently with built-in collaboration tools. Features such as internal notes and tagging other agents and stakeholders in tickets allow the agent to resolve the customer's issue, increase first contact resolution (FCR), without having to transfer them to another agent or department.

Customer history and information

“What’s the email associated with your account?” is one of many basic questions agents shouldn’t need to ask customers when using help desk software. In every customer ticket, agents can view customer interaction history, as well as personal and technical information to support the customer better.


Connect third-party integrations to your help desk software to help you manage workflows and eliminate the need of switching between software, systems, and other external tools. The most popular help desk integrations are:

  • Salesforce

  • Slack

  • HubSpot

  • Zapier

  • Jira

  • Unbabel & CrowdIn


Use cases for help desk software (with examples)

Help desk software can address external and internal users.


Serves customers or businesses who have purchased or are considering purchasing from a company.


Serves departments or employees with the organization.

Some help desks service both, while some are optimized for internal or external users. Let’s take a look at a few departmental use cases:


Human resources

HR help desk software helps human resource teams prioritize and automate and efficiently oversee various aspects of the company’s employment. Whether it’s collecting and analyzing incoming employee questions and creating helpful knowledge base articles to receiving job applications via a ticketing system—having a powerful HR help desk is important for day-to-day employee communication, scaling your HR operations, as well as empowering employees to answer common questions themselves.

Facility management

Facility management help desk software is used to send, track and manage service and work order requests ranging from hotels to schools, to hospitals. This help desk software’s features must be flexible and secure to meet the facility's needs.


Informational Technology (IT) teams within an organization use ITSM help desk software. This kind of help desk allows users within the organization to troubleshoot hardware and software issues with self-service tools such as an internal knowledge management system, track open tickets from start to resolution, and communicate across multiple communication channels (e.g. email, phone, live chat).


Customer support

Customer support help desk software allows customers to contact you via any support channel of their choosing (e.g. phone, email, live chat). This kind of help desk allows you to organize all customer communications with flexible tools to answer customers quickly and effectively.

Suppliers, vendors, distributors

Companies in the manufacturing industry primarily deal with suppliers and vendors. Manufacturing help desk software offers a way to automate customer support to these B2B/B2C clients, streamline communications through a contact management system, CRM integrations and more.


How does help desk software work in different industries?

Retail and eCommerce

Ecommerce has been steadily increasing its market share of overall retail by 1% annually, and the events of 2020 have only accelerated this trend. That means new customers are flocking to buy products online that they used to buy in stores. This disruption of consumer patterns has led to a huge need for both SMB and enterprise retailers to put a robust help desk solution in place.

Retail and eCommerce businesses can use help desk software to:

  • Keep customers in self-service by proactively providing answers to questions before they bounce.

  • Onboard new agents efficiently and consistently with an internal knowledge base.

  • Embed support widgets to provide a smooth customer experience.

  • Route support tickets to different queues of support agents with the appropriate expertise.

  • Strengthen customer relationships and build loyalty with multichannel support.


When it comes to knowledge management and support, no industry has higher stakes than healthcare. Hospitals need to manage large volumes of sensitive equipment to care for their patients 24/7 and help desk software allows them to do this reliably. Telehealth teams need rapid support software to provide personalized care, and while every customer is important, every patient’s life is sacred.

  • Run a ticketing system for their equipment that incorporates high-low priority needs.

  • Operate a call center that directs patients to the right department to ensure rapid care.

  • Offer personalized support with integrated medical devices and appointment history.

  • Meet SLAs to ensure all events are addressed and resolved within the promised time.


Schools, colleges, and other educational institutions rely on help desks for students, alumni, teachers, administrative faculty. This can quickly number into the thousands. Educational institutions can use help desk software to:

  • Assist student onboarding with internal knowledge bases

  • Streamline school and department support requests via email, live chat, social

  • School-wide access to information with self-service tools such as help widgets and help center


Types of help desk software

The term ‘help desk’ is broadly used to refer to a wide variety of systems companies use for different functions. Here are six common types of help desk software, along with their advantages and drawbacks:


A cloud-based help desk software, also referred to as SaaS (Software as a Service) help desk, is the standard in today’s software market and for support organizations. This type of help desk operates over your web browsers such as Google Chrome or Safari, with an internet connection, requires little maintenance, and reduces business costs.

What makes cloud-based customer support software so attractive is how simple it is to set up, login and start supporting customers, no matter where your team is located.


  • Accessible central repository: All previous and current customer inquiries can be accessed at any time through your web browser.

  • Integrations: Easily connect any of the many cloud-based tools (e.g. Jira, Salesforce, HubSpot) to keep support running smoothly.

  • Scaling: Any support manager can add new agents, teams, queues with a few clicks.

  • Cost-effective: Subscription-based, easy to implement and maintain—no need to employ resources.

  • Always updated: Your cloud-based help desk software will always be the latest version, no dependencies needed.

  • Server-free: Since everything is cloud-based, you do not need a dedicated expert for server maintenance or when you have downtimes.


  • Connectivity: Cloud-based solutions rely on internet connection and the technology and hardware your support teams leverage on a daily basis.

On-premise (self-hosted)

For businesses in regulated industries such as specialized manufacturers and government agencies, or enterprises with more IT resources, use an on-premise help desk software in order to gain full control of every aspect of their system.

On-premise, also known as self-hosted, refers to software that is installed and ‘hosted’ directly on in-house servers. This means businesses take full responsibility when it comes to storing data via in-house servers, system configuration to customize it to their specific needs, backups, and more.


  • Data storage and security: Data is secured, compliance-friendly, and quick to access.

  • Readily tailored: Easy to adapt to the organization's needs.


  • Installation: Set up, maintain, and update on a regular basis.

  • Expensive: Initial lump sum cost + on-going maintenance (many companies require a dedicated IT department to keep things running smoothly).

Open source

Open source help desk software allows developers to directly access and change the source code of the software. This means businesses can enhance and modify certain help desk features for different needs.


  • Ultimate customization: Add, modify and enhance support features

  • Bugs: Fix bugs and issues on-the-go — no need to reply on vendor

  • Lower help desk software costs


  • Costly resources: Only developers can set up and manage the help desk software, meaning you must employ someone on a regular basis.

  • No vendor support: You break it, you fix it. No service contact.

  • Not user-friendly or intuitive: Since the system is designed by developers, it may be complicated for agents and teams to use on a daily basis.


Who uses help desk software?

helpdesk users

Help desk software isn’t only used by customer support agents and customers. All types of departmental teams and employees within the organization can benefit from it. Let’s take a look at four user types of help desk software:

Support manager

Managers and team leaders have the ability to systematically monitor ticket volume, team performance, and real-time support processes to ensure their organization’s service level agreements (SLA) are met.

Support agent

Support agents use a help desk to answer customer inquiries, use a variety of support tools such as an internal knowledge management system, saved replies, and collaborate with team members.


One of the key benefits of help desk software is to improve customer satisfaction. When customers need answers to their problems, their first stop is usually the company’s website, or Facebook page, and expect to find easy-to-find support options—submit a ticket to support, live chat with an agent, or search the help center.

Company stakeholders

Not only do customers and support agents use help desk software features on a daily basis. Stakeholders, such as product managers, can track customer feedback to gain insight into how they feel about their product. This enables product teams to create customer-centric products based on data-driven insights, and plan for roadmaps ahead.

Small business challenges solved by help desk software

For SMBs, knowing your budget is key to making the right decisions that will allow you to grow your business. Consider not only what you can afford, but how long you can afford to wait for a return on your investment.

Many young companies see customer support merely as a drain on costs – a ‘nice to have’ that can be added on at a later stage in development. What they miss is that the right help desk software can not only elevate your overall customer experience, but it can become a revenue center generating new leads.

Assess your tech stack:

Modern help desk solutions come with a range of features that support businesses to support their customers as they scale from startups to SMBs, all the way to enterprise level. Look at your current product gaps with an eye on where you want to be in five years and choose a plan that will help take you there.


Whether your business is growing in size, location, or both, find a help desk solution that works for that goal. Features to look for include automation, self-service, translation tools built-in, and flexible roles and permissions as you expand to new territories. If your organization operates in more than one country, you may want a solution that supports multiple languages.

Consider pricing:

Most help desk software comes with packages at different tiers with corresponding cost/agent pricing plan. However many have hidden pricing structures that require you to buy in to several different add-ons to make your help desk work. Be sure to look carefully at the annual costs for each pricing tier, as well as how that will be impacted if your number of agents grows.


Another hidden drain on resources can be the cost of hiring a developer to integrate your new helpdesk with the existing tech stack that you use. make your help desk work with other applications like CRM, you should consider native or API integrations.

User experience:

The legacy help desk platforms of the past tended to be clunky and siloed, leading to an agent experience that was not only frustrating but inefficient for handling queues of tickets. Find a help desk with an intuitive interface so that your team can do their job without any added friction.

Enterprise challenges solved by help desk software

As your business expands, it will naturally outgrow some of the basic help desk platforms currently on the market. For enterprise companies, or scaling SMBs, many of these help desks may not be able to meet your increasing customer demand.

Enterprise help desk software covers challenges such as customer timeline, workflow automation, real-time dashboards, and translation to serve new markets. Once these problems are addressed, enterprise businesses can provide best in class customer service and significantly improve customer experience.

Help desk features that make the difference for enterprise companies:

Streamlined collaboration:

With high volumes of support requests coming in, it’s inevitable that complex tickets will be handled by multiple agents spanning several shifts in the work day. Such use cases require a helpdesk with a single customer timeline that brings all customer-agent interaction together – whether from chats, calls, emails, social posts, or Whatsapp.

This eliminates the need to switch between tabs within the platform, as all channels are presented in a single view, letting agents focus on addressing multiple support issues simultaneously, while easily spreading the workload across teams.

Automatic workflows:

As support departments grow in size and complexity, there are a number of recurring events and corresponding actions that can be automated with an if/then rule engine. These automatic actions (e.g. waiting times or time passed since X; number of back-and-forth replies on a ticket) allow you to manage events with zero-touch automations and trigger multiple actions (re-assign to Agent/Group or/and notify someone)

Real-time dashboards:

Managers overseeing multiple support teams need to have their eye on team performance at all times, especially as ticket volumes fluctuate and spike in response to external factors. Real-time dashboards become an essential tool for monitoring agent activity across all support channels. This allows managers to make informed decisions by assigning agents to different channels, queues and groups, as well as perform bulk actions from one screen in real-time, rather than study data retroactively. This in turn ensures the organization is meeting its support KPIs and goals on an hourly basis.


Types of customer support channels


Often the best way of providing support is simply giving your customers the tools to help themselves. This is especially true in larger companies, where replying to each and every query is simply not feasible. Putting the answers to your most frequently asked questions in an easily accessible knowledge base is a quick win for your support team, as this will deflect a majority of your basic tickets, leaving the more challenging tickets for your expert support agents.

Over 75% of consumers report having used a self-service support portal. (Microsoft)

Best of all, this is what many of your customers want, too. Consider your first instinct when you want to know how to do something in a given product – for many of us, that’s Googling ‘How to…’ do that thing. This is increasingly the case with younger customers. While it’s important to provide best-in-class live support, the truth is that most customers don’t want to talk to you – they just want to resolve their issue and get back to what they were doing.


For any customer service department that needs to support more than one or two users at a time, a ticketing system is a must. A good ticketing system allows you to provide a consistent experience to customers and agents by consolidating all channels – email, texting, messaging, social media, and phone.

Note that not all ticketing systems come with a built-in call center that will allow you to track calls under the same view. If you may want to offer support over the phone, make sure you choose a customer service platform that provides this feature.


Perhaps the image most commonly associated with customer support, the call center is a physical place (either inside your support team or outsourced to a BPO) where customers call for support. While call centers overall are declining in popularity, some demographics still find a phone call to be the most comfortable way to receive support, especially when sharing sensitive information.

Live chat

A real-time support channel that allows agents to focus on more than one customer at a time, live chat delivers immediate, personalized support from a convenient chat box. As the fastest channel for online support, live chat offers a boost to customer satisfaction.

Social messaging apps

A big part of providing superior customer service is about supporting your customers where they are. When customers need to take extra steps to find you – or worse, channel-switch to reach an agent who can help them – this is a high-effort interaction that tends to increase frustration levels.

While it can vary by region and industry, many companies today have an active social media presence and, unsurprisingly, this is where many customers will reach out for a quick answer. Helpdesk software that integrates Whatsapp for Business and Facebook Messenger.

Choosing a customer service help desk software

Choosing software that is the core backbone of your support organization can be daunting. No sweat! We’ve collected a few critical questions to ask yourself when shopping for a customer service help desk software:

  • Where do our customers spend time and which support channels do we need to support them? (e.g. self-service, live chat, phone, email, social messaging apps)

  • How many team members in our support organization will use the software? (e.g. agents, team leaders, QA, knowledge base writers, developers)

  • Does our company need a self-service solution such as a help center for customers, and an internal knowledge hub for employees?

  • Do we need automation capabilities for repetitive tasks?

  • What kind of reporting and analytics do we need?

  • Which stakeholders are part of our evaluation team?

  • What is our budget? Is it flexible?

Your answers to some of these most commonly asked questions should guide you in the right direction for choosing a help desk software for your organization.

buyer's guide to customer support platforms 2021


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