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by Craig Borowski,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: December 1, 2015

Help desk solutions vary in functionality, pricing and underlying technology. We’ve created this buyer’s guide to assist potential purchasers in determining which help desk ticketing software best fits their needs. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Help Desk Software
Common Features of Help Desk Software
Why Do I Need Help Desk Software?
Benefits of Help Desk Software
Market Trends to Understand
The Vendor Landscape

What Is Help Desk Software?

Traditionally, the term “help desk” has generated some confusion since it can refer to two different types of support organizations: teams that serve external customers (consumers or businesses that have purchased goods or services from your company), and teams that serve internal customers (employees).

We describe these two use cases in greater detail later in the “Help Desk Software Landscape” section of this guide. But in either instance, help desk management software stores customer information in a searchable database, tracks interactions and automates the issue resolution process using a trouble ticketing system. This core functionality increases efficiency and organization.

When someone contacts the service desk by phone, Web form, email or other means, the system creates an electronic trouble ticket. Technicians or customer service representatives (CSRs) record details about the incident or problem, or review what the customer has entered if submitted using a self-service tool. The responder marks the ticket as resolved once the issue is handled, or escalates the issue to a specialist or executive if needed.

Tickets are associated with customer profiles, which include the customer’s contact information and potentially purchase history or assets. This allows agents to see a customer’s entire interaction history.


Example of a ticketing dashboard from Freshdesk

With some systems, the ticket handling process can be standardized with workflow rules and canned responses. As an agent completes one task, they might choose a follow-up step from a dropdown menu and set a due date. This way nothing falls through the cracks and agents stay efficient and on track.

Some systems allow users to link incidents by issue type, so responders can refer back to a resolved ticket when they encounter a similar problem.


Example of incident linking from Zendesk

Common Features of Help Desk Software

In addition to this core functionality, the best help desk software vendors might offer some or all of the following differentiating capabilities.

Knowledge management system This describes a repository of descriptions to common or previously resolved problems. These resources might be available publicly via a customer self-service website, or reserved for internal use by CSRs and technicians. Most knowledge bases incorporate advanced search technologies to help users find the the right answer. Some may autosuggest queries or articles as the user types.
Self-service Customers use these online portals to search for solutions to their problems. Self-service resources can include product documentation, downloadable patches, searchable FAQs, how-to pages or forums and other types of user communities. If the customer can’t find a solution, self-service tools often let them submit a ticket online.
IT asset management systems/network management Asset management tools inventory and track changes to hardware and software configurations, while network monitoring tools oversee the health of servers and other network components. These functions are sometimes offered through integrations with IT service management (ITSM) tools.
Reporting Management uses reporting tools to monitor overall service desk performance and agent productivity. Performance metrics frequently include total open tickets; ticket resolutions by date, shift or agent; average time to resolution; customer satisfaction and more.
Mobile support Many vendors offer a mobile Web or mobile application version of their solution. Agents use these tools to manage tickets, record customer data, access the knowledge base, view reports and perform other issue resolution activities from their smartphone or tablet.
Service Level Agreement (SLA) management SLAs guarantee to customers that issues of a certain type will be addressed or resolved within a certain time frame, among other service guarantees. These features allow users to set prioritization triggers, automatic escalations and other custom rules to ensure applicable tickets are handled in compliance with an SLA.
Remote control This module allows technicians to access and control a customer’s computer from a remote location, facilitating remote diagnosis and resolution with minimal customer involvement.

Why Do I Need Help Desk Software?

Imagine an employee clicks on a Malware-infected link in an email. The virus attacks their computer and systematically copies and erases all their files. But it gets worse.

That email was sent to everyone in the company. While IT scrambles to take calls, employees continue to open infected emails, sensitive company data is exposed and work time is lost while employees wait for help. Without trouble ticket software—or an army of IT staffers—this problem could take a millennium to untangle.

Instead, the IT responder could create a digital trouble ticket when the first call came in. As he or she figured out the solution or escalated it to the appropriate team, they could record that information in the knowledge base. Then for every subsequent call, the service desk would have the answer ready and waiting to respond with a template email.

At the same time, the help desk could post that information in a self-service forum or employee-accessible knowledge base to cut down on calls and service requests. Once the problem was solved, management could use analytics to evaluate the response time and process to make improvements in the event of another Malware incident.

As this example demonstrates, help desk software allows companies to quickly address IT crises. At the same time, organizations gain efficiency in ongoing IT management duties. This includes savings through automation, workflow tools and self service. Many systems will integrate best practices from the ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library), which is a globally recognized set of guidelines for the IT Service Management industry.

Properly implemented, help desk systems can improve operations in five primary ways:

  • Minimize employee work lags from unsolved tech issues;

  • Automate issue triaging, escalation and prioritization;

  • Reduce manpower costs through self-service;

  • Identify and address recurring issues and,

  • Provide transparency into every service request from creation to resolution.

Benefits of Help Desk Software

Better problem tracking and organization. Help desk systems increase organization by providing a single repository for agents to enter, track and resolve cases. This prevents issues from falling through the cracks. Users also increase efficiency with workflow rules that standardize business processes.

Reduced service costs. These systems automate processes so agents can handle issues faster and process more tickets per day. This increased productivity can reduce the number of agents needed. Reporting also enables managers to identify and address drops in productivity, so they don’t continue to impact performance.

Increased customer satisfaction. Whether internal or external, customers who have their issues resolved quickly are naturally more satisfied. For incidents that require more time to resolve, customers are still more satisfied having their issue acknowledged immediately and escalated efficiently.

Improved knowledge sharing. This technology documents successful resolutions and makes them searchable, so agents can quickly recall and reuse past solutions to a recurring issue. In some cases, solutions can be automatically entered into a knowledge base to facilitate customer self-service.

Market Trends to Understand

It’s important to keep the following industry trends in mind when conducting your help desk software comparison.

Social media integration is becoming a help desk software mainstay. A recent NMincite report found that as many as 47 percent of all social media users (59 percent for those 18-24 years old) have sent customer service requests through Facebook, Twitter and other social channels. As a result, companies need tools for processing these issues just as they would tickets from any other channel. Vendors such as Desk.com and Zendesk now integrate with social to automatically prioritize and route such requests.

Gamification is increasingly used as a motivational tool. IT and customer service jobs are among the most difficult positions to keep filled. Some companies have turned to gamification as a method for maintaining service desk employee engagement. Companies such as Badgeville integrate with trouble ticket technology to reward agent productivity with redeemable points and other rewards. Workers gain a sense of accomplishment as they see scores improve and move higher on leaderboards.


A sketch of what a help desk leaderboard might include

The Vendor Landscape

This technology can vary depending on whether they serve internal or external customers. Some products serve both.

Internal. This kind of IT support software typically serves employees, or “internal customers.” Most internal help desks serve the information technology (IT) needs of employees, but other examples exist, such as an internal human resources service desk for questions about employee benefits. Buyers of internal trouble ticket software for technical support often require integrations with ITSM tools such as Panorama9, Samanage IT Asset Management or Innotas if IT asset and network management features aren’t included in their help desk software package.

Popular vendors in this category include Zendesk, Spiceworks, ManageEngine, PhaseWare, Kaseya, SysAid and BMC Track-It.

External. This kind of service desk software serves consumers or businesses that have purchased products or services from the company providing the support. These desks could address IT problems or more general customer service issues. Because of the diversity of companies, customers and industries that have external service desks, buyers of this technology might require the ability to integrate with call center software, marketing automation and sales force automation systems.

Popular vendors in this category include Zendesk, PhaseWare, Kayako, Desk.com, TeamSupport and Freshdesk.

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