Help Desk Software
BuyerView | 2015

Companies use help desk software to manage technical and IT support for their employees and, in some cases, their customers. When buyers need help choosing the best help desk software for their company’s needs, they often call our company for advice. In the process of advising, we gain many valuable insights into the types of companies that use help desk software, the challenges they face, how they operated before purchasing software and more.

For this report, we analyzed a random sample of our conversations with help desk software buyers. These findings will inform other buyers about what to prepare for and help them make better purchase decisions.

Key Findings:

  1. A majority of buyers in our sample (64 percent) are purchasing software for the first time, while 37 percent are replacing existing help desk software.
  2.  
  3. The software/IT industry and the public sector show the biggest year-over-year increases in demand for help desk software, each having grown 11 percent since 2014.
  4.  
  5. The largest percentage of those replacing help desk software are doing so to add more functionality, while the greatest number of first-time buyers want to increase efficiency (cited by 35 percent each).

Introduction

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a revolution underway. The law of caveat emptor (“buyer beware”), which has for centuries defined the relationship between buyers and sellers, is on its way out. Replacing it is a new power structure made possible by the buyer-empowering tools of the Internet and social media. These tools amplify the voices of individual customers and can give individuals the power to shape the buying decisions of the masses. These tools have allowed dissatisfied customers to, in some circumstances, turn the tables from buyer beware to seller beware.

There’s nothing new about customers wanting to feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth with every purchase. (In fact, the practice of unhappy customers seeking refunds dates back nearly 4,000 years.) What is new is that business operators are now realizing they ignore such complaints at their own peril. They never know which unhappy customer will use social media to spread negative word-of-mouth, endangering the company’s brand reputation and profitability.

Incidentally, customer service and help desk software systems—which specialize in helping businesses take care of their customers before they become overly dissatisfied—have become tremendously popular. Between 1997 and 2007, sales of customer relationship management (CRM) software (which includes help desk software) grew 2,000 percent, and have continued with double-digit growth every year since.

Of course, there are many additional factors that influence a company’s decision to seek help desk and customer service software. To learn more, let’s take a closer look at who’s buying help desk software and why.

The Majority Are First-Time Help Desk Software Buyers

When helping buyers find new software, we always ask what methods—software or otherwise—they’re currently using, and why they want to replace them. These answers help us better understand their specific needs and make better recommendations. In the process, we also learn about the different tech-support strategies used by companies in different stages of development, and use these lessons to offer advice to others in similar circumstances.

As we found in Software Advice’s 2014 Help Desk BuyerView report, the largest group of buyers in this year’s sample are those who are replacing existing help desk software. The second-largest group includes buyers who are currently using manual methods—also as it was in 2014. Manual methods include the use of any tools that are not part of a dedicated help desk software platform, such as email and spreadsheets (e.g., Microsoft Excel).

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

Prospective Buyers’ Current Methods

There are some small differences between the buyer-profile makeup of our 2014 BuyerView and the makeup of this report. The portion of buyers looking to replace existing software has dropped slightly this year to 37 percent, down from last year’s 40 percent. Meanwhile, the portion of buyers looking for help desk software to replace manual methods has risen from 23 to 30 percent.

Changes in Current Methods: 2014 to 2015

Changes in Current Methods: 2014 to 2015

The largest year-over-year change is with the group of buyers looking for software to replace manual methods (in other words, first-time buyers).

As our data will reflect, one of the biggest factors differentiating help desk software buyers—and one of the best indicators of purchase motivations and goals—is whether the company is replacing an existing system or buying one for the first time. Because of this distinction, the remainder of the report will discuss these groups of buyers separately.

Buyers Replacing Existing Systems Want to Add Functionality and Modernize

Compared to first-time buyers, buyers replacing existing help desk software express a different mix of reasons for their purchase. Topping their list is the need to add more functionality:

Top Reasons for Replacing Existing Software

Top Reasons for Replacing Existing Software

Readers may wonder why so many companies that already use help desk software need to shop for new solutions. One answer is that the help desk software market has changed considerably in recent years, greatly diversifying the available options and offering a shifting body of applications, such as:

  • Ticketing automation and self-service channels;
  • New functionality, such as mobile support and social media monitoring; and,
  • User interfaces that help agents provide support more efficiently.

The reasons buyers we speak with give for replacing software include:

  • “We do not like our current system. [It] is clunky and slow. We want a new, up-to-date system that is more compatible with our company size.”
  • “Our current system does not have strong enough IT asset management reporting functionality.”
  • “The biggest weakness in our current system is that we cannot add custom fields that are required. We also cannot run our own reports on internal processes.”

Switching from one software platform to another can be challenging, especially when that platform is as central to a company’s daily operations as help desk tends to be. Since business cannot simply be put on hold during a changeover, most buyers understand the importance of making the right choice the first time, and picking a platform that will scale effectively as the company grows and/or its needs change.

More discussion on choosing the right platform the first time is included below—but first, let’s see what motivates the first-time buyers in our sample.

First-Time Buyers Want Efficiency and Better Operational Management

Here are a few examples of buyers’ responses when asked why they are looking to replace their manual methods with help desk software:

  • “We don't have any control over the information [such as support requests, resolution rates and customer history].”
  • “We don't know who is working on what [request], and there is a lot of wasted time with verbal communication.”
  • “We’re using [multiple manual methods,] and our system is really clunky; really cumbersome. We’re just spending too much time trying to take care of ticket issues.”

From hundreds of similar responses, we can conclude that many companies seek to implement help desk software because they want more control over service operations, better oversight and more efficient communication. Often, they seek to replace internally created solutions that they’ve either outgrown or never had much success with in the first place.

Indeed, looking at the totals, we see that increasing efficiency is the most common motivation:

Top Reasons for Evaluating New Software for the First Time

Top Reasons for Evaluating New Software for the First Time

Granted, these reasons are not mutually exclusive—for example, automating processes typically also improves efficiency. Nevertheless, we can gather from first-time buyers’ stated motivations that not using help desk software often leads to serious inefficiencies in operations and difficulties with issue tracking.

So what do some of these operational inefficiencies look like? From our discussions with buyers, we see they often take one of two forms: an inability to keep track of each and every service request (and all related information), or complicated workflow processes that slow down agents and complicate new-agent training.

Service Inefficiencies May Indicate the Need for Help Desk Software

Yellowschedule is a growing company that sells scheduling software used by therapists. Founder and CEO Martina Skelly explains that an increase in service volume prompted the company’s purchase of a dedicated help desk support system.

We spend a lot of time ensuring that our customers are listened to and that any issues are resolved, but we felt we were getting to a size where things were going to start slipping through the cracks, and we needed to integrate our growing team into the process effectively.Martina Skelly, Yellowschedule

Implementing a help desk system allowed the company’s small service team to handle a quickly growing customer base.

The need for dedicated help desk software is often something small companies grow into. Those just getting started may consider it a luxury they can’t afford.

“[For many startups,] it’s challenging to find the resources to do customer service well,” Skelly says.

So how does a growing company know when it reaches a size or service capacity that truly warrants the need for software?

Timothy Loginov is COO and co-founder of AnyChart, a data visualization company, and has been involved at early-growth stages of several software and IT companies (which represent the largest portion of buyers in our sample; see “Demographics” section below). He notes that it can be particularly challenging for companies in this segment to accurately gauge when a help desk or customer support system is necessary.

“You may not notice [the need] at first or might overlook it for a long time, because the IT world is too fast and too volatile,” he says. “Sales boosts provided by ... new releases or another competitor going out of business may mask the fact that you are losing money simply because of inefficiencies in the support system.”

The most reliable indicator of the need for software, Loginov explains, is the employees providing the support. When they complain of problems in the support process, management needs to listen.

“Don’t ignore this feedback. It often provides the earliest indication that trouble is ahead,” he says.

Top warning signs to look for include:

  • Customers complaining, on social media or directly to the company, that their issues are not being resolved;
  • Consistent feedback from support agents that they do not have the proper tools to efficiently handle customer cases;
  • Overly complicated workflow processes that cause difficulty for existing support agents and/or new agents being trained; and
  • Customers leaving the company for a competitor that offers better service.

Specialized Software Helps Small Companies Find Competitive Advantage

While many young companies wait until they have a growing customer base and body of service requests to implement help desk and service software, others choose to implement it earlier in their development. In fact, for some young companies, excellent customer service is used as a competitive differentiator. With the right help desk platform in place, customer service can be used to fuel growth and development.

Eric Quanstrom, CMO of Pipeliner CRM, explains how the company has always focused on providing great support. Early on, this was easier to manage, as it never had a month with more than 5 percent of customers seeking help. But as the company grew and customer requests increased, Quanstrom says, Piperliner CRM began to experience staffing challenges. Addressing these challenges required reporting functionality that the company’s existing platform didn’t provide—so staff found and implemented a solution that did.

The new reporting functionality allowed Pipeliner CRM to better match its scheduling of customer service agents with customer demand. Through these scheduling changes alone—without hiring more agents—Pipeliner CRM improved its customer service by decreasing customer wait times. Without the in-depth reporting and analytics of its new help desk platform, the company could not have decreased wait times without hiring more agents.

Indeed, as Quanstrom explains, software tools can give small and midsize businesses (SMBs) advantages that might otherwise be out of reach. From a competitive standpoint, this can be a critical improvement. Compared to established market players, small companies have smaller support departments and budgets, leaving less room for error.

“For SMBs, analytics and reporting can often perform the functions [that], in an enterprise, you have a team or person dedicated to performing. There’s not a quality control department in most SMBs,” he says.

When Selecting Help Desk Software, Plan for Future Growth and Needs

As seen above, when buyers need to replace help desk software, the most common reason given is that they need to add applications and/or functionality. And, again, replacing such crucial software as a help desk platform is something nearly all companies want to avoid. It pays to make the right choice the first time around.

David Politis is CEO and founder of BetterCloud, a company that develops software to help other businesses manage their cloud platforms. He says BetterCloud has made customer service a priority from the beginning, recognizing then that as a small company, service could help differentiate them from larger, more established market players. At the same time, as a young company, it was challenging to know exactly what functionality BetterCloud might need down the road.

“Growing companies generally have two options [to consider when selecting a help desk platform] that will be able to grow with the company,” explains Politis. “You can choose either one of the big market players that have integrations available as add-ons or from third parties … [or] go with a smaller, ‘open’ platform—one that can be easily modified to meet whatever needs arise in the future.”

The larger platforms often make adding new functionality easier, but they are also usually more expensive. Alternatively, open platforms often come with APIs (application program interfaces) that allow companies to make their own modifications and add functionality to off-the-shelf software. However, this is more of a “do it yourself” approach—and results are not as predictable as they are with the add-ons offered by larger platforms.

Conclusions

In this report, we find that a majority of help desk software buyers are purchasing software for the first time, while 37 percent are replacing existing systems. A majority of those replacing existing systems are doing so because they need to add functionality, such as better reporting and analytics.

First-time buyers of help desk software are largely concerned with improving efficiency, as indicated by 35 percent of the buyers in our sample. “Efficiency” means different things to different companies, but help desk software is used widely to:

  • Allow a limited number of agents to better handle incoming service requests;
  • Ensure that no requests get overlooked; and,
  • Help agents address requests faster by presenting them with all the relevant information.

For some companies, the need to improve efficiency grows in tandem with a growing customer base. Meanwhile, other companies view customer service as an area in which they can compete with larger, more established competitors. These companies seek help desk software in earlier stages, using it to provide a level of service that will accelerate growth.

Methodology

Our advisors regularly speak with buyers who contact Software Advice seeking new help desk software. The data used to create this report was collected by our advisors during those interactions for business purposes rather than for market research. We randomly selected 385 interactions from the United States over the past year to analyze for this report.

These findings exclusively represent those buyers who contacted Software Advice for guidance on software selection, and may not be indicative of the market as a whole. Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.

If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact craig@softwareadvice.com.


Craig Borowski

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