Types of Help Desk Software: Which One Will Suit Your Company Needs?

hdHelp desk software is part of an umbrella category called service desk, which includes asset management and IT service management (ITSM). Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, help desk specifically refers to the system that addresses customer queries. This means a help desk system, at the least, has a point of contact for customers to send their queries and a ticketing system that tracks and organizes issues for faster resolution and ensures no issues are left unaddressed. It can also have a feature that aggregates and organizes queries and answers into a knowledge base, such as FAQs or guide articles, and a feature that allows agents to escalate issues to a higher level.

Standard help desk software today handles complex databases of customer queries and profiles, call reports, resolution logs, and service level agreements. More advanced help desk applications also feature insights and analytics, automated processes, multiple contact channels, reporting tools, collaboration tools, and CRM features.

Common features to look for in a help desk software

To get the most out of help desk software, it is recommended that you get the software with at least these standard functions:

1. Multiple points of contact

Having multiple channels, such as: phone, email, chat, social media, and community forums, gives your customers the flexibility to get answers to their issues or get in touch with the company’s support team. Enterprise help desk systems usually feature multiple points-of-contact, while basic web-based help desk apps offer different channels as individual add-ons.

2. Ticketing system

It is the core of any help desk software, a tracking system that allows the support team to manage, track, sort, and search for issues (user queries). The system commonly uses a “local bug tracker” (LBT) that assigns a unique number per issue and is written in a way that is meaningful to the support team, rather than the developers, to classify problems by customer, agent, issue, or any other categories. The ticketing system ensures two things: resolution time is faster and no customer query is left unaddressed.

3. Escalation levels

Some advanced help desk software services allow agents to send (escalate) an issue to a manager, who has the authority to provide a better resolution. In some cases, escalation is multi-tiered, starting from the agent, then moving to the team leader and then to the manager. This ensures that complex issues are handled by the right person, while avoiding bugging managers with issues that can be handled by their subordinates.

4. Automation

Many help desk software services allow administrators to write rules that automate processes for repetitive queries and administrative tasks. Repetitive queries can be sent to a knowledge base section or they are answered with an autoresponder. On the other hand, administrative tasks like rerouting customer queries to the right department are automated to free agents to handle urgent issues.

5. Dashboard

A dashboard gives the agent the most important data she needs right after logging into the help desk system. These include pending tickets or priorities, quick access to customer data, and overall agent performance like resolution time and number of issues solved. The dashboard also alerts the agent for incoming queries or ongoing cases that she can collaborate on.

6. Knowledge base

A good help desk software should allow you to aggregate customer queries and organize them to create FAQs or guide articles. By doing so, repetitive queries can be automatically channeled to a knowledge base section for answers. More robust help desk solutions feature a content management system that helps users to upload new content regularly and create filters and tags for advanced search options.

7. Analytics

Customer queries are a good source of market feedback, making help desk software a tool for CRM, too. A good analytics feature should allow a manager to sort queries based on recurrence, location, or by any other meaningful classification. Likewise, it should also generate visual aids like graphs and bars that help the executive team to digest the insights more quickly.

Types of Help Desk Software

Help desk software types are generally classified today by their deployment, business size of the target users, and source code accessibility.

types of help desk (1)

1. Web help desk software

Also referred to as cloud-hosted or software-as-a-service (SaaS), web help desk is hosted on the vendor’s server. The application is then rented out to companies for a monthly or annual rate that usually includes technical support, system maintenance and upgrade, and data backup. Subscribers access the help desk via the vendor’s website or a locally installed desktop or mobile app. Likewise, data such as queries, tickets, customer profiles, and support analytics are saved on the vendor’s server.

Because it requires little technical know-how to run and maintain the system–the vendor takes care of these things–web help desk is popular among small and medium businesses that lack an in-house IT team. The monthly cost is also minimal and does not require server and software capital. Most web help desk features are scalable to the company’s current needs. These include:

  • Number of users or agents
  • Ticket volume
  • Additional modules like analytics, reporting, knowledge base management, and content management
  • Integration capabilities including API
  • Plug-ins or add-ons
  • Mobile apps.

Scalability usually also means subscribers get flexible payment terms month over month, which fits the limited cash flow of many small businesses.

However, as more companies adapt to the SaaS model, many web help desk services also cater to large companies with enterprise-level features including unlimited users and ticket volume and deep customization and integration capabilities.

As for disadvantages of this type of software, since the system is hosted on the vendor’s server, common issues associated with web help desk include:

  • Privacy of information
  • Data security
  • Recurring monthly costs.

Examples of web help desk: some of the more known web help desk are Freshdesk, Zendesk, Zoho Support, KronoDesk, Mojo Helpdesk, Sellsy Helpdesk, and AJ Help Desk.

2. On-premise help desk software

On-premise help desk is a licensed proprietary software that a company buys and installs in its own server to run the system. System maintenance and data backup become the responsibility of the company, unless it pays for a separate plan that guarantees technical support. An on-premise help desk usually involves a one-time setup fee. A scheduled upgrade may require a separate fee though.

The main benefit of an on-premise help desk is that the company owns and hosts the system; thus, it has complete control over data security and privacy of information. Similarly, an on-premise help desk is customized to the needs of the company. Integration with the company’s other business systems–CRM, accounting, sales, etc.—is expected to be more seamless than with a cloud-hosted solution.

The drawback is, it requires huge capital to buy the server and keep a technical team to run and maintain the system. Likewise, proprietary software lacks the scalability of web help desk and the flexibility of regular system upgrade because of the associated huge costs. Likewise, an on-premise help desk hosted on a private server with substandard architecture may be more at risk of security breach than when it is hosted on a server of an established vendor with excellent history in data security and privacy protection.

Since on-premise help desk requires huge investment and deep customization, most on-premise help desk services are marketed to large enterprises. It is not uncommon for people to associate on-premise help desk with enterprise help desk. Technically, the two classifications are different, but they cater to the same business.

Examples of on-premise help desk: some of the on-premise help desk include PHP-based Helpspot by UserScape, Jitbit Helpdesk’s self-hosted app, PHP/MySQL-based Kayako, and HelpDeskPilot.

3. Enterprise help desk software

These are best help desk software solutions with robust features, featuring complex modules other than standard help desk features such as ticketing, time tracking, and knowledge base. Some of the more complex enterprise help desk modules include IT asset management, account management, service request fulfillment, and survey management.

Aside from the scale of its functions, its main difference from a web help desk that targets small businesses is that the former also addresses internal support. For large companies, different departments require a constant and efficient way to request and get support, especially when it comes to asset management and technical assistance. Thus, an aerospace engineering facility, for example, requires an enterprise help desk to ensure its teams are getting technical support from the right department and at the right time. Likewise, most enterprise help desk services are customized to fit a company’s workflows; if not, the help desk is at least packaged to cater to a particular industry featuring its standard protocols.

Enterprise help desk goes beyond addressing customer queries at faster resolution rates, as it also includes features improving overall company efficiency. These include:

  • Leveraging real-time data generated by the help desk system for CRM efforts
  • Maximizing employee productivity and inter-department communication
  • Managing service costs
  • Ensuring top-notch help desk service performance for both internal and external users

It is common that an enterprise help desk is bundled with CRM and collaboration solutions or sold as a service desk system with a help desk module.

Examples of enterprise help desk: some of the more popular enterprise help desk include Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise HelpDesk, SolarWinds’ Web Help Desk, ManageEngine ServiceDesk Plus, Smart Service Desk ITSM, and Freshservice Enterprise IT Helpdesk.

4. Open-source help desk software

This is one of the popular help desk software types as some of these apps are offered free. An open source help desk allows developers to access its source code, as opposed to proprietary software that requires user license and permission to access the source code or prohibits it entirely. This means an open source help desk can be modified or enhanced beyond the level of simple integration and adding plugins. Developers can add features or modify processes or fix bugs in the system. Open source help desk will suit best a company with programming capabilities and a skilled IT departament that can handle the flexibility such type of software provides. Nowadays, companies can choose from a wide list of open source help desk software services available in the market today.

The economics of open source leverages community collaboration to improve the product. As a commercial model, it is so far only known to work in software development. Vendors that offer open source help desk may offer instructional guides or technical assistance as paid services, or release a paid version with enhanced features.

Examples of open-source help desk: here are a few open-source help desk solutions, such as, Google Apps Help Desk Workflow, Information Resource Manager (IRM), jHelpdesk, OpenPsa, Savane, SugarCRM Open Source, and WATS Wordpress Help Desk Plugin.

Christopher Robinson

By Christopher Robinson

Christopher Robinson is a senior productivity research analyst who specializes in optimizing online collaboration and project management using Scrum and agile approaches. In his work, he always emphasizes the need for distributed work training and the formation of efficient work habits. His work was mentioned in various business publications, including Entrepreneur and InfoQ. He’s a strong proponent of the GTD model. He has been cooperating with the FinancesOnline team for 5 years now, and his publications always focus on practical aspects of productivity tools that can have an actual, transformative impact on a company.

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